Snow! Kralovec Family Holidays to Bosnia i Hercegovina


Ollie and Ocean are pictured above preparing snowballs to throw at our car. We were excited to see lots of snow on our trip to Sarajevo. We are on fall break and are exploring Serbia’s neighboring country.

We got off to a slow start yesterday with many errands to do around the house. I cleaned the car, fixed the rearview mirror, and helped Nadia pack. We made a delicious pancake breakfast as well as downloaded stories to listen to while driving. After exchanging some boots for Nadia, we were on our way.


Serbia has many single family farms still
Serbia has many single family farms still



We had a slight change in plans even before we got started. We had originally planned to stay near Visegrad, a town just across the Serbian border. The town was made famous by Nobel Prize laurate, Ivo Andric, a famous Yugolsavian author. He wrote “Bridge On the Drina”, a historical fictional account of the town. I blogged about the book here. We did not stay there because the best place in the area according to the guidebooks, was used in the 1990’s as a rape camp by paramilitary forces in the Yugoslavian civil war. The Bradt Guide to Bosnia didn’t mention this. Young and beautiful Bosniak women from the Visegrad area were kept there. Nadia felt queasy about staying the night in a such a place, 16 years after. I didn’t realize how much of the war happened in Visegrad. Many Bosniaks fled the area and what used to be a mixed area, is not predominately Serbian. That is consistent with the history of the place. Much violence happened there over the centuries, from the Ottoman Turks taking Serbian boys away from their families to be raised as Ottomans, to the Austro Hungarians subduing the Ottomans.


The Drina Bridge At Night
The Drina Bridge At Night



Perhaps it was a rainy, cold night, but the town felt a bit depressed. We stopped and I took some pictures of the bridge and walked out to the capia. There is no car traffic on the bridge. It is quite an impressive architectural feat, considering how wide the river is and how long ago the sultan ordered the bridge to be built. I used Serbian RSD to buy gas in the city.

The highlight of the day was the beautiful snow in the mountains. On the Serbian side in Zlatibor, there was lots of snow. We stopped at the Hotel Mecanik for a late dinner, just outside the village of Mokra Gora. We wanted to spend the night, as Ocean vomitted and the kids and I were tired. There was no rooms available, so we decided to go on to Sarajevo. It snowed the whole way and I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the beautiful canyons and mountain views as we were approaching Sarajevo. Being from northern Michigan, USA, the snow brought back memories of my youth.

We finally arrived in Sarajevo around 10:00 PM. Distances are deceptive in Serbia and Bosnia as the narrow, twisting mountain roads make progress slow. It took about 200 hours to travel the roughly 100 kilometers. The hotel we booked was full so we found another nearby. Initial impressions are a lively, beautiful city. I can’t wait to explore it.


The Pleasures of Family Travel - Cleaning Vomit off a Car Seat
The Pleasures of Family Travel - Cleaning Vomit off a Car Seat



We are having a bit of car trouble. The temperature gauge is cold even though we drove through the mountains all day. I think it is a thermostat problem, we’ll have to get it checked out today or tomorrow before we leave on Tuesday.


We visited the region of Zlatibor this weekend for the first time. This is a part of Serbia south east of Belgrade, along the border with Bosnia. It was a wild and beautiful part of Serbia and now my favorite place in the country. “Zlatibor” means “Gold Pine” in English and it is an area of mountains (3000 feet), pines, and rugged beauty. We stayed outside the village of Mokra Gora, and it was about a 4-hour drive from Belgrade. Nadia is shown in the parking lot of the hotel. You can see the terrain behind her. If I was to buy property here, it would certainly be in this part Serbia.

We are in the Nikola Tesla Plaza in Kusturicas Village
We are in the Nikola Tesla Plaza in Kusturica's Village

We stayed at the Hotel Mecanik which is part of the Serbian Ethnic Village that the famous movie director Emir Kusturica built. It is called Drvengrad and as an excerpt from the article in the Guardian describes it as follows:

I turn up in Belgrade as the thermometer sinks south of -20 degrees. “Come to my village,” he demands. “I have something to show you.” Three thousand feet up on Tara mountain the next morning, the full effect of his latest piece of “inspired lunacy” sits under 2ft of snow. Kusturica has sunk himself deep into debt, spending more than £1m to build a pastoral paradise, his own version of Plato’s republic, in one of Europe’s last great peasant redoubts.

“This is my Utopia,” he declares. “I lost my city [Sarajevo] during the war, now this is my home. I am finished with cities. I spent four years in New York, 10 in Paris, and I was in Belgrade for a while. To me now they are just airports. Cities are humiliating places to live, particularly in this part of the world. Everything I earn now goes into this.”

What started as a couple of salvaged traditional wooden houses 18 months ago, on a bluff above the spectacularly beautiful Mokra Gora valley in western Serbia, has mushroomed into a modern take on the great monastery-universities of the middle ages. The village is equipped with a library, Serbia’s most advanced cinema and, most incongruously of all, an underground basketball arena – a tribute to the three world championships won by the former Yugoslavia. For Kustendorf, as he calls the place, is also a hymn to Serbian cultural achievement and traditional living – a kind of cultural Alamo, as a country that has been cut off from the world by war and sanctions opens itself up to the gentle mercies of globalisation.

“I am making a stand here. I want to do something constructive. In Serbia a lot of people hate me because they want to westernise, not understanding that the western world is bipolar, with very good things and very bad things. Since they don’t have experience of the west, they even believe that western shit is pie.” Given that the prophets of the free market in Serbia often tend to be the same gangsters, war profiteers, smugglers and chancers that Kusturica lampoons in his films, you can see his logic.

I have never seen any of his movies and did not know much about him before writing this blog post. He is a very interesting character to say the least! Some people don’t like him and I can see how he would shake some people up. There are lots of articles on line that describe his conversion to the Serbian Orthodox Church from his Bosnian Islamic roots. The village we stayed at is temple to Serbia.

Emirs Unusual Touch
Emir's Unusual Touch

On one level, it was a great place to stay with my family. The kids loved the swimming pool, we all loved the clay tennis courts and indoor basketball court. The food was delicious, although the waiter and some of the help were a bit quiet to us. Not exactly rude, but a bit cold. The views are spectacular and the cool mountain air is refreshing. The cabin we rented was comfortable and it even had a fireplace. I would love to return in the winter for a skiing trip.

On another level, it was fascinating to see his take on life. He is very much anti-Western (aka Anti-USA) and against the cultural hegemony of the US. He put photos of Che Guevara, Maradona, Fidel Castro, Pancho Villa, etc. in the restaurants. I think my buddy in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez would get along great here! I don’t like Che, I think he was  an Argentian bum who got lucky to be in the right place at the right time and ended up killing a lot of people. I wish people would read up about his background before wearing a shirt of his because he looks cool. Serbs love him and his image is around Belgrade a lot. Nadia was laughