Exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina

Exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina

I will start off by apologizing for not posing last week at all.. I was crammed with tests, quizzes, projects and essays, and then preparing for a weekend trip to the nearby country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). What an amazing country it is! I am so excited to share it with you all…

RIT Croatia organized the trip for the Study Abroad students, so it was me, Michelle, and Kathryn, and then three other American RIT students (all boys) as well as two interpreters for a deaf student and an American professor from RIT. We had our own mini bus and our own driver for the weekend. His name was Greg!

We left Dubrovnik and drove for about two hours before Greg pulled off to a sort of rest stop area as soon as we entered Bosnia. It had a really beautiful view.

In order for me to explain what I experienced and loved about Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have to tell you a little bit about its history. BiH is a very unique area, as it has gone through hell and back throughout all of history. It has been settled by the Byzantine Empire, then the Ottoman Turks, then it was occupied by Austria-Hungary, and after WWI it was Yugoslavia, and from 1992-1995 they fought for their independence, forming Bosnia and Herzegovina. With all of this history, many religions were brought to the area. It is such a unique place because you have Islamics and Catholics, Jewish people and Orthodox Christians all practicing their religion in the country on a regular basis. There are spectacular churches next to stunning mosques throughout the entire country.

Okay, so back to our journey….

After about a half an hour at the rest stop we continued on our journey to the first city we would visit, Mostar. We met a city tour guide in Mostar and had a private walking tour with her, and then had lunch and free time in the city for a few hours. Mostar was absolutely amazing. The famous bridge was breathtaking. Tourists pay trained men at the top of the bridge to jump into the water because it stays at about 50 degrees the entire year. Walking around the cobbled streets in the old town was charming. Almost all the vendors and shops offered homemade products, and they were all so nice.

The highlight of Mostar, for me, was hearing the call of prayer just after noon in the city. The call of prayer is an Islamic practice. There is a prayer, that sounds like a song, that is projected from the top of the minaret (the tallest building in the mosque) in the city so that everyone can hear it. It was a very unique experience that I had never had before. I thought it was pretty amazing.

After our free time in Mostar we met our bus driver to continue our journey to Sarajevo, the capital of BiH. As we were leaving the city, the damages of the most recent war for independence in the 90’s were apparent. There were buildings that were completely wrecked, with holes from bombs and gunshots visible in their stone facades. They had focused on rebuilding the main parts of the city, and since these buildings were outliers, they had not been touched yet.

We continued on our journey, it was about a 3 hour drive from Mostar to Sarajevo. The country has huge mountain ranges and rivers winding through it, it is just amazing. I stayed up and took in the scenery when almost everyone else took a nap on the bus. I even saw a double rainbow at one point!

We got in to Sarajevo around 6pm and had free time until the next morning. Our hotel was outside of the city, so we couldn’t get to the city easily, and we were all tired from the day, so we decided to have dinner and go to bed.

The next morning, we were meeting a tour guide for a walking tour of Sarajevo before we had free time in the city. He took us through all of BiH history in a two hour tour, which was pretty amazing! He showed us many mosques, churches, bridges, and historic buildings. He joked that out of 93 historic buildings, only 4 are museums, and the rest are either restaurants or bars now, but it is true! We saw the infamous Latin Bridge, which is where the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were assassinated in 1914, which is said to be the reason why WWI started.

Our tour guide took us through the streets of the old town in Sarajevo, and each street has different specialty shops on it. There was one with copper makers, one with silver smiths, one with amazing lights, and so on. We did some shopping, had lunch, and got to explore on our own.

Bosnian coffee is a rich cultural tradition in BiH. Bosnian coffee is served hot if you are welcome to stay, and cold if you are to leave and never come back. It is served with Turkish delight and sugar cubes. It is really unique to BiH, so of course we had to try it!

After exploring and doing some shopping in Sarajevo, it was time to come back home (to Dubrovnik) on Sunday. On the way back, we stopped at Počitelj Fortress and got to climb what is leftover from the King’s fortress of the 1400’s. The site is not developed very much, so it looks almost untouched from today’s world. There are no guard rails, signage, our restrictions in where you can climb. Sitting on top of this great fortress was my favorite part of the entire trip!

