Bosnia: First Impressions

Our bus meandered up the coast of Croatia and over the mountains into Bosnia. Or more correctly, I should say Bosnia and Herzegovina – the official name. The locals abbreviate it BiH, and I like that – or maybe just Bosnia.

We were heading to Mostar to begin our exploration of this fascinating country.

The road over the mountains was scenic, but slow going. Twists, turns, and switchbacks kept us swaying in our seats. And stops for passport checks seemed endless. Since the border between Croatia and Bosnia worms its way through the area, our passports were checked 6 times – no exaggeration. Nobody was pulled off the bus, including us, so we were pleased.

With origins in the 15th century, Mostar has a long and tumultuous history. Ethnic and religious rivalries have been ever-present. As our bus rambled into town, we could see that today it is truly a place where East meets West.


Mosques stand next to churches and synagogues, and western music blares from cafes while the Islamic call to prayers is echoing through the streets. Muslim women in hijabs walk side by side with teenagers in skinny jeans and Converse sneakers.

And then we noticed all the bombed-out, shrapnel-scared buildings left over from the Bosnian War. What an incredible city of contrasts.

Happy Trails,

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We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

33 thoughts

    1. Yes Elephant, the photo is for real. And I hadn’t really noticed the textures. Thanks for pointing it out. I’m not much of a B/W photographer, but Mostar would have been a great location for someone with B/W talent. ~James

    1. Lisa, it seemed that every direction we turned a new, fascinating contrast presented itself – a gleaming glass and steel hotel beside a bombed-out shell of a former bank. I didn’t realize the last photo’s resemblance to a Weyeth painting – thanks for the insight! ~James

  1. Great contrasts all over the world, I guess. Young people dressed in skinny jeans in China, Nepal, and India stood near ancient temples, so it was always fascinating to put together these timelines of old and new. Thanks for these pics. Safe travels.

    1. Rusha, isn’t it fascinating that you saw the same clothing choices in China, too. Maybe it’s the official uniform of teenagers around the world! 🙂 The young girls in Mostar were very camera-shy. Did you experience that in China? ~James

  2. You do us a service by sharing your insights to this low profile part of the world we grew up thinking of simply as Yugoslavia. Everything Communist seemed gray like concrete in black and white photos. The Bosnia War simply made me more wary of the place. Now your stories and images tell a much different story. Thank you! – Mike

    1. Many thanks Mike. We worked hard to research and understand the history of the area before we went, but there are age-old conflicts in play that I doubt we’ll ever understand. It’s wonderful to see how the young generations are working hard to move forward and not dwell in the past. ~James

    1. Cathy, I’d have to say that almost nothing about our time in Bosnia would qualify as normal. But we’d been on the road for a while when we were there, and we caved in and had a McDonald’s cappuccino in Sarajevo. It’s our most reliable place for a pee, and on a cold day, it was perfect. Also, it’s a great place to people watch. ~James

      1. Sometimes you just need a convenient bathroom stop and a piece of familiarity, especially if you’re in a really strange and discombobulating place! Great places for people-watching are always good!

  3. Just a note on contrasts- the cross in the background, in one of your photos, was provocatively placed atop the same place where the Croat artillery rained down their hell, contributing to many of the ravaged houses you saw and of course the collapse of the old bridge- the central symbol of unity within Mostar. The symbol of Christianity now a daily reminder of aggression unrestrained.

    1. Thanks very much Earle, for your perceptive comment. For me, one of the most disturbing aspects of this war, was the deliberate cruelty. There’s no rational explanation for any of it, and if there was ever an example of man’s inhumanity to man, this war was it. ~James

    1. Tom, we’d seen a few bullet-riddled buildings in our travels in Europe, and it’s always sobering. Berlin in particular has lots of examples. But, we’d never seen anything like Bosnia. ~James

  4. Bosnia has been on my travel “must see” list for a while now, but I haven’t made it yet. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to the rest of the posts.

    1. I’m with you on passport checks, and get very anxious no matter where I am. I learned long ago to smile, nod, and keep my mouth shut. I’ve been pulled out of line a couple of times, and it is NOT a fun experience. ~James

    1. Thanks Suzanne. Thankfully, I haven’t had any personal experience with war. But seeing sights like this are a reminder how lucky I’ve been. I wonder if the locals can screen them out, or are they a constant grim reminder. ~James

  5. A beautiful post James! The decaying buildings are evocative of their recent history. Can imagine how striking the contrasts must feel. Look forward to more from Bosnia.

    1. Thanks Madhu. Bosnia was a real eye-opener for us. We had seen a few war-scarred buildings in Europe, but the destruction in both Mostar and Sarajevo was so much more recent and extensive. I can’t imagine living through what must have been daily hell for the Bosnians. Luckily, the war has ended and the healing has started. ~James

  6. James and Terri, a wonderful photo essay. Just today, Shawn and I were saying how much we’d like to return to the Balkans. Your photos remind me of a photo I took of a statue in Bihać, Bosnia in 2007. I believe the female figure was holding a peaceful bird in one hand. Her stone body was replete with pock marks. Such a contrast.

    On a somewhat related side note, Shawn shared this quiz with me today, and we enjoyed gauging our knowledge of the region. Thought you might enjoy it too:

    1. Many thanks Tricia. The photo you took sounds so representative of the scenes we saw throughout the country. I know that when you return you’ll probably see great improvements from when you were there in 2007. I’m looking forward to taking the quiz – always guaranteed to highlight “areas for improvement” in my knowledge! 🙂

      We’re heading to the Ukraine in September. Have you been and do you have any recommendations? ~Terri

      1. Hi Terri, no, we haven’t been to the Ukraine yet, but we were considering going to Lviv. Heard it’s quite pretty!

        I’ll be anxious to hear your advice for the Ukraine and other spots in the region. 🙂

  7. I heard from a tourist from the UK that the bus ride and the passport checks were awful, so I elected not to take the side trip to Bosnia. I wish I had. Now I’m thinking I should go back…looking forward to more of your posts!

    1. Actually Ruth, the bus ride wasn’t as bad as it sounds. If the bus is decent (and ours was), these cross-country trips are pretty neat. It provides an opportunity to see the countryside, and how the locals live. But after being pulled out of line a few times (I had a major hassle coming back to the US from Colombia), I always get a bit nervous when my passport is checked. You should definitely go to Bosnia. As our posts show, it isn’t the easiest place to visit, but we will never be sorry that we went. ~James

  8. We travelled through Bosnia 6 years ago on our bikes and I fell in love with the place. Having our own means of transport meant we could go wherever we liked which was fantastic and we were met with nothing but smiles and helpful souls wherever we went. It’s somewhere that I definitely intend to revisit.

    1. Noeline, That must have been an incredible journey. And you were there at a key time in history – not that long after the war. Did you photograph your experiences? I was just on your blog and your photography is stunning. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

      1. It was an incredibly memorable trip which is as fresh to me today as it was when we did it. I took plenty of photographs (something of a passion that can annoy others!) and wrote a pretty comprehensive diary which I love to re-read. However, it was pre-bolgging for me and I tend to post current/new images only. The next time I go I’ll definitely share my experiences far more widely (for those who wish to share them!)

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