Winter in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country where cultures and history meet, where there is room for many religions, be that Catholic, Muslim or Orthodox. The country has seen the times as a separate kingdom as well as part of Ottoman empire, and even the recent history in the nineties were a turbulent time for it.

Sarajevo, the capital of the Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the place where Franz Ferdinand was killed, and the events lead to World War I. When I think of Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish band comes into my mind, however, for me the soundtrack for this trip is music by Goran Bregovic, who was born and raised in Sarajevo. Despite doing a concert in Crimea, the musician says he usually stays away from political discussions, and has once said that since he is from Yugoslavia, the crossroads of so many worlds, he doesn’t need to represent anyone else than himself, and he speaks the first language – music. After first fifteen minutes in the streets of Sarajevo, it becomes clear what he meant by that, as this place is such a mix of cultures, and locals say the country has been influenced by the six ancient civilizations. You see the bits of history of the country in everything. Ottoman Empire is represented by small stores selling traditional Muslim clothing, Turkish sweets on every corner and grand mosques with minarets. The churches are here as well – both Catholic and Orthodox. At times it feels like you are in an alternate reality, it’s gives off the feeling of modern Soviet Union with spices from Turkey. One notices that already at the airport, when most women have their hair covered, and not because of the cold. It also feels strange to realize that knowledge of Russian here will come in handy, as the first sign I see, the “exit”, says “izlaz”. The true meeting place of East and West.

Who lives in Bosnia? Serbs, Croatians and Bosniaks, but all inhabitants are universally called Bosnians, as the border of Herzegovina isn’t that clearly defined and, before Austro Hungarian occupation, the country was called Bosnia. Speaking to locals you will feel that the situation isn’t that clear even still. Certain parts of the country are supported by Americans, others, by Saudi Arabia, yet others are claimed to have close ties to Putin. I have the benefit of visiting Bosnia with people from other former Yugoslavia inhabitants, Slovaks and Croatians. One of more outgoing guys when drinking beers wants to sing a song of those times, but our local guide quickly shushes him – it’s a painful topic still, so singing such songs can lead to unpredictable consequences. Interestingly, Slovenians speak to Bosnians in Serbo-Croatian, and hearing this I once again realize how little I know of this region and it’s history. Because I hear for the first time there is a language like that, and that it has been mandatory in school for many of my friends from around here. I can only agree to a lady who honestly admits, that before coming to Bosnia all she knew was that this was the country she remembers seeing on TV as a child, at war. If in other former parts of Yugoslavia the war was just for a few days, here it took much longer, and the consequences are still here. Not that many, but some houses have bullet holes. Many of the unfinished buildings are from that time.

Luckily, the war has been left in the past and nowadays Bosnia and Herzegovina is becoming an even more popular tourist destination. Most of the damages have been repaired (no sight of bombed bridges, mentioned by people who visited fifteen years ago). As a Latvian, I did not need a visa, but you do need to bring your passport with you, and actually get a stamp when visiting! Comparing prices to that in the Baltics I can say that Bosnia isn’t expensive, as even in the airport cafe tea costs 3.50 km or convertible marks, soup is 5 km (to understand how much is it in euro, just divide by two, and you can pay in euros in many places). Seeing currency abbreviation “km” makes me laugh every time I see a price tag, especially in the restaurants! It is like a calorie reminder, how many kilometers you will need to walk, if you eat that!

There is a lot to see in Bosnia! Wonderful mountains and a tiny seaside strip with the town of Neuma, cities with rich history and grand new buildings, and historical places like Mostar. But there are a few things that might discourage someone from visiting. Although Sarajevo has a rich history, it probably won’t be the only place you will choose to visit, as it has the highest rate of air pollution among European capitals. It is in a valley with limited air circulation and the amount of PM10 particles at times is double the highest limit. Luckily, the issue is mostly felt in the winter, during heating season. Hopefully, also the age of cars will continue to decrease (average is about 15 years), and the air will become better.

Continuing on the topic of fresh air, when visiting Bosnia, I can really appreciate how far my own country, Latvia, has gone in banning smoking. People in Bosnia smoke everywhere. During breakfast at the hotel, in hallways, restaurants, in front of the kids and even pregnant women do! The non-smoker area is just an area in the restaurant, so it reminds of the expression “the pissing corner in the pool”, and often it’s the second floor in the open plan building that is supposed to be non-smoking area! English skills also lag behind those in Slovenia or Croatia. But, locals are extremely friendly, so that will definitely not be an obstacle! The streets also feel perfectly safe.

