Bosnia and Blatina

Stari Most, Mostar

After our stay in the tourist spots of Croatia, we were very keen to move on to somewhere less geared towards milking our wallets. This somewhere was Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the birthplace of War Child it would be one of the most significant places we would visit…

A country’s border is largely symbolic, but upon crossing from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzogevenia the line was clear, an economic and ecological boundary had been passed. The difference was striking; gone were the short twisted olive trees and barren red earth, they were replaced by tall trees and green grass. The pungent odours of rubbish and burning plastic assulted the nose.

It was apparent that BiH was still recovering from the fallout of the third Balkan war and had not suckled on the teat of tourism, unlike its coastal neighbour.

On our way through the countryside we saw Croatian flags flying outside family homes, homes that were often built next to bullet ridden husks. This juxtaposition of old, shelled buildings next to new developments was also apparent in Mostar where Matt an I were to spend a few days learning about War Child’s inception.

Unwilling to take the risk of camping in an unmarked minefield we took the soft option of Hostel Aksoy in the center of the city. Unbeknown to us at the time, the Aksoy family had a hand in the formative years of war child’s development. Attila Aksoy is a famous Blakan musician. He helped run the Pavarotti music center, set-up by War Child as a place for people to go, create music and escape the horrors that confronted them on a daily basis outside of its walls.

We were grateful to be able to speak with Alma Elezovic whose husband, Ermin, was a soldier battling, not only his former neighbours, but all the deamons that war brought. So, when War Child turned-up in their colouful bus and set about building a bakery, Ermin assisted them. This gave him an escape from the frontline and something else to talk about, some new friends.

Alma’s tears as she spoke were actually tears of happiness, tears for all her family at War Child, she bore no grudge against her neighbours citing hate as a poison. A sentiment echoed by our hyper-active hostel manager, Džuneit Aksoy. Testament to the grace of these people who have suffered so much and continue to struggle against an inept, corrupt and nepotistic government that takes as much as it can from it’s people and gives little back. Things have improved immeasurably since the war, but there are still problems here.

Attila is still involved in charity work and when we heard his band, Zoster, were playing a benefit gig at a local stadium we leapt at the chance to attend. Of course, attending a gig would require some form of social lubricant so I rushed out and got some of the local plonk, Blatina. The Lonely Planet cites that Blatina is an underrated wine, and I have to agree, as a wine it is underrated. I think it’d make a better pipe-cleaner. My pipes certainly felt cleaner after being de-greased by the throat burning, cheap concoction. Not deterred by the slight blindness with which we were afflicted, we headed out into the warm Bosnian evening.

Matt and I enjoyed a night at Attila Aksoy’s benefit gig. Moshing with the young crowd along to covers of Rage Against The Machine, Perl Jam and a masterful rendition of The Queens of the Stone Age “No One Knows”. We were transported back to our university years. Sadly, though our spirits may have been transported back in time, our bodies remained firmly in their thirties…

The morning after the gig I awoke to a mouth that was so dry that I could have been chewing on a tampon all night. Attempts at walking were met with angry resistance from my calves, I might as well have been hamstrung. Matt was wearing the palid complexion and veneer of sweat that only accompanies a severe hangover. Too much bootlegged vodka perhaps?

Hangover aside, our penultimate day in Mostar was brilliant. I sat and ate fried fish and fresh bread with Džuneit’s father, drinking his own home-brewed blatina and taking shots of pear schnapps whilst an assortment of his friends came to share in the food and wine with us – it was great.

The hair-of-the-dog worked wonders for me, alas, Matt was still suffering and despite a valiant effort (a shot of schnapps) had to retire to the bathroom to share a moment with the porcelein.

Matt, Džuneit and Andy at Hostel Aksoy

Matt, Džuneit and Andy at Hostel Aksoy

During the planning of this trip a visit to BiH was always deemed important. We wanted to learn from those involved in War Child from the very beginning how the charity had helped. And we’ve done that. The stay also renewed our vigour to attain our goals and re-assured us that even amongst all the horrors of genocide and war, a single light can illuminate the dark, it can make a difference. And so can you…you know what to do…www.justgiving.com/thecyclediaries

2 Responses to “Bosnia and Blatina”

  1. Vinologue says:

    If you had plonk Blatina, then you were buying based on plonky prices. Blatina can be an excellent wine when not scraping the bottom of the barrel and it’s a shame you missed out on bottles by Gangaš, Brkić, or Andrija to name a few.

    Maybe you should just stick to the Šlivovica as it’s wickedly strong if all you want is to get drunk.

  2. Christopher Monteiro-Sharratt says:

    I crossed that bridge in 1995, while with british forces in the UN. So many memories of so many young children that we saw. Thank you for helping this organisation and subsequently the children that we could not at the time. Thank you so much

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