We crossed the Serbian and Bosnian border with our Bosnian traveller, Sacha, on Monday the 23rd of November 2009. Everything went smoothly. Just after arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a police officer signed us to stop the car. We didn't really understand the reason. He asked us our papers in his little English. After checking them, he indicated that we could leave. Sacha then explained to us that the policeman probably wanted a "bakchich". It was common practice that if the police stops you for no particular reason that they want some money. He told us that 10 euros would have been the price to pay. But as this policeman didn't say anything, we didn't either and we were certainly not facilitating his job by ripping us off.
The hometown of Sacha is a town called Visegrad. So we stopped there. Sacha showed us around the town. The tourist trip consisted primarily of looking at this bridge over the river separating the town. Afterwards he invited us for a drink. It was the first hitchhiker with whom we stayed longer ones arriving at his destination. It was nice talking to him.
We decided to continue our journey even if it was already dark, to arrive in Sarajevo that same night. We couldn't enjoy the road that seemed nice. Ones in Sarajevo we went searching for a place to sleep, as it was cold and we didn't want to stay in the van. We found a room in an appartment of a Bosnian family, a lady and her older son. The costs was 20 euros a night, so quiet cheap and we could use their kitchen and also their washing machine.
The next day we started our visit of Sarajevo. The first impression of the town, was that Sarajevo is not so big. There are approximately 300.000 inhabitants in the city. The city is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. We started off visiting the muslim cemetery next to the house where we were staying in. This old muslim cemetery dated of at least the 15th century.
The cemetery was situated on a slope of a hill and was quiet big. Ones looking at the tombs we realised that the majority dated of 1993/1994 and 1997. Obviously victims of the recent wars the country went through. It was quiet sad to see.
The old town (Stari Grad) of Sarajevo is very picturestic. The town is filled with narrow streets, with little buildings that are mostly shops. A big difference with our previous country is also that Sarajevo is multi religious. In the old town you find mosques, a cathedral and also a orthodox church. The prints left from the Ottoman period are very present, there are quiet some mosques. So back we were in a muslim atmosphere, with the call of the muezzin for praying time. The mosques in the center of the town, all dated from centuries ago, but they were very well preserved or restaurated after the war. In general the old town of Sarajevo is very well restored after the war.
Ones you take a distance from this old town, you deffinately find traces of bombings and devastated building. So the touristic center has been restored, but a lot needs to be done still to restore the other areas of the ciy.
We met the owner of a CD shop, in order to get his advice about places with live music and or musicians. He told us that it is rather difficult to find concerts in the town. We needed to come back and see if he succeeds in contacting any musicians. The next day it was a national holiday and his shop was closed, so we didn't succeed in obtaining more information from him. We decided to go and tour the city in the evening by ourselves to see if luck was at our side. We bumped into a restaurants were some gentlemen were having dinner and one was playing an accordion. When we showed our faces, they invited us in and actually we then realised that they all had some alcohol. Nevertheless the gentleman playing the accordion, played it very well and came to perform at our table. While playing (without one single false note) he was constantly looking at me with these drunken eyes. We made a nice video of his performance that you can enjoy on a seperate article on this blog. The accordion player gave rendez-vous to Olivier for the following day, so they can play together. He kept repeating the time and place of the meeting a thousand times. The next day we realised that he obviously was so drunk that he didn't remember what he engaged to the day before, as he didn't show up at the time given nor the place told.
In Sarajevo we didn't really succeed in meeting any other musicians for recording. The Jazz Club and Pub had no live music programmed. We had dinner in this club/restaurant where five musicians were playing badly. They performed without any feelings and mechanically, so we didn't even think of recording them. Otherwise we bumped into two other groups in two seperate bars, where the musicians were playing mostly covers of English or American bands. Our last hope went to this Balkan café, but too bad they have live music programmed onverey wednesday, but exactly this wednesday the band didn't make it.
Before leaving Sarajevo, we went to pay a visit to the Sarajevo museum. The museum was about the time that Sarajevo was under the Austrian-Hungarian empire 1878 - 1914. They spoke quiet proudly about this period, stating that this empires brought progress to Sarajevo. At the visit of the archeduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sofia to Sarajevo, they have been assasinated. I learned that the assasination of this couple triggered the first World War. One of the reasons why we visit museum is aso to learn things. I thought it was a pitty that they didn't mention in the museum why the couple has been killed. Taken into consideration that the assasination was not an act of a single disturbed man, but it seemed organized by a group that had things prepared exactly on the date of the visit of the couple to Sarajevo.
