Guest Blog Post, an interview with Hasina Momtaz, only at Halal Travel Escapes!
Asalamalaikum Hasina, you recently took a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina! What made you want to visit there?
“Walaikumsalam. To be honest, Bosnia wasn’t a country that I had previously considered visiting as a holiday destination. However, over the last year, prior to my visit, a lot of my friends kept mentioning it and some had been to visit. It sounded like a very beautiful country and when the opportunity came up to visit there, I decided to go. I certainly wasn’t disappointed! It’s a very scenic country with some breathtakingly beautiful scenery and landscapes. The people are very hospitable, the food is delicious and we had a fantastic tour guide who told us about the history of each place we visited. I was already aware of the painful history of what took place in 1995 in Srebrenica and throughout the visit there were lots of poignant reminders of the war which took place such as the Sarajevo Roses. Sarajevo Roses are craters left by fatal mortar strikes which have been filled with red resin to remember those lost during the Siege of Sarajevo. There are over 200 of these around the city and they look floral in appearance hence their name.”
What part of Bosnia an Herzegovina did you visit?
“We visited Sarajevo which is the capital city and the largest in terms of population. We also visited Mostar, which is in southern Bosnia and situated on the Neretva River.
In Sarajevo, we visited the Latin Bridge which was the site of the beginning of World War One. It was on this bridge that Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated. This acted as a catalyst for World War One.
We also visited the Tunnel of Hope, also known as the Sarajevo Tunnel. It was constructed during the Siege of Sarajevo from March to June 1993. It was built by the Bosnian army in order to link Sarajevo to Bosnian held territory on the other side of Sarajevo Airport. During the siege Sarajevo was completely cut off by the Serbian forces. The tunnel was a lifeline and was used to transport food and humanitarian supplies as well as allowing people to escape. I walked – or rather crouched – through a section of the tunnel and even though I knew I wasn’t in any danger; I could easily imagine what a treacherous journey this would have been during the war. We watched a video of the heroes who risked their lives to build the tunnel and it really brought it home for me. Sitting there watching it, I felt really emotional and sad for those that had lost their own lives as well as seen loved ones killed by the Serbian army.
Sarajevo was actually founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450’s so it has a strong association with Islamic history. Of course, Bosnia is a Muslim majority country in the heart of Europe.
Mostar was also stunningly beautiful and is steeped in history too. We visited Stari Most, also known as the Mostar Bridge. It’s the bridge that is usually depicted in pictures of Bosnia and is very well known. The meaning of Stari Most is Old Bridge and it was originally built by the Ottomans. It was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by Croat paramilitary forces during the war but was subsequently rebuilt and re-opened in July 2004.
Standing on the bridge and taking selfies, I sensed that the serene waters flowing beneath had been witness to much bloodshed and sorrow during the war but as with all troubled waters, it had no choice but to keep flowing and keep going.”
What was the highlight of your trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina?
“There were so many highlights, its hard to choose! We visited some beautiful mosques including one located on the side of a mountain! There are mosques everywhere – I don’t think you are ever more than 10 minutes away from a mosque! Even the smallest ones are stunningly beautiful with stained glass windows and beautifully decorated ceilings.
Bosnia really is a country of so many contrasts. It has many historical sites but its also very modern. There was an amazing jewellery quarter in Mostar with some gorgeous pieces and even some fake Bulgari pieces! There are lots of places to buy souvenirs and you can literally spend the whole day just browsing!
The hotel we stayed in was beautiful and we made full use of the steam room and sauna after travelling the whole day!
One of my favourite places was the majestic Kravice waterfalls. It was simply superb and I would advise anyone not to miss out on a visit to there. On the other side of the waterfalls, there are places to eat fresh food and also lots of hills to climb which may help to burn off the calories after eating all the yummy food!”
What was your experience in finding halal food and places to eat in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
” It’s very easy as everywhere is halal, the food is very cheap yet absolutely delicious! There are these amazing filo pastry rolls and you can choose from a variety of fillings including minced beef, cheese and spinach. They are very filling and cost less than five pounds.”
Would you like to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, if so where would you go and why?
“I would love to go this year in sha Allah and visit Srebrenica as it’s the 25th anniversary of the genocide. During the genocide over 8,000 men and boys were rounded up by Serbian forces and taken to the mountains and executed. It has left a deep wound and the scars are still visible. Even now, bodies of husbands, sons and fathers are still being discovered in mass graves.”
Is there anything you would recommend? Any travel tips or advice you can share with those wanting to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina?
“One of the poignant things our wonderful tour guide said is that the Bosnian people really want people to visit them so that they don’t feel the world has forgotten about them. I would definitely recommend a visit to Bosnia. Its less than four hours from London on a direct flight and flights are relatively cheap depending on the time of year travelled. Food and shopping is also relatively cheap. I travelled on a group tour and they arranged all the transport and accommodation so I’m not sure how easy or cheap it is to travel around but I imagine its not too costly. Hotels are as you would expect depending on the star rating – the hotel we stayed in Sarajevo is called the Malek Regency and is stunning.”
“My only advice would be to stay very vigilante and keep an eye on your belongings, as you would do on any trip in an unfamiliar country. We were warned to be careful of pick pockets and there are gangs of them operating, particularly around the shopping areas. There were also a few beggars around the shopping area in Mostar that approached us but again, you just have to remain vigilant. One expects certain things when travelling and I wouldn’t let either of these things put me off a visit. I think it’s a case of keeping alert to any dangers when travelling anywhere.
Overall Bosnia was a fantastic experience and I will treasure the memories for a long time to come!”
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