Category archives: Bosnia

Into the High Country

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The summer blog is back in action! My name is Katie, and I’m the seasonal intern for Green Visions this year. I study Global Finance and Trade at the Korbel School of International Studies in Denver, Colorado, but my background is in environmental science and conservation, which originally drew me to Green Visions. I’m from Lexington, Kentucky, I enjoy long walks in the woods, good cheese, and funky yoga classes.

I help Green Visions with social media and outreach initiatives to get the word out about the Balkans, because they’re stunning, vibrant, and much less traveled than their Western European neighbors. To help with that, I’d like to post information and stories of unique places in Bosnia that visitors can find during their adventures here.

Green Visions offers a biweekly trip to Bosnia’s highest inhabited town, Lukomir, for 40 euros a person. The town is nestled high in the hills at 1500 meters on the western slope of Bjelasnica Mountain, above the Rakitnica River Canyon, which is one of the main tributaries to the Neretva. The water of the Rakitnica cannot be seen from the cliffs alongside Lukomir, but its influence is evidenced from the winding valley scoured out from millenniums of water erosion. The dendritic pattern of the valley below inspires folk lore of dragons, and if you happen to be a fan of Game of Thrones, Lukomir and the surrounding geography has that, “north of the wall” feel.
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Bosnian Food 101

Pita, ćevapi, & burek. Photocred Kaleb Fulgham/Flickr

Whenever I travel, my general impression of a place is based on food. The food I have encountered in the Balkans never ceases to surprise my taste buds and I. Whether its traditional Bosnian dishes or modern vegetarian twists, travelers can fill their bellies without breaking the bank.

Traditional Dishes

Bosnia has three main food groups: dairy, bread, and meat. The cheese, creams, and milk from the region are unlike anything I’ve tasted before. The salty goat cheese, similar to feta in texture in color, goes great with salads, sandwiches, pasta…I slice and eat it by itself. If you see the words, “Vlasicki sir”, buy the cheese. In bulk. This cheese comes from the town of Travnik, a metropolis below the Vlašić Mountain, known for its goat cheese, medieval history, and as the birthplace of Noble Laureate Ivan “Ivo” Andrić.

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Car Rentals in Sarajevo

Renting a car is the best way to explore the Balkans in terms of price and convenience. Other modes of transport are inexpensive (buses, taxis, hitchhiking, biking, walking) or easy (by plane), but rarely both. I spent the past weekend traveling through Bosnia and Montenegro by car, and although the trip itself was beautiful and relaxing, the act of getting a car during peak tourist season proved to be the true adventure. If you keep your cool and take these bits of advice to heart, the whole process can be nema problema (no problem).

Tip #1: Rent from an actual rent-a-car business IN town

The first step I took on rental cars was going online to compare prices. With great access to wifi at hostels, hotels, and cafes, this is the easiest option for travelers who may be wary of the language barrier. And this is a great option. But. But, make sure that you are renting through an actual company/business in the area, and not a middle-man provider. “Booking” sites serve as the secretary for rent-a-car’s but work internationally, with no real knowledge of the car availability. They show super low prices, but the car may not exist by the time your rental request gets into the business.

Go straight to the business itself. Either online, by phone, or in person. For Sarajevo, use the internet to search rental car businesses at the airport or town center and look for the familiar rental car names of Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, Alamo.

Tip #2: Use Local Resources

The best resource I have had while traveling in Bosnia (outside of GV staff), has been the owners of our hostel at Residence Rooms. Utilize the local knowledge by asking Bosnians at your hotel or hostel about where to rent cars and find the best prices. Green Visions can help you out with this part of your Balkan adventure as well.

Swimming in the Bay of Kotor outside of Herceg Novi, MNE

Swimming in the Bay of Kotor outside of Herceg Novi, MNE

Tip #3: Manual or Automatic?

While looking for cars in Sarajevo, I never came across offers for automatic cars. I know they exist (although more expensive), but it may be best to assume that your only means of road tripping is if you or a travel buddy can drive stick. So maybe this is the time to bring along your friend Karen on the trip. Yes she’s annoying, but she can drive manual and she loves paying for drinks late night at the bar, so there are trade-offs.

Tip #4: Book in Advance

In the peak summer travel season, it is possible for an entire city to run out of rental cars. No, I am not clear on exactly how this works, and yes, expensive cars are still available, but who wants to drive a Mercedes through the Balkans for 100 euros a day? Regardless, book your car two-weeks in advance just to be safe, and make sure you are clear on the pick up and drop off location.

