I've been in a bit of a bleh recently. Call it the arrival of winter with cold and mud and the need to be inside a lot more. Call it having a lot of work to do and not the energy or impetus to get started. Call it the arrival of the annual winter shoe dilemma - summer sandals so easy, winter shoes, well, I never find any that I like and actually want to wear. Anyhow, I decided that I needed a new look. A make-over. Something to lift me out of the blahs and into the yays! As I can't fit into any of the clothes that they sell here (being just ever so slightly larger than the microscopic size 8 (US 4) that all Bosnian women appear to be), a new look for my blog is the closest that I get to a new image. So, here we are, unveiling it now. Do you like it?
I've also been busy hosting people who are new to Bosnia over the last week. They were surprised by the country, it wasn't anything like they thought it would be. I suspect they were expecting something from TV in the early 1990s; refugees, mud and bad early 1990s haircuts (conveniently forgetting their own bad early 1990s haircuts) and big men in uniforms. But the war finished nearly 14 years ago and Bosnians have gone back to their proper lives. The country is far removed from its war time image. I feel that perhaps it is not just me needing an image overhaul. So, to celebrate the new Brits In Bosnia look is my attempt to reset a (very) few people's perception of the country I present 5 things about Bosnia that may surprise you with apologies to readers in Bosnia who already know all of this (and please do add comments should you feel that I have missed anything out).
1. The Bosnians are glamorous. Not just a little bit glamorous but really, really glamorous. They have style (a tad Russian Oligarch girlfriend for my liking if I am being brutally honest) and they are not afraid to dress up. The women are slim, tall with legs that go on for months. They are made up, coiffured (it is not for nothing that there are more hairdressers near us than, well, anything else). They walk with elegance and they are out to be seen. The men are also pretty groomed. No one goes out without looking their best. This makes it interesting for me at picking the boys up from nursery. The other Mummys are yummy. Very yummy. I'm usually wondering what happened to my hair brush, have just about found a pair of matching shoes and have some of yesterdays dinner smeared onto my clothes somewhere. I so let the side down. Luckily I get away with it for being British and perpetuating the idea that we are a nation of bad food and slightly bizarre characters.
2. There may well be areas of the country which are predominantly Muslim, but this is not a state dominated by Islam. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a fully covered woman in Bosnia. There are a fair few who wear a headscarf and who also have the most amazingly beautiful clothes and always look amazing (see point 1 above). Most people seem to be Muslim in the same way that I am Christian, in other words it informs my culture but not very active on the actually going to worship front. Alcohol is widely available and consumed freely and with enthusiasm by pretty much everyone, Muslim or not. The Bosnians don't go in for the enormous mosques prevalent in the Middle East, their mosques are small, intimate, very much for local communities and terribly pretty.
3. It is a beautiful country. There are rivers, forests and mountains and huge areas of natural space that have been virtually untouched. It has the last remaining primeval forest in Europe. It really is a place to go if you want get out, into the wilderness. All I can say is that you should go and look at the website for Green Visions who organise eco-tours of BiH (and lobby the Bosnian politicians to encourage them to protect their natural environment). There is Olympic standard skiing here, on 2 different mountains; Jahorina and Bjelasnica both only 20 minutes from Sarajevo. The natural parks are spectacular, the rivers wild, the country green.
4. Sarajevo is a great city. It has a world famous film festival every August. It has jazz festivals, winter festivals and music festivals. It is so great that it has actually been names as one of the Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 Top 10 Cities. Whilst we are talking top 10 lists, eating lamb off the spit over looking the emerald green Neretva river just outside of Jablanica has also been claimed to be one of the top 10 dining experiences you will ever have. I can't find that list now, but I promise you, the lamb is awesome. Tuzla, you know I love you, but I can't quite put you as one of the top 10 list of anything, but your new Square which some people have claimed will be one of the most visited squares in Europe is pretty good. I have to say you have some competition with that particular claim, but no doubt about it, trg Sloboda* is a fine place to watch the Tuzlans go by, strutting their stuff and looking most fine.
5. Bosnia is European. It was obviously strongly influenced by the Ottoman Empire and as such there are a number of times when the country looks almost Turkish, but the buildings are Austro Hungarian. The country looks and feels like Europe. Eastern Europe certainly, especially when you find yourself in an area with a particularly communist feel to it, but it is most definitely and unmistakenly Europe.
*I think this is a web cam for trg Sloboda. If you click on it and happen to see 2 small boys on scooters and a particularly harassed bag lady pursuing them, that is probably us. We'll try to wave.