The best thing about road trips is that while moving from one place to another, you can learn new histories, traditions and cultures. During our South-East Europe road trip, from beautiful and monumental Budapest, we went to see Bosnia and Herzegovina, where among amazing landscapes, one still can see marks of recent civil war.
The border – “Green Card, mister!”
We guess that a lot of people got used to crossing European borders with only slowing to 30-50 km/hour. No stopping, no security checks – only memorizing speed limits for given country. But still there’s a couple of countries where security check is normal, and even additional car insurance called Green Card is required. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of those countries, and while security check can be quick and rather brief, then this additional insurance is a must to cross the border. Majority of Polish insurance companies issue Green Card to their client if they request it (free or for a small fee). You only need to send a request (or call the company) and patiently wait for postman. Our insurance company also issues Green Cards for free so probably we wouldn’t have any problems. Sadly, our card got to Poznan the same day we were sightseeing Budapest. So while we were driving towards the Hungary-B&H border, we were thinking about a good excuse, so the officer would let us in.
Sadly our excuse wasn’t good enough and we were told to turn back and go around Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we knew that there are booths where you can buy a Green Card just few hundred meters from us. So we talked a bit with the officer and he told us that we can go and buy that insurance here, on the border. He kept Patrycja’s passport until Dawid didn’t get back with the insurance. Fifteen minutes of sitting in a 7 square meters “office” and 27 EUR later – we could finally proceed with our road trip.
Road across Bosnia and Herzegovina
We both like enjoying beautiful landscapes, so if we’re not short on time, we always choose not the faster, but more picturesque road. From the border we went to the south – through Vrbas river canyon, cities Banja Luka and Jajce – all the way to Jablanica. From there we drove probably the most beautiful part of the road – Nerevta river canyon – all the way up to Mostar, our next stop. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a mountainous country, so our trip combined charm of driving along swift rivers with characteristic of a curvy, mountain road.
Similar to Poland, there’s not many highways here. So travelling from the border to Mostar, with speed at maximum reaching 80 km/hour, took us around 6 hours. Additionally, the last part of the road was after the sunset and in heavy rain. Our joy got a bit suppressed by that.
Finally, we arrived to Mostar and after a long search for parking spot we got off the car. Check in at the hostel, shower, and we were ready for sightseeing.
The most characteristic place in Mostar, and one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most know attractions, is the Old Bridge (Stari Most) over Neretva river. Built in XVI century, when Balkans where under the reigns of Ottoman Sultan – Suleiman the Magnificent. For over 430 years it was a symbol of peace between Christians and Muslims living in Mostar. When Bosnia and Herzegovina fought for freedom during the Yougoslav Wars, ethnic cleansing had place – Bosnians and Croatians, after “getting rid” of Serbians, started fighting each other. A vast part of the city was destroyed, lots of historic architectures and mosques were demolished. East side of the city – Bosnian part – suffered the most. During those fights Croatian squads demolished the Old Bridge, claiming it had strategic meaning. Although it’s more likely, that they were aiming for total destruction of Muslim culture and the symbol of peace. After signing peace treaty in 1995, it was decided to rebuild Mostar and reconstruct the Old Bridge. UNESCO and many organisations caring about cultural heritage took a part in that restoration. To get identical looks and characteristic of the bridge, exactly the same technology and materials were used (partly recovered from the destroyed parts). Missing stones were excavated from the same quarry, that was used to build the original bridge. Reconstruction ended in 2004.
An interesting fact about the Old Bridge is that according to the tradition, young men were jumping from it to the Neretva river to prove their manhood and courage. Distance between the highest point to water surface is 24 meters, so only the best trained could successfully perform the jump. After rebuilding the bridge, the tradition returned, but this time as tourist attraction.
Apart from the Old Bridge, Mostar has also very fascinating alleys along the river. Restored and renovated buildings, promenades with souvenir booths, restaurants with terraces that offer a nice view over the river. Sadly, there’s still a lot signs of the recent war – destroyed buildings, ruined cemeteries. Also, we could feel still existing tension between Bosnians, Croatians and Serbians living in the city and surroundings.