Bosnia has become well known as the location of one of the largest film festivals in Europe, frequented even by A-list stars, such as Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie or Orlando Bloom. Who knows, maybe when you visit Sarajevo in August, you will also share an elevator ride in the hotel with Brad Pitt, as one of my acquaintances did!

Many of the most popular places to visit in Sarajevo are connected to war, such as the tunnel used to bring food during the blockade, and the museum dedicated to the Srebrenica massacre, when more than 8000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were killed. It is an extremely sad moment in historic, such a failure of basic humanity, so visiting these places won’t be for everyone.

Ottoman empire is mostly felt in the Bascarsija market, with the Sebil fountain and many small stores. You can buy some unique souvenirs here, such as Bosnian copper coffee set, from 10 to 15 euros per set. Coffee drinking traditions are deeply rooted and very important in Bosnia. If you say it looks like Turkish coffee (and assure you, it does!) that is the quickest way to offend your host!

The main difference is in the preparation of the coffee, if you place the traditional dzezva on the stove with coffee (as Turkish) or first just with water (Bosnian). In the Bosnian way, coffee is added later, boiled, then more water is added, which supposedly helps to form thicker foam. Turkish only give you one cup per serving, but Bosnians give you the whole dzezva, and the way it’s poured is important too, to get more foam. You don’t add sugar, instead, take a bite of rahat lokum, Bosnian sweets that in principle are the same as Turkish delight (I wonder, if I am allowed to say that, or are there some subtle differences as well?).

You can also get jewelery, plates and knives in the market. Coffee beans are for sale too, and definitely sample some sweets and definitely eat the traditional Bosnian dish chevapchichi! It looks like a sausage with no skin, and is of beef, pork and lamb. There is also Muslim version of the dish without pork. It’s served in a flatbread with onion and paprika. Actually, there is plenty of paprika, wherever you go to grab a bite! Sauteed, marinated and fresh! Another popular dish is spinach and goat cheese pie.

One of the grandest recently renovated buildings is the Vijecnica or City Hall, the brightest example of Austro Hungarian architecture, once a library with over 1.5 million books, including rare historic ones. Unfortunately, the books and library were destroyed in the 1992 during the war, passers by and employees tried to save the books, but without success. Today it’s restored to its previous grandeur, thanks to donations from Austria and Barcelona and money from the the European Commission. The renovation cost over 13 million euro. You can even rent the City Hall premises for a sit down dinner, if you wish, and the Bosnian Eurovision song 2016 music video was shot here, so be sure to check the music video on Youtube! I especially liked the part by Ana Rucner, a Croatian cello player, whose performance I saw while in Sarajevo.

Not far from Sarajevo, in the Dinaric alps, is a place called Jahorina. It’s peak Ogorjelica (1916m) is the second highest in Bosnia, and in the Winter Olympics of 1984, this was the place for women’s alpine skiing events. The ski slopes are operating still, and even on workdays there are many people skiing, mostly locals. The prices for lifts are several times cheaper than those in France, Italy or Swiss resorts. My skiing friends comment that the quality of the snow is good and the prices affordable – thermal underwear costs about 15 euros, and my Dutch friend is very happy to purchase it 2.5 cheaper than at home!

The mountains are beautiful – trees covered in snow, the view from the peak to the clouds below and bright sun changing to snowstorm every once in awhile. Driving here on the narrow roads I can only think how this place managed to host the Olympics? These days there wouldn’t be enough place for all the cars! But, at least for regular visitors surely there is a place to stay, as there is plenty of hotels. Unfortunately, even the fanciest places allow smoking everywhere, which is something I am not ready to accept, and I hope this changes soon.

In winter with little snow, perhaps, Sarajevo isn’t as pretty as it might be in green spring, but the nearby mountain range is what warmed my heart in this visit. How beautiful it must be during autumn, when the leaves turn red, and how much wildlife there must be in the summer! Add warm welcome from the locals, tasty food and bright music, and you definitely have a place you must visit!


32 comments

  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina seem to offer travellers a time warped experience where you will feel as though you have stepped back in time (in a good way). I did not realized that there are so lush green landscapes, unspoiled nature, incredible views, and enchanting forests ! On my bucket list, now 🙂

    1. Glad to hear my post inspired you to visit Bosnia! I think it’s a good destination to include in a Balkan roadtrip, to see more!

