The study abroad program through Spring Hill College, is social justice based and open to Jesuit schools across the nation. Because the focus is social justice, a 10 day tour through Croatia and Bosnia began just days after stepping foot on Italian soil.
Our group of close to 40 took a train to Ancona, Italy where we boarded an 11-hour ferry to Split, Croatia. We woke up to what we thought was a fairy tail. Croatia is a beautiful country and we were lucky to spend some of our trip there. When we boarded our bus to Bosnia, however, we had no idea what was in store. All of us were born in the years of the war in the early 1990s. Personally, I knew nothing about the war prior to our trip, and, I assume, many other members of my group were in the same boat.
Bosnian history is full of war and turmoil with many different ethnic groups and leaders. Being in Bosnia and learning from the people who are my age or just a little older and lived through a horrible war is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Everyone has stories about the war, and they want to share them all.
The persecutions and genocides that took place are unbelievable, and the people of the region are just as happy as can be. Its amazing the courage you see while travelling through the country. Eastern Europe is not always seen or described in the best light, especially in this area where there was a major war only about 20 years ago. However, I never felt unsafe there, despite the warnings I received.
Yes, the country is not the most stable and there is still a huge division among the people, but tourism is an industry helping to revive the country. Experiencing and learning about their culture is a huge part of why you would want to travel there. They have so much to teach you.
My group was fortunate enough to travel around the country by bus. This afforded us the opportunity to see everything Bosnian nature has to offer. It is a beautiful and lusciously green country. The bodies of water are all the same turquoise blue. The winding roads that lead you through the hills and valleys seem to extend forever. At times, we were driving so high up in the mountains and on turns we thought the bus could never make. This country was like no country I had ever seen before.
We thought Croatia was the fairy tail, but really it was Bosnia, and we knew it at our first stop: Mostar. With just over one hundred thousand residents, Mostar sits on the Neretva River nestled in the mountains. The bridge that crosses the river, Stari Most (Old Bridge), is one of the main landmarks of not only the city, but of Bosnia as a whole. The Old Town streets of Mostar are made of stones and lined with shops and stalls filled with beautiful lanterns, clothing, trinkets, jewelry and much more. Everywhere you look you see mosques. Everything about the city feels magical. It pulls you in and makes you experience its culture.
Our next stop was Sarajevo, a city even more magical than the last. Sarajevo also sits on a river and is nestled in the Alps. On the outskirts of the city, standing high on a mountain, the views are unreal. You can see the entire city, looking at what seems like hundreds of mosques, churches and such interesting architecture. The calls to worship throughout the day became comforting. Experiencing this city was like nothing I had ever experienced before. The streets of Old Town Sarajevo, much like those of Mostar were lined with shops and stalls selling much of the same merch, and restaurants hidden in courtyards behind the buildings.
We never wanted to leave. Everyone in these cities just wanted to talk, to tell you their story. Everyone was friendly, right out of a storybook. I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again: it was magical.
In the more urban areas of the cities, evidence of the war is more obvious. Shells of buildings stand where bombs went off in or near them. Monuments that were erected since the war have been damaged by opposing sides. Parts of the cities are rebuilt and look like any other European city. Remnants from the Olympics in Sarajevo can still be seen, all abandoned. In all realty, the war was not that long ago, and the country is still coming back from it.
The meals we ate while traveling through Bosnia can be best described as hearty and delicious. Meat and fish are two staples of the diet, and they know how to prepare them! Ćevapi is a classic dish I ate just about every day in one form or another. It is a lamb and beef sausage that is served with pita, sour cream and onions. It is also made into a casserole type dish, sometimes made with spinach. It is so good. We ordered meat platters, whole fish, kebabs and more. Shopska salads are simple salads made with fresh veggies and local cheeses and I ordered them with every meal. They love french fries and beer as well. I guess those are universal staples.
Written by Hannah McIntyre