Travel with kids: Overnight stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very picturesque country. It is mountainous - there are alps and rivers and lakes and enchanting roads winding through adorable villages. It was stunning to drive through during the summer and the kids and I imagined these mountains covered in blankets of snow in the winter. I am told there are some excellent places to ski here. My quick photos from the side of the road don't do the scenery justice.

A night in a convent in a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina might not be the first thing that you'd think about whilst traveling with kids abroad; you probably wouldn't think about it at all.

However, it was high on my list of things to do and places to go which is why I chose to travel this route instead of keeping it easy and driving only in Croatia.

Car hire and driving preparation
We left my cousin's house in Tenja, near Osijek to head to Split on the Dalmatian Coast for a week. Our first stop was to a car rental in Osijek. I'm a manual driver but I decided to have a bit of practice in my cousin's car before picking up my rental. Here I'll be driving with the driver's seat on the left and gear changing with my right hand whilst driving on the opposite side of the road to Australia. 

The car I was provided with was a Chevrolet Lacetti hatchback, 5 door, 5 speed manual. The condition report looked like someone had been a little over enthusiastic during a game of naughts and crosses - there were circles and crosses all over the page. The car had dents, scratches and chipped paint all over the front, back, doors, side mirrors and even roof! "Trust me, it's better like this" said the guy "there are many crazy drivers". I decided not to pursue this line of conversation, but simply photograph every panel of the car as advised by various travel blog posts. 

To prepare myself for driving in Croatia and Bosnia I did a bit of reading before this trip and one lesson I came away with was that visiting drivers should have NERVES OF STEEL. Another lesson my cousin taught me before I left was how to bribe the police should I get pulled over. Hang on, WHAT??

My paperwork in order, familiar with road rules, bribe money in various currencies, luggage and car snacks packed, I strapped the kids and myself in and off we set. I'd studied maps before we left and knew the towns I'd need to pass by to get through Bosnia on our way to Split. It took about an hour to get to the boarder crossing at Slavonski Brod. The roads and signs were good and I was feeling confident as the kids and I chatted during the drive. 

The speed limit on the Croatian highway was 130 km/hr. At first I was a little concerned about driving this fast as Australia's highest limits are 110. However, as cars zipped past me I realised that I could be a hazard if I stayed too much under 130 so I sped up to the limit. As cars continued to zip past me I found how easy it was to increase speed and be part of the flow, even though I was nowhere near as fast as other cars. I decided that 130, perhaps just a bit over, was fast enough for me and still I was overtaken by a police car. 

While driving through both Croatia and Bosnia in both city and country areas, I did note that some road rules were treated as mere suggestions by other drivers - speed limits, side of the road, seat belts, red lights, pedestrian crossings, stop signs, using indicators and so on.... Nevertheless I stuck to the road rules and speed limits, kept our seat belts fastened and used the indicator as required. The roads through this part of Bosnia are a little narrower with many parts washed away by recent floods. I preferred to do the right thing, stick to my side of the road and hoped that others would do the same.

And despite having bribe money (which incidentally equals a round of beer for a cop and a couple of his mates) and my spiel all ready, not once was I pulled over by the many police around which means you don't get to hear that thrilling story from me.

When I was a young teen, my mum would say that she could always tell when I was lying, because I lied just like her sister. This sister, my aunt, received her calling to become a nun and our overnight lodging is in an enclosed convent in a small village about an hour away from Sarajevo.

I grew up having quick "Merry Christmas" phone chats with my aunt, then an emotional first meeting here over 10 years ago, and now an emotional reunion. Most of the other nuns here are the same as my previous visit and they are thrilled to meet Mr 8 and Mr 5. This is an enclosed order and most of our interaction with the nuns is through windows and door partitions. Our rooms and bathroom are basic and very clean but we are fed 6 star flavours as the nuns provide meals through a window. The dishes are simple but taste soooo gooood. Is it because everything is from their garden? It's the ultimate organic and homegrown. The freshness and flavour intensity - just wow!

Our first afternoon and evening here we simply talk to the nuns and the boys do some drawings with the craft supplies I'd brought as there is no TV. They draw some pictures as well as a thank you card for the nuns. 

The Museum at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Fojnica
We got up quite early the next morning to attend chapel with the nuns, then, Maria, a local teenager pops in to take us to a museum in nearby Fojnica, a picturesque town tucked in valley of the Fojnička River.

The church here can lay claim to the first organ in Bosnia while the attached museum, library and gallery houses historical and cultural artifacts of the area grouped into household, textile, folkloric, farming, industry, mining, weaponry and so on. Mr 5 is interested enough, but Mr 8 gets right into it and asks a lot of questions. They both enjoy the weapons and coins. The monastery library collection is impressive with 13 books pre-dating 1500.

Our Bosnian stay was only one night and following our visit to Fojnica we don't leave the convent until 3pm. Our original plan was to drive and have quick stops in Sarajevo and Mostar. I was in Sarajevo some years ago and I really wanted to go back and visit Baščaršija, Sarajevo's old bazaar in the centre of the city which would have been unlike anywhere else the boys would see on this trip. I also wanted to make the scenic drive through the Neretva river valley to the beautiful town of Mostar. 

However, I knew my last minute decision to drive a slightly quicker route through Bugonjo and Livno was a good call as the boys fell asleep in the car within minutes and slept for the next few hours while I loved loved loved the drive through the mountains as we descended back into Croatia and made our way to Split.

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