The road through Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia & Herzegovina

The road through Sutjeska National Park, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Tip #5: Search for Rentals in Surrounding Towns

If you have waited until the day before to finally book your car (I’m guilty), and you have found everything sold out, you do still have options. If you’re coming out of Sarajevo, search and call rental places in Tuzla and Mostar. Both towns are a few hours away by bus, and buses leave several times from Sarajevo every day of the week.

Tip #6: Go for the GPS

If you are given the option, spend a little extra for the GPS. Google Maps overall works well in the Balkans, but it can lead you down some shady side streets and abandoned gravel roads that may be too narrow or difficult to traverse. Save a map offline on your Google Maps for backup, and use the GPS as you go. Before you leave the rent-a-car, be sure that the GPS turns on, you know how to use it, and the car charger works as well. Extra note: If the GPS tells you it will take 3-hours to get somewhere, tack on another 2-hours for your driving “cushion”.

The zipline at Đurđevića Tara Bridge overlooking the Tara River

The zipline at Đurđevića Tara Bridge overlooking the Tara River in Montenegro

Tip #7: Enjoy the Ride

The Balkans are stunning. They offer mountains, vineyards and wine country, the coast, and secluded highlands all within a few-hours drive of Sarajevo. Take your time with the journey, signal for the speed demons to pass, and stop frequently for coffee and fresh fruit. The road trip may be the highlight of your summer travel adventure.

What is that smell? Wild Herbs of BiH

Bosnia smells incredible. Although the burek restaurants and pekaras across the urban landscape can draw the noses of new tourists for kilometers, I prefer the sweet and delicate smell of Bosnia’s rural highlands. No, not the goats or cows. Skip over those, of course. I am talking about the abundant herbs, wildflowers, and orchards that dot the countryside. On my first trip to Lukomir, I was captivated by the small blossoming herbs clinging to gravel cliff sides and all of their medicinal qualities explained by the guides. The export of wild medicinal and aromatic herbs in BiH is becoming a serious agricultural commodity in recent years with consumers increasingly looking for “natural” cures to pains and illnesses.

It is difficult not to notice the flowery scents of the countryside, and if you are like me and forgot to bring your pen and paper on your last Green Visions trip, here are a few herbs you might have seen (or will soon see) during your treks across Bosnia.

Vrijesak. Calluna Vulgaris

Vrijesak. Photocred Maria Savenko/Flickr

Commonly known as heather, vrijesak is the most dominant plant in the shrub land habitats of Europe. The perennial herb is maintained by grazing or wildfire, and flowers in the late summer with mauve to white-colored buds. Traditionally, heather is known to be used as a medicinal tea for treatment of problems in the kidneys and urinary tract. Before the use of hops, the buds were used as flavorings in the brewing of heather-beer during the Middle-Ages as an ingredient in the gruit of the beer. It was also known to be used as a yellow dye during the processing of wool.

Majcina dusica. Thymus serpyllum

Majcina dusica. Photocred Andrew/Flickr

Commonly known as Wild thyme, majcina dusica is a purple flowering herb in the mint family. It typically has a very strong and sweet lemon scent. Thyme has an almost endless list of uses. The Egyptians used it for embalming, I gargle with it every morning in my Listerine, in the Middle Ages, it was said to give courage and bravery to knights heading into battle. Medicinally, oil of thyme was used to medicate bandages before the age of antibiotics, and is also found in herbal teas to help with the scratchiness of sore throats and bronchitis.

Nana. Mentha longifolia

Nana. Photocred Larry/Flickr

Commonly known as horsemint, nana is one of 13-18 known species of mint. Found throughout the Balkans, mint is used for cooking and medicinal purposes throughout the region. It can popularly be found in teas and local rakija, and is known to help with stomach and chest pains.

Vranilovka. Origanum vulgare

Vranilovka. Photocred Peter O'Connor/Flickr

Commonly known as oregano, vranilovka is in the genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Oregano is very popular and used for cooking and medicinal purposes worldwide. But lucky for us in the Balkans, it is native to southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region. In Bosnian cooking, you can commonly find Oregano mixed into dishes such as djuvech (Bosnian vegetables and rice) and cufte (Bosnian meatballs).

Kantarion. Hypericum perforatum

Kantarion. Photocred Killfille/Flickr

Commonly known as St. John’s Wort, kantarion is a yellow flowering plant used as a medicinal herb for its anti-depression and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a highly invasive species, but native to many areas of Europe (including Bosnia). St. John’s Wort supposedly gets its name from the first century and early Christians naming it after John the Baptist, since its flowering and harvesting typically takes place on or before the saints birthday on the 24th of June. During the medieval period, it was hung over religious icons to ward off evil spirits in the home, and has been credited for centuries as being a “magic” herb with an abundance of medicinal properties.

St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:
Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind
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