    1. Thank you for commenting! Since I didn’t have my husband with me who usually takes the pictures during the trip, I was a little concerned I’ll have any good pics coming back, but seems I didn’t need to worry 🙂

  2. Ive recently really wanted to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I had no idea how recent their turbulent history was! The Baltics and eastern europe have such a confusing history, I think its great your talking about it and educating people! Thank you. Also, your pictures are beautiful!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I think travelling really makes you appreciate the world history, I have learned so many things on my travels (and discovered so, so, SO many gaps in my history education – and I was the one to go to history competitions in school even!!! so what everyone else in my country must know then, if I know nearly nothing?!). What I have found helping is that reading books before travelling (even novels), helps a lot, here I did not have the chance to do that, as it was a bit short notice, but I made some pictures of the books in the airport, novels as well, which I’d like to read to understand more this beautiful country.

  3. Gosh, I love the photos in this post! They’re stunning! Just something about the winter makes everything so mellow and pretty. 🙂 Bosnia and Herzegovina has been one of those countries I’ve wanted to visit ever since playing the country trivia on Sporcle, haha. Reading this reinspired me to make a trip there happen, hopefully sooner rather than later!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed my point-and-shoot type of pics, I am always concerned how those turn out when I travel without my beloved husband, who usually takes all the pictures 🙂
      And, trivia, totally agree! I see how it works both ways – country questions that inspire you to visit places and then sometimes some obscure questions that you only know answers to because you have been to some remote (or even not so much) place and have seen it for yourself!

  4. Such an interesting post and really lovely pictures! I hear such good things about Sarajevo and I really want to see the Winter Olympic ruins like the bobsled track. Shame about the smoking everywhere, it’s banned inside in the UK too so when I go somewhere that it’s allowed it’s a real shock!

    1. Did not have the time to see the track (although I should have found the time… my own country usually gets medals in these types of sports!), but perhaps another time. I am glad I got to visit at least for that short period of time 🙂
      I am glad more and more countries ban smoking indoors or anywhere else it disturbs others, I hope some day it’s eliminated completely!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I am glad I inspired you to visit this country, as inspiring is my main objective when creating this blog 🙂

  5. So many gorgeous photos! We did Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro last year and really loved them. I’d love to go back and explore more of the region with such rich history!

    1. Wow, Montenegro! That’s on my list, the other two I have seen a little (not nearly enough, probably :)), but Montenegro is very much yet to be seen 🙂

  6. I was in Bosnia in summer and I loved it a lot. Seems winter and the snow gives some extra atmosphere to it all. I absolutely loved Bosnia and think I should revisit in winter too. 🙂

    1. Snow definitely must cover some of the less nice areas 🙂 But the mountains really is the place of winter wonderland, I wish I had more time there!

  7. I’m just heading back home from Russia. I’ve loved every single minute I’ve spent there. Probably why Bosnia has risen high on my list.

    1. Russia is on my list too… despite the fact that I was born there and spent first three years of my life 🙂 The nature is amazing and really diverse! Also, a bonus since I know Russian language and my country literally has a border, so in principle, should be an easy summer roadtrip for me (or train trip! trans-Siberian, that’s what I want to do some day!).

  8. I’ve just booked to tickets to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina next month, so this post has gotten me SO excited! Thanks for your super interesting overview of the country, and for the lovely photos! I was a bit scared of visiting in April (weatherwise) but if it looks this nice in the winter, surely Spring will be decent as well. Beautiful post!

    1. I think April will be excellent, with spring flowers everywhere (not the mountains, though, probably), and also, not to forget, Neum, the coastal town sounds like a place you might enjoy!

  9. I don’t know much about Bosnia so I found it interesting reading your post. The City Hall looks beautiful. Not sure about the smoking everywhere though! Great post 🙂

    1. Thank you! 🙂 City Hall really is beautiful, I am not sure how easy is to get in as a visitor (I had an arranged event there), but the halls reminded me of a mosque a bit.

    1. Thank you! Even though it’s the spring time now, such perfect winter wonderland makes the snow feel nice 🙂

    1. Thank you, Megan! I hear you about winter! In pictures it looks so nice, but in reality you have to be really well dressed! I think for the first time in my life I had appropriate clothing, special snow pants, thick boots and layers and layers of other clothing. And at last it was comfortable and I spent 3 hours outside every day and didn’t feel cold a bit!

  10. Hi! I love your post 🙂 I have been to Bosnia last Spring but this time, I will visit my boyfriend on New Year in Sarajevo. Any tips on what to wear during winter in Bosnia? 🙂 How many layers of clothes should i wear? haha

    1. It was cold but also not that bad, I spent most of the time outdoors. I had some skiing pants, dawn jacket with a sweater underneath, a hat, warm gloves and high quality winter boots (not the type that are pretty but like hiking boots). I was not cold for a minute!
      Wishing you a great trip!

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