Sorry for the really long post, but I hoped you enjoyed it as much as I loved BiH! I have attached a photo gallery of all of the amazing things I saw. Enjoy!

XOXO Sarah

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Adjusting…

Adjusting…

Now that we have been in Dubrovnik for two weeks, I am beginning to feel more like a “local” and less like a tourist. I can more easily navigate the city, have found the best route to and from campus, and can even help out lost tourists with directions!

Here are some things I have learned so far:

  • Toilets are so weird here. They are oddly shaped and the flush button is weird too! They are much smaller than the US, and the flusher is the entire top of the toilet and you push it into the toilet to flush. Some toilets have two large buttons, one wider than the other for… heavier flushes. When our washer drains, it does so in the toilet… so we get to see all the nasty water come out of our now clean clothes.
  • There are no clothes driers. I knew this before I left the states, so this is not as shocking to me. It’s actually kind of pretty to see laundry hanging out to dry. Our balcony came equipped with four lines for drying clothes, and our landlord left us a bunch of clothespins.
  • There is no Netflix! We learned this one the hard way… but Netflix “hasn’t come to this country yet”. That is literally what the website says when you type it in.
  • Walking and/or using public transportation is actually much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I have had my own car since I turned 16, and before that my mom or sister would drive me around, so needless to say I have been very spoiled. Before coming I thought I would be most “culture shocked” by not having the convenience of my car, but I have found a lot of peace in walking the city. It is very relaxing to just stroll home. Besides, driving here is insanely scary. So that brings me to the next point…
  • The roads here are tiny. I mean tiny. You start walking down a road, and think it is just a walking path. Then a car comes through, and you think it is a one way. But then a car comes from the opposite direction, and you are terrified for your life and both drivers. I haven’t seen any accidents yet, so I guess its normal for them.
  • Stairs are everywhere, and I mean everywhere. We walk up hundreds of stairs to get back to the apartment. Like over 500. This is not a place that can accommodate handicapped people at all.

While I have found these things to be the most alarming, I have not really felt homesick or culture shock yet. I do not know if I will experience either, but as of right now, I can say that I am fully immersing myself into the Croatian culture as much as I possibly can!

Until next time, Cheers!

A perfect view
                                                

Living in Paradise…

We had arrived late Saturday night, and once we got to the apartment our landlord and study abroad faculty mentor wanted to make sure we were all set and ready to make ourselves at home. They talked to us a lot; telling us directions, how to use appliances, where things were located in the apartment and around the city, and a ton of other really important information as soon as we arrived in Dubrovnik. The truth is, I tried listening as best I could, but I just could not pay attention to the things they were saying. I don’t know if I experienced a little bit of culture shock or what, but my senses were put into overdrive. All I could do was look, I couldn’t hear them say anything.

My first impressions:

The refrigerator and freezer combo is as tall as my shoulders…. weird. The oven and stove are in different parts of the kitchen. The TV looks like it came from the 80’s. Some furniture was modern, while other pieces looked like they had been picked up at a garage sale. It was all very overwhelming. I didn’t even know where to set my bags down, because we hadn’t even picked our rooms yet! I was exhausted, yet had this adrenaline rush at the same time. It was a very strange sensation running through my body.

We had a few balconies off our apartment- one off the living room, one off a bedroom, and another facing the opposite direction. When we opened the balcony door, the heat hit us. It was after 11pm and it was still so hot outside. I checked the weather and it was still in the mid 80s. From the balcony, we could see that we were overlooking the major part of the city, we just couldn’t see much other than some supermarket signs lit up and a few ships out in the sea with some lights on.

We needed to head out to get something to eat, so we asked our landlord the simplest way to get out and back without a chance of us getting lost. She told us to go down a few flights of stairs and we would see a cafe that was open late.

A few?! In total, it was 251 steps from our front door to the closest cafe. People had warned me about the steps in Dubrovnik, but I don’t think I was anything close to prepared for this many stairs. And the killer part is, we weren’t even halfway to the main part of the city or to campus from that point. We had dinner and used the cafes free wifi to sit there for a while and catch up with the world. Then we headed back up the 251 stairs for bed.

