Road Trip to Jajce and Banja Luka
As our time in BiH grows short we decided to take a trip over the long March weekend. We intended to head to Dubrovnik as I’ve never been and we didn’t want it to become our Cuba – when we lived in Cayman, we just never made it to the nearby Cuba, assuming we would get there one day.
However, Dubrovnik remained out of our reach as we realised Emma’s passport was about to run out, so in a slight panic, off it went to be renewed.
Restricted to BiH, we decided to head for the historical town of Jajce, a 2-3 hour drive and then on to Banja Luka, the second biggest city in BiH and the capital of the RS. It is only another couple of hours on from Jajce so seemed a good idea though the roads are slow and difficult especially if you get stuck behind anything slower than you.
Not being in possession of the Crazy Bosnian Driver gene we didn’t like to overtake on blind corners and so the journey took a little longer but it was worth it.
So, Jajce first. We left late on Friday afternoon and got there after dark. We’d read about Hotel Plivsko Jezero on Lake Pliva, just outside of the town, and turned up looking for a room.
As it’s still a quiet and cold time of year, we got a room easily and for a good price but the best part was waking up in daylight and stepping out on to our balcony to see the lake, gleaming in the foggy light.
I am sure in summer it would be spectacular but it was lovely enough for us, especially to feel we were out of smoggy Sarajevo and in to the countryside with fresh air.
The view from our balcony of Lake Pliva
Emma enjoying a spot of breakfast
Our room in Hotel Plivsko Jezero
Emma’s ‘secret’ bed that pulled out from the sofa, she was pretty pleased with herself on it.
The hotel was lovely, well placed, a good restaurant and with a playground for kids so Emma was happy. They have rowboats for the summer and clearly operate a secret lab for breeding giant wildlife:
We’re gonna need a bigger slice of bread
Playing in the park outside the hotel
Exploring the Town
On Saturday we headed into Jajce itself for a look around. The town is an old settlement, dating from the 14th century and for time served as the capital of an independent Bosnian kingdom, so it’s important historically too. Ruins of the castle and other fortifications remain and are being renovated for tourist expansion.
As a whole, the town suffered very badly in the Bosnian War and evidence of this remains, mainly structurally but renovations are on-going and the town impressively aspires to achieve inclusion on the World Heritage list.
The town played an important part in WW2: In the Sokol House, built in 1878, there was a meeting of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) was held on November 29, 1943, at which important decisions related to the establishment of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia were made.
Additionally Marshall Tito resided in a house here during WW2, though only a couple of walls remain due to bombing during the Bosnian War.
The fortress walls and gateway in Jajce
We explored some of the ruins, which are extra interesting because many houses are built among them which makes for a jarring contrast. The walls of the fortress occupy a large space of 11,200 square metres, are 300 metres long and at the highest point, the citadel is 470m above sea level – we didn’t climb that far up!
We didn’t get round everything but went to the little museum and had a guided tour around the catacombs – which in reality are a secret, underground church.
Obviously Em wouldn’t go into it so we took turns and the guide kindly explained the history twice.
We really wanted to see the Mithraic Temple, the remains of a pre-Christian worshipping ground to Mithras discovered in 1931 but dating back to the 4th century, however it was closed for renovations.
The museum in Jajce
The catacombs, or underground church – atmospheric!
Holy Mary Church
We also saw the ancient tower of St Luke which was built as part of the Holy Mary Church, in gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance styles. These too were closed off for renovations but we could see them behind the barriers.
The church is significant as legend has it the remains of St Luke the Evangelist were entombed here and, depending on what you read, were either brought here for posterity by the last Bosnian Queen, Mara Jelena or taken away by her as she left the country.
It is the last surviving medieval bell tower of its style in this part of the country.
St Luke’s tower
Finally we saw the beautiful Pliva Waterfalls, the sixth largest in the world. Originally 30m high, due to an earthquake during the Bosnian War and an attack on the nearby power plant, the area was flooded and the falls are now 22m high.
Uniquely situated in the heart of the town, this is where the river Pliva ends and flows into the Vrbas river, creating two lakes, Veliko jezero (Big lake) and Malo jezero (Little lake). It’s a stunning sight:
The falls and river
Saturday afternoon we hit the road again and got to Banja Luka around late afternoon. Again, we parked up and wandered around before securing a hotel, Hotel Vidović which was well placed, modern and spacious. The price was more expensive but Banja Luka is a bigger, busier place so it was to be expected.
The city is also home to a university, museums, art galleries, theatres and several government buildings. It has a long, varied and sometimes deeply unpleasant history, particularly the events that took place during the Bosnian War.
Currently the relationship between the RS and the Federation (where we live) is extremely strained and cannot be explained in a few paragraphs so I’m just going to stick to tourist stuff, in an impartial and non-complicated manner.
As we didn’t have much time in the city, we explored the centre before having a rest in our hotel then heading out for dinner.
We’d been recommended a restaurant called Mala Stanica and I have to say it was one of the best restaurants we’ve ever been to and quite possibly the best meal I’ve had here Bosnia as a whole.
We made the smart if slightly irresponsible decision to order ice cream for Emma’s main course to keep her occupied (Parenting 101) which was a wise move as she seemed very happy, mixing breadsticks with her fruit and ice cream. Odd, but happy.
Ice cream for dinner? Yes please!
Mmm, breadsticks and ice cream…
I had chicken satay and chips and Alister has pork (a mandatory choice for him outside of the Federation where it’s not available) stuffed with goats cheese and plums – both delicious.
We had pudding too but that was sheer greed and neither of us could manage more than a few bites.
Everything was brilliant, the food, the service and the ambiance. We were finished relatively early and took a walk through the city at night back to our hotel. I think we were all asleep early after the activity and over stuffing our tummies.
Mala Stanica, translates as Small Station, site of a former railway station
Took this photo for you, Dad, though you might appreciate it
Sunday morning we explored a bit more, went to the Kastel – the medieval fortress, which is fairly poorly maintained but has a nice play park in the centre and in summer hosts musical concerts. It’s also on the bank of the river Vrbas which you can see from the walls of the fortress.
We stopped to get an ice cream lolly pop for Emma, looked at the market – fresh produce and clothes etc – then hit the road to head home in time for Monday and school / work / napping respectively. All in all, a lovely weekend!
The Kastel in Banja Luka
Playpark in the middle of the fortress walls
There was a building in the middle too, not sure what it was, barracks or a church maybe.
Emma playing in the park, she loved the tyre swing best of all