Episode 13

Exploring Travnik - Where History Comes Alive

Published on: 24th July, 2023

In this episode, David goes on a mesmerising journey to the charming town of Travnik in central Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This time he travels solo, leaving behind Tamara, and shares the wonders he encounters along the way.

Travelling by bus through the scenic landscape of Bosnia, David provides essential tips for those eager to explore this beautiful country.

Passing through the spectacular canyon south of Banja Luka and its breathtaking views, David creates a virtual tour filled with nature's wonders.

Upon arriving in Travnik, David meets his host, Ben, who dreams of transforming Travnik into a top tourist destination. With Ben's guidance, David discovers the hidden gems of the town, exploring the picturesque Vlašić mountain, witnessing sheep shearing, and buying fresh Vlašić cheese.

However, David's true passion lies in the town's history and culture. Meeting an extraordinary tour guide, Dita Bajrami-Vrbanjac, reveals the rich tapestry of Travnik's past, from the Ottoman Empire to Austro-Hungarian rule. The streets come alive with captivating stories, immersing David in a world of centuries-old history.

Travnik, the heartbeat of Bosnia and Herzegovina, captures David's heart. The town's delectable cuisine and passionate residents make it more than just a location on a map; it becomes a soulful experience.

Until next time, Vidimo se opet!"

(Note: "Vidimo se opet" means "See you again" in Bosnian.)



Welcome to another episode of An Englishman in the Balkans. This time with me, Tamara Pecinovic-Bailey. David has been away for a few days visiting the charming town of Travnik in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. So in this episode, let's find out about his journey to this beautiful place located in the centre of my home country. For the past few months, I've been chatting on Instagram with Ben. Ben is from Travnik, a town in central Bosnia...


and has recently launched a travel startup, Visit Travnik. He invited us to visit Travnik to show us around his hometown and local area. Because of a clash with another activity, Tamara was unable to be with me, so I planned to visit alone and to travel by bus from Banja Luka. A single trip costs 30 convertible marks, so approximately 15 euros. The early morning bus I took started from Banja Luka with the final destination.


of Sarajevo. A few tips when travelling by bus in Bosnia. First, get to the departure platform as early as you can. I find getting there earlier normally means getting the best seats that are available. I like to get a window seat and to sit midway down the bus. Try and take some water and snacks as sometimes there just aren't opportunities en route. Ensure your devices are charged and make sure any power banks are with you inside the bus.


You won't find charging points, and most buses don't have onboard wifi either. Finally, if you want to put baggage in the hold, you'll need some change, maybe a mark or two, to give to the second driver, who loads the hold. You do get a receipt, so don't worry. For this trip I wanted to sit on the left side of the bus. As we departed Banja Luka on time, I put my earbuds in and fired up my travelling playlist on Spotify.


I'll leave a link in the show notes in case you might want to see what an eclectic musical taste I have.


Cars are normally more comfortable than buses of course, but one serious plus point for the bus is that the height of the bus and therefore the seat enables you to look over the hedgerows and enjoy the spectacular views on the route. In this case for me, the spectacular canyon south of Banja Luka with the River Vrbas cascading northwards and where adventurous people, white water raft with the various local companies that offer this experience.


You get to see the wetlands with a variety of migrating birds and behind them the foothills of the mountainous area of Middle Bosnia, with tiny villages scattered everywhere you look in the middle distance. Then it's through a myriad of tunnels carved into the hills on the river's banks, passing huge electro-hydro plants built inside the mountains. Truly impressive. We stopped en route for comfort breaks at Jajce and Donji Vakuf.


Both stops allow passengers to both alight and board, and normally are 10 to 15 minutes long. At Jajce, the bus station is only a few metres walk away from being able to see the stunning waterfalls for which this town is famous for. So a super chance to get some images or video of the original capital of Bosnia.


Stopping at Donji Vakuf you might think it's just a boring old bus station, but if you walk around to the front you'll see that this much neglected building has so much character and definitely has some stories to tell from its past, that's for sure.


As soon as I arrived in Travnik some three hours after leaving Banja Luka, and an unplanned stop for a police checkpoint controlling the driver's tachometers, I had the pleasure to meet my host Ben.


Ben's vision is to transform Travnik into a top tourist location within Bosnia and Herzegovina, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty and authenticity of this town. My accommodation was a super modern ground floor studio, situated next to an Orthodox church on the edge of the town centre. Ben was extremely keen to show me everything. We walked through the main streets to get a feel for the Travnik vibe. I have to say, I was excited to explore straight away. But that would be...


on the next day.