We had to move from very interesting Mostar and continue our trip. Not many people know, that only 13 kilometers from Mostar there’s one of the biggest river springs in Europe. Each second, around 43 000 liters of water is coming out of the cave, giving a start to rapid river of Buna. Being so close to it and not to see it with our own eyes?! No way – we had to visit Blagaj.
Getting there is fairly easy – route from Mostar to Blagaj is very well-marked. Parking is about 10 minutes walk from the spring, and during that walk one can see part of the town with interesting gardens, buildings – as well buy some of the local things like figs, pomegranates or even lavender and folk costumes.
After getting to the place, first thing that catches your eye is a massive rock and incredibly emerald water that comes out of it. The stream is rapid, washes the shores, hits the stones and concrete river banks. Except for one bigger bridge, all footbridges and terraces of restaurants are washed and constantly hit with waves. After crossing the bridge, one can get really close to the cave and the spring by following a stone path. In tourist season, one can buy a pontoon trip inside the cave.
When reading about Blagaj in tourist guides, you’ll find more information about Blagaj Tekke (a Sufi monastery) that is picturesquely placed next to the spring, than about the spring itself. Similarly to the Old Bridge in Mostar, Blagaj Tekke was built in XVI century, and for most of the time it was the main religious center for Muslims living in this area. It’s a small complex of Ottoman-style buildings. It’s open for tourists but you have to be properly dressed in order to get in – women have to get their heads, chests, shoulders and legs covered. Locals sell veils to the ladies who want to visit the place.
From Blagaj we moved towards Kravice Waterfall, and the road surprised totally – probably because GPS outmaneuvered us and we ended up in the middle of a field…
Quite good and new asphalt road that we were driving, gradually started changing into something less attractive with a lot of gaps. In the end it had more gaps than asphalt, and finally it wasn’t even sufficient to fit one car. Going on a gravel road, through sun-dried fields, we felt like on Dakar Rally. Every once in a while we’ve seen some containers, pipes and other materials used for road construction, but the asphalt was appearing only when going through one of the very few villages on the route. After one of those villages, the route again started to look normally. We made a stop at first open shop to ask for directions, because we weren’t sure if we were going the good way. Turned out we were on the right track and in few kilometers we found the place.
When we finally got to the park, we were satisfied that we didn’t gave up during the drive here (our car got extra dirty on that dusty road). Stretching on over 120 meters, with a fall of 25 meters, Kravice Waterfall on the river Trebižat is one of the biggest waterfalls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and according to the tourist guides – definitely the most impressive one. Beautiful location and crystal clear water create a magnificent landscape, that simply amazes. The whole area surrounding the waterfall is adjusted for citizens from nearby towns and tourists. Pavements and descents were created, along with places prepared for picnics, and a small beach with changing rooms and toilet. There’s even a small restaurant next to the beach.
Place simply beautiful and we weren’t very surprised, when we saw wedding photo session. We would gladly stay in the restaurant for a dinner, if we didn’t have to make it for the last ferry, that would take us to the next stop of our road trip…
- Just a reminder – to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina territory with a car, you’ll need additional insurance called Green Card. Most insurance companies offer it for free (or for a small fee), after requesting it. Cost of the Green Card on the border depends on which “booth” (insurance company office) will you choose – but it’s mostly around 25 EUR.
- When parking in cities, we’ve heard that there’s an unwritten rule – the road has to stay passable, so the car mustn’t block it. On the other hand, we didn’t see any contradictions for parking on the pavements. We’ve seen a lot of pedestrians walking on the road – next to the pavement that was totally occupied by cars.
- Entry to Kravice Falls park is paid but the fee is rather symbolic. We paid 2 BAM (1 EUR) for two adult tickets. There’s also a big parking next to the falls that is free.