Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sunday morning in Travnik

The following morning, I wake up early since I have gone to bed pretty early the night before (last night I briefly contemplated exploring the Travnik nightlife but gave up ─ thinking I would need the help of my friends from Tuzla to do this). There is dense fog all around and I cannot see the hills from my hotel room. After breakfast in the hotel, I decide to go for one more long walk in the hills, starting from the cemetery behind the hotel. While roaming around the white marble Muslim tombstones, taking pictures of the surrounding landscape, a guy comes up to me, who, after asking me where I am from, asks me for one KM “to buy cigarettes.” I give him two (that’s what I have in my jeans’ pocket), thinking that I may be risking my safety this early in the morning, by myself, in a place I barely know, but things feel very safe around here and I keep going. I take a walking path going up higher into the hills. The path more or less disappears and although I could keep going, I now remember that I read in my guide book that there still are landmines in the hills around Travnik, so I decide to stick to roads and cemeteries, which I associate with “safe places.” There is complete peace and silence all around with the occasional crow flying overhead with a heavy “flop-flop” of its wings (yet another magical Balkan moment). After walking through the other big Islamic cemetery on the same mountainside and taking pictures of wildflowers which grow amid the stones, I head back towards town and life. Its is Sunday morning, people, mostly older, are streaming out of the Catholic church. There are also people at the flower market and others who start filling-up the terraces of cafes, smoking and drinking coffee. Further on, more people are gathered just outside of the Serbian Orthodox church, chatting with the priest. I walk past them and up the road from which I know I can have one last great view of the town below and of the Kastel (“Stari Grad”) in the far distance. I take a few last pictures and I head back to the hotel to pack, walking all the way along the river Lasva.

April in Travnik

I arrived in Travnik on Friday night at the motel "ABA": a combo “hotel + pekara (bakery),” which guaranties that breakfast at the hotel will be good! The bus ride from Tuzla was fairly long, so I make it an early night. On Saturday morning, with camera in my pocket, I go explore the town. I first go to Plava Voda, right next to the hotel; one of the tourist spots in Travnik mentioned in all the guides. It is indeed beautiful. There is the impressive mountain creek making a ruckus with man-made pools that have been created to keep trout. I then move on to the old town and make it straight to the “Rodna Kuca Ive Andrica” (Ivo Andric House), the house where the writer Ivo Andric was born and which I have read has a small museum and a restaurant on the ground floor. After all, Ivo Andric’s novel “Bosnian Chronicle,” which I have read (in French) twice and is one of my all-time favorite books, is the main reason why I have come to Travnik for the weekend, so it is only natural I should quickly pay a visit to the house where the master was born. The restaurant is only supposed to open at 11 and there is no sign of activity upstairs so I decide to come back later. When I come back at noon, the museum has been invaded by a boisterous group of teenagers from Slovenia. I hang out by the entrance where I strike a conversation with Adi who is hosting their visit. Adi is an interesting guy: he is the president of an NGO which promotes the development of new political parties in Bosnia. He also works as a volunteer for an organization whose goal is to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS cases in Bosnia (Bosnia currently has relatively few cases of HIV/AIDS but Adi believes that with more young people travelling abroad these days, this could change for the worse if nothing is done). Adi is from Travnik. He recommends that I do not forget to visit the Kastel (Stari Grad) during my stay. We exchange email addresses and promise to stay in touch. After the Slovenian kids leave, I spend an hour in the museum looking at the various copies of the Bosnian Chronicle translated into many different languages. In another room, there is a display showing Andric receiving his Nobel prize for literature (the only writer from the former Yougoslavia to receive this honor). In a glass case, there are reproductions of letters written in French by the French consul in Travnik in the early years of the 19th century, whom the book is based on. I am like a kid in the proverbial candy store. When I am finally ready to leave, realizing that I am “vrlo gladan” (very hungry) I go downstairs for lunch (one of the best meals I’ve had in Travnik).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Day trip (April 20th) continued in Gradacac

Same friends as the day before, now in Gradacac.

Beautiful stone archway with Islamic carvings.

Detail from another archway.

The fortress of Husein Bey Gradascevic (nicknamed “the dragon”) in the town of Gradacac, Tuzla Canton, was likely built in the 14th century.

Paved alley to the Gradacac fortress in same ottoman style as the “stari most” (“old bridge” ) in Mostar.

Arnaud in front of the house of the Dragon. The restaurant where we are having lunch is at the top, with an extraordinary view of the surrounding countryside.

Making plans. So many amazing places to visit in the countries of the former yougoslavia, so little time…

Rucak! (“lunch is here!”).