We stopped off for a coffee followed by the famous Travnčki Ćevap. We walked a bit more and then drove out of town to meet Ben's parents, whose house has a stunning view across the valley of the River Lašva and onwards towards the foothills and near peaks of the Vlašić Mountain. These views with the golds and reds of the sunset were really beautiful. We sat, chatted about what we wanted to achieve during the visit while sampling home-dried


and local pico. On the second day I set out together with Ben to discover the natural wonders that surround Travnik. We ventured up the slopes of the magnificent Vlašić mountain. The scenery up there really does take your breath away, with its lush forests and picturesque valleys. Farmers were relentlessly cutting the long grass with both machinery, small and large, as well as using the more traditional long scythes.


We arrived at a location where a flock of sheep were being brought into pens on the slope of the mountain by several shepherds and their dogs. Lots of whistling and shouting as they steered these totally ill-disciplined sheep into the pens. We found out that the sheep were due to be shorn.


Before I left Banja Luka, Tamra had asked me to find time to buy some cheese from the mountain, Vlašić cheese. Ben said that the shepherds sold theirs direct from the field. In a small hut next to the main house, which was in the middle of the field with just a small track approaching it, was where we could buy cheese. We came to where we could buy Vlašić cheese. I bought a kilo of it for 20 marks, which is about 10 pounds in English money.


and we've come out and they're corralling, I think that is the word, the sheep. When we went to buy the cheese loads of guys sat around and I thought wow they're just chilling but they suddenly jumped into life and now it's sheep shearing time. The lady that sold the cheese, really nice lady, said excuse the mess but we're getting ready for shearing the sheep. So another stage of


making, jeez I'm laughing because the sheep are jumping up in the sky and the dogs, the sheep dogs here are just absolutely gorgeous. So there are about what three, six, nine guys and a really young boy. I can only assume that he's one of the grandchildren or one of the sons who's going to be learning today another skill that his family have had up here for.


generations. If you visit Travnik ask Ben to take you to the Bali swing on the mountain. Not only is this location an Instagram must for taking images as well as having a go on the swing, but if you look ahead you'll see the house where we bought our cheese from. Maybe take a stroll over and try or buy for yourself. That's a top tip by the way.


Different people have different needs, especially when it comes to discovering places. Some people walk around without a plan, hoping to chance on something interesting. Others do some research and have some notes or maybe a guidebook with them. Me? I like to be in the presence of someone from the place I am visiting, and who can tell me stories and anecdotes that the books just can't give me. The better that storytelling is, the better the experience.


So on the afternoon of my second day in Travnik, Ben had organised for me to take a guided tour with Dita Bajrami-Vrbaniac, a highly recommended tour guide. It took no more than a few minutes to realise that I was in the company of someone who was totally immersed in her town's history and culture. As her extensive knowledge and captivating storytelling started to bring centuries of history back to life. Usually people come from the east to Travnik.


And first thing you see is this building. This building and the old town, the medieval fortress. People say that it's maybe the most beautiful view of the entrance into one town in the whole world. Well, it is very striking, isn't it? Yeah.


but not only this building, but generally the view of the entrance into town. And this is the oldest educational institution in central Bosnia, Kanton, but this educational institution is religious.


Is that what people would call a madrasa? Madrasa. Yeah, madrasa. And it was founded by Elci Ibrahim Pasha. Elci meaning the peacemaker. He was one of those signatories. He was one of those people who signed the peace treaty in Sremski Karlovci when the Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians, they were fighting.


So they had a peace treaty and he was one of those who signed it. Then he came here to Bosnia. Bosnia and Pashaluk was in these years here as a part of the history, Bosnian history. And when he came here he wanted everybody to be literate, to know how to read and write. So he founded this institution. As we strolled through the cobblestone streets, Dita painted vivid pictures of the town's past, from the Ottoman Empire,


to the Austro-Hungarian rule. It was as if time had stood still and I was transported to a different era. So yesterday you were here, it's called Lutvos Tavern or coffee shop or inn in English. It's very hard to translate this kind of...


place where you sit and drink special, have you tried Lutvos coffee? Yes. With matches and everything? Yes. Okay. One of the things I wanted to ask you, that the picture of the Domači Kafe and everything together with the cigarette actually went viral on the internet. Was this where that particular virality started? Was it from a picture from Travnik or somewhere else? Probably. Probably from here. Probably from here. It's always a good, it's attractive,


from all over the world to come and sit here. Great marketing. Yes, great marketing. To drink coffee because you get all the parrots, matches, cigar, everything. And when it's very hot in summer days, like today or yesterday, it's great to sit here and drink coffee because you feel the breeze from plava voda. Even with the intense heat of the day, especially for me, we climb slowly through the streets and up the stairs to the castle that overlooks the town with such a commanding view.