I couldn’t sleep, I was just too anxious and felt not at home yet. I woke up at about 6:30AM and went right for the balcony. The view was incredible. It was breathtaking. I sat there for an hour or so just taking it in. I knew at that point I had made the right decision to leave my home life behind and come to this amazing place.

The view from our balcony...
The view from our balcony…

On Sunday we went to the #1 beach in Dubrovnik, Banje Beach. It was filled with tourists- Dubrovnik had over 7 ships at port that day and had an influx of almost 20,000 people from cruises that weekend. We had a hard time finding a spot to lay our blanket down. We didn’t mind it though, we felt like we were on vacation too!

The beach was incredible. It is all pebbles, filled with mostly small rocks. The water is the most amazing shade of teal and was so refreshing. We laid on the beach for most of the day, just soaking in the sun, and I could not help but think how amazing my life is. I am living in a paradise where people come to vacation! This is just a little different than my home in Upstate NY.

Now that I have gone through my first week of classes in Dubrovnik, I still feel incredibly lucky to be living in this amazing place. I got to learn some of the history of Dubrovnik and the recent wars, how tourism impacts Dubrovnik and Croatia, as well as meet new people and experience new things. 3 out of 5 days this week we have gone to the beach either before or after class! I am incredibly thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to explore what it is like to live in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Stay tuned for further impressions on life in Dubrovnik…

Ready for class!
            Ready for class!

Around the World in 5 days….

After getting on the plane on Monday afternoon, it all started to become real that I was leaving my friends and family back home in order to start my journey abroad. I slept maybe three to four hours on the plane, I was just too anxious! When we finally landed we each had to collect our bags and figure out how to use the London tube system to get to our hotel. After asking several employees (all extremely nice), we finally found our way out of Heathrow airport and to Paddington station. Our hotel was about a 5 minute walk from Paddington (in the pouring rain, with a 50 pound suitcase, a stuffed backpack, and a carry on that fit as much as I possibly could).

London rained almost the entire time we were there, so I guess we experienced it like true Brits!! The two highlights of London were the London Eye, and the Borough Market. The Borough Market was amazing!

The Borough Market
The Borough Market
Big Ben/Parliament from the London Eye
Big Ben/Parliament from the London Eye

We didn’t really spend enough time in London. We were there for not even 2 full days, so we didn’t get to experience going inside the famous buildings, but we were just happy for the experience. At 8pm on Wednesday night, we were boarding the train for Paris! This was the part of our trip that I was most excited for.

We arrived in Paris around 11pm on Wednesday. We needed to take the metro from the train station to our hotel, and once again we had all of our bags. One thing no one warned me about was that countries in Europe do not really have to accommodate handicap people or have elevators or escalators anywhere. So in Paris, at 11pm, we were confused, trying to figure out the metro, and while we were doing it we had to lug all of our luggage around and up and down countless flights of stairs. It was awful! I highly recommend taking a taxi if you have any sort of luggage with you.

Once we got off the metro at the correct location near our hotel, we walked around aimlessly in an area that was off the beaten path, so there were very few people outside for us to ask for directions. It took us four different times of asking locals where we should go before we finally found the hotel…. and to our surprise, we had passed it at least three times!! The hotel was under renovation so it did not have any big signs or displays marking it.. just a tiny logo on a banner that we must have passed what seemed like a million times!

Paris was my absolute favorite! We did the Louvre, climbed the top of the Arc, saw Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the Pere Lachaise cemetary, sat and had lunch in the Tuileries gardens, and ate all of the baguettes, macaroons, and croissants possible! Of course we also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower! The Tower is completely stunning.  IMG_6343                    IMG_6540

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View from the Arc de Triomphe!
View from the Arc de Triomphe!

Paris would have been hard to leave if I wasn’t going to Dubrovnik. I loved Paris, but Dubrovnik was going to be the real start of my journey. Boarding the plane and preparing to head to Dubrovnik, I had been so nervous and excited at the same time that I had butterflies and felt nauseous. We had a late flight into Dubrovnik, so when we arrived we could not see the city, or our view from the apartment. There will be more to come on Dubrovnik. So that is how I made it from Rochester, NY, to London, Paris, and now Dubrovnik in just 5 days!!