That Thursday 26/11/09 we left Sarajevo to head for Mostar, the second town of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we wanted to pay a visit. The distance between the two cities is about 100 km. The road was very beautifull. Very mountaneous and also many rivers. Nice contrast between high peaks and low valleys with rivers. The water in the river had a nice green colour.
Mostar consists of two cities, the old (Stari Grad) and the new one. The new one didn't have anything of interest; lots of shops, bars that looked more like showcase and also quiet some high appartments blocks. On the contrary the old city was very picturestic. Narrow paved streets, small houses, restaurants, souvenirs shops. The bars were still deserted. We went to this bar called Marshall, filled with instruments as decoration. We thought that this was te place to be in Mostar, but the barman didn't seem so informed about any live music in town. The next day we understood why it was so deserted. That Friday it was "Bayram", which is the celebration of the end of the ramadam, the period that muslim fast. Bayram is celebrated for four days in Mostar and museums are close during the celebrating period. The ambience was completely different in the town on that first night of Bayram. The bars were filled with people, music all over the place and people dancing having fun. Unfortunately for us almost all the bars had DJ music, no live music at all.
We did find this bar with a one man show. The musician was playing guitar and singing at the same time. It seemed that he was playing bosnian songs, as people were singing along. But we didn't find his music and performance festive and interesting enough to record. Are we getting to demanding ???
We also had this discotheque, the Oxygen Club, where we knew a band was performing that night. We decided to go anyway, without knowing what kind of music would have been played. Before the performance we succeeded in meeting two members of the band. The band is called Tribun Band and they are from Sarajevo. The band consists of 5 members; two keyboard players, one guitarist and singer, one on drums and one base player. They told us that they play bosnian rock. They agreed for us to record their music. The disco was packed and when they started their performance we realised that the audience in Mostar really liked their music. The crowd was very excited, started dancing and singing along with all the songs. Unfortunately the accoustic was not so good and the balancing of the instruments not optimal. We still did record them and will have one of their songs on the blog shortly, for you to listen to.
The gas for our kitchen was running out, so we also wanted to look for one in Mostar. We quickly found the dealer of gas. Since the beginning we have Bubule, one of the burner of our kitchen was not working well, making a big fire and buring our pan. So we took the opportunity in asking if he could have a look at it. The gentleman couldn't but his neigboor could help us out. We parked the car in the garden of the neigboor and a gentleman came out to look at it. It was the "no words" gentleman. Apparantly he couldn't speak english so the conversation was very limited. He started unscrewing and dismantling part of our kitchen. We only saw him looking very attentively and nodding from time to time as if he was understanding or admiring the way the wires and tubes were entwined. We saw time going by, standing and waiting and not understanding if the guy was getting to a sollution or not. After every attempt, he tried out the burner, but the fire was still high. After something of an hour he succeeded in repairing the burner. With our dictionnary at hand we understood that he was retired now, but use to work on the town electricity. He didn't really wanted us to pay, but he still accepted the 15 km (equivalent of 7,5 euros) we proposed. Off we went with our kitchen performing twice as good.
The town of Mostar is known for its briges constructed during the Ottoman period. The most important bridges have been destroyed or severely damaged during the 1992/1993 war. Actually the whole old town has been ravaged during the war. We saw some pictures of the town devastated after the war. It was a ver very very sad thing to see. They rebuild everything with International Funds, something like 5 years ago. The "old bridge" and the "mule bridge" have been listed on the world heritage of Unesco. Now everything is rebuild, but you cannot stop and think about all the lives that have been lost.
We also visited the building restored with funds of the opera singer Pavarotti. He restored appartments for widows of the war. In the same building there is a music school, a recording studio, a bar and a restaurant. We thought maybe meeting musicians, but the next recording session was programmed only on the following Tuesday. Too bad for us. Maybe because it was the festivity of Bayram, but there was not much happening in building, everything seemed close.
On Saturday the 28th of November we left Mostar. We took a very nice road leaving Mostar and heading for Croatia. We passed by nice mountains all wonderfully coloured with autumn colours. We drove by many cliffs and rivers.
We had to pass through quiet some tunnels as the country is very mountaineous. Without much Bosnian music and great encounters with Bosnians in our bagages, we still had an impressive souvenir of this country and the traces of a difficult past will stay ingraved in our memories.