We are coming from the western side to enter the fortress. The first thing you see is the Minaret. And what people believe is that this fortress and the whole place, the whole area, was built by the Ottomans. But it's not. Descending back down, we started to make our way to the Colourful Mosque, a place I found particularly interesting. First...


mosque in this place was in the 16th century by Ghazi Agha. It was a small neighbourhood mosque, like the ones that you can see, very small, not this big, and that one was destroyed, but the minaret left here and people say that it may be still the original place of the minaret, now built with a brick and wall, but...


It's on the left side. Usually in the Islamic world, mosques have their minarets on the right side. So this is a very unique mosque, because this is the entrance. When you come from that side, this is the backside, that's the backside of the mosque. But people usually think that entrance is over there, because you see the minaret from the right side, and they have very wrong perception of it. During my tour, Dita was very patient with me.


with my continual deep dive into questions that I had. We found time to take a well-earned pause, especially for Dita, and also time to reflect over coffee in the quaintest traditional coffee house that Dita introduced me to, where I actually ground the coffee for myself in a traditional mill and then gave to the barista to make. I'll put a link to the name of that coffee shop in the show notes with this podcast. Do you like the place? Let's see your strength.


And you know what happens? How do you know when it's done? Let me show you. How much do you put in here? A lot? It goes smoothly when you finish it, you see?


Do you smell it? Can you smell the coffee? Not yet. Mind you, there's other aromas around at the moment. A very nice coffee. And then if you want to drink it, you grind it yourself and he makes it for you. So you come here, grind your own coffee? Yes. Have we got time? And that's how the story goes. If I had to take away just one thing from my city tour, I think it would be that historically, Travnik is where the heartbeat is located.


in this heart-shaped country in the Western Balkans. I have to admit that the heat of the day as we walked and talked was challenging, but so, so worth it. I also think I'm now realising I'm not as young as I feel, and so I took the evening to recover and reflect on the full day of activities I'd experienced. I lay on my bed enjoying the AC and going through the audio and video I had taken since arriving.


The following morning I got up at the break of dawn to both the sound of the call to prayer from the mosques and the bells from the various Christian churches that are in Travnik. I packed my bags and walked again in less oppressive heat to some of the places Dieter had introduced me to, taking videos of things I hadn't really appreciated during my first walk on that first evening. As I sat at the arrival platform at Travnik bus station for my trip back


where I had met Ben just a short 36 hours or so earlier, I was reflecting on my trip. I realised that Travnik isn't just a town with a fantastic history and delectable cuisine, which it has, but a place where people like Ben, Dieter, and countless others are working tirelessly to create a bright future. The passion and dedication they have for their town is truly inspiring. It made me realise that Travnik is more than just a location on a map. It really is.


the heartbeat of this heart-shaped country.


Travnik has so much to offer and I'm really excited to follow Ben and visit Travnik, who with each passing day is bringing this town closer to becoming the top tourist destination he dreams of. My journey back alongside the banks of the River Vrbas to Banja Luka was, well it seemed, quicker than the trip those 36 hours earlier, full of thoughts and the sound of my Spotify playlist.


On arriving home I gave the Vlašić cheese to Tamara plus some home cured meat from Ben's family. The main question though that everyone had for me was how was that Travnički Ćevap? Did the ćevap live up to its reputation? Well yes, but it wasn't the meat that captivated me, it was the unique way that the lepinje, the flatbread that accompanies ćevap, was made to taste. And it was well...


Quite heavenly. It was without a doubt a true culinary delight.


That's David's report from his recent visit to Travnik. Travnik really has so much to offer, and we will be following Ben and Visit Travnik on their journey to bring this town in the centre of my country closer to becoming the top tourist destination they dream of. I hope our podcast inspires you to explore the wonders and the beauty that lies within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Join us next time, and until then, Vidimo se opet!

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An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

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David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.