Saturday, 11 September 2010

Croatia - Part 3...


And a good Saturday morning to you from across the Pond. 2 blogs just a scant 14 hours apart - you can't argue with that, right? The Taylors are fresh off a (much needed) 13.5 hour sleep. I'm still feeling a little sick, but the Nite Nurse and sack time DEFINITELY made me feel better. We're planning another early night tonight, so hopefully I can shake the sniffles by tomorrow morning. Muffin is currently at the grocery store, and so I thought I'd use this time to catch you up on the next day of our Croatia trip - a day which we didn't actually spent IN Croatia (Yazz - I KNOW you're excited...).

Day 4 - Bosnia: rebuild a bridge, rebuild a future...

This morning we hopped out of bed, grabbed our usual 47,000 calorie bureks from the bakery, and then rolled outside of the old city walls to the Hilton Imperial Palace. Once there, we got picked up by a small coach at 8:20 AM to take us on a much anticipated day trip - Mostar, Bosnia.

So a little back story here - Croatia is mostly Catholic, Serbia is mostly Orthodox, and Bosnia is mostly Muslim. Consequently, despite having very similar geography, food, and architecture, Bosnia feels much different than Croatia, as the Muslim presence is very apparent. In fact, the tour of Mostar took us past multiple Mosques and even a Turkish Bath (Shogun - fret not - I did NOT go in this time...). I tell you all this to say that, even during the time that Bosnia was under Turkish (meaning Ottoman) rule, there were Christians present. In fact, one of the key conversation pieces when discussing Bosnia is that Christians and Muslims lived side by side for over 400 years in relative peace in the town of Mostar.

The city was divided in the 16th century by a Bridge constructed by a Turkish architect, demarcating Muslims on one side and Christians on the other. However, it wasn't like Northern Ireland where the groups wanted nothing to do with each other. These two groups moved back and forth across the bridge peacefully, and the bridge was something of a symbol for unity and how disparate groups can live in peace.

All that changed in 1991 when, during the war for independence, the bridge was destroyed. The immaculate stone work, the phenomenal design, the symbol of tolerance - all destroyed by a single bomb fired by someone who'd never been to Bosnia and who'd never heard of the bridge. Dark times, indeed...
However, once the war ended, Mostar made a VERY smart decision. Rather than just slapping up a new pre-fab bridge and modernizing that section of town, they surprised everyone by saying that they were going to reconstruct the old bridge once again, using the SAME STONES that had been blasted away during the war. It was a big undertaking, but they did NOT back down.

They hauled the stones from out of the river below. They called in Turkish architects (since the Turks had built the bridge). The used original techniques and original tools. And eventually, they rebuilt the bridge. It was that bridge, ladies and gentlemen, that team Taylor went to see.

The drive out was GORGEOUS. The scenery of rivers, islands, mountains, and grassland was just stunning. 3 hours is a long time to be sitting in a car on vacation, but we honestly thought of this as a sight-seeing attraction in its own right, and so time just flew.

The only random part of the trip is that you go through THREE border crossings. Apparently, back in the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik was such a strong port that it was an independent city-state. The rest of Dalmatia (Croatia's coastal region) was controlled by Venice (helllllooooo Medici boys), and Dubrovnik did NOT want to share a border with those donkeys. Consequently, they gave 20 kilometers of their coast to the Ottomans, who agreed to defend the coast from the Venetians. And whilst I'm sure it was quite practical 600 years ago, it's a bit of a pain now (but Bosnia seems to have NO desire to become a landlocked country and give up their only port).

We stopped in this Bosnian port for coffee in the morning, but the ladies bathroom was OUT OF CONTROL. Seriously, I had time to pee, buy our coffee, bring it over to Jenny, and let her drink 75% of her's BEFORE SHE GOT INTO THE BATHROOM. CP - can you work on these logistics? I think I see your next job. However, I didn't see an CHEP pallets laying around...

We stopped halfway to Mostar at an old settlement that's now an artist's colony (I'm sure the place had a name, but I have NO IDEA what it is). We hopped off the bus to be greeted by women selling fresh figs, almonds, apricots, and grapes, and let me tell you - WE DEVOURED THOSE. The place was a nice little stop-off, complete with neat architecture, nice paths, and even MORE FRUIT on the way back to the bus.

Finally we made it to Mostar, where we were told that we would have a 40 minute tour and then 2 hours of free time. Our guide Armena seemed like a very sweet girl, but her English was a bit rocky (her Spanish, however, was GREAT). I knew we might be in trouble when she said, "the tour will last 1 to 1.5 hours." Okay, I thought to myself. It's a small place - how long can this really take?

Well, the Old Town was tiny, and the architecture was AWESOME, but Armena's presentation was LESS than awesome. She told us the same things about 46 times. And whilst I love information, getting it twice is usually sufficient for me. She rambled on so long in fact that, when we were only halfway through the tour, it had already been 1 hour and 45 minutes. As she turned to take us on the second half, we had the following conversation (which ROCKED HER WORLD AND STOPPED TRAFFIC):

Sammy: "Armena, this has been great, but I think we're gonna go off on our own."
Armena: "You can't just leave."

Sammy: "Oh, we can. And we are."

Armena: "Did you visit the mosque?" (note - she knows this because she escorted me INTO THE MOSQUE)

Sammy: "Yes."

Armena: "Then you can't leave the tour - you have to pay at the end."

Sammy: (whipping out 5 euro) "Here's my payment."

Armena: "I cannot make change."

Sammy: "I don't want change. Keep it."

Armena: "I can't handle the money. You must pay." (Sammy then hands 5 euro to a nice lady who says she'll pay on our behalf)

Sammy: "There. She will pay and make change. We go now."

Armena: "No one has ever left one of my tours before."

Sammy: "Bye." (storms off we his hand raised, much like Matt Miller saying "You're welcome" - THUD)

P.S. We later found out that we'd started a mutiny, as about half the group just tore off and left immediately after me. Those who did stay told me they wished they'd left. VINDICATED!!!

I will say that, in her defense, the tour was interesting. We saw the model for the old bridge (called the crooked bridge), wandered through the old town, saw the mosque, and got some GREAT pictures of the old bridge (the best vantage point was from outside the mosque). All the same, the time without Armena was EEEEEEEVEN better (sorry, gal - better luck next year).

We picked up another Burek (meat and potato this time - it was HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE, but SOOOO GUUUUUUUUUUUD), wandered around outside the old town (the outside of the city has NOT held up as well as the old town - there are still bombed out buildings, ruins, and bullet holes everywhere. The only synogogue in town has still not been reconstructed), and got down to the river to look up at the bridge (it should be noted that we actually saw someone JUMP OFF whilst we were by the mosque!).

The ride back was easy, and we had dinner that night back at Taverna Arsenal, where I once again took down a MASSIVE portion of Black Risotto (ahhhh, the spicy ink....SO GUUUUUUUUUD) as well as some house wine.

It was then back to the palace, where Team Taylor promptly sacked out. After all, we had ANOTHER day trip the next day, and it was a 7:30 start. That, however, will have to keep another day. Sorry or breaking this up so much, but I am quite enjoying the slow reminiscing of our favorite vacation, so I'll humbly ask you to just bear with me.

Okay, that's enough news to print for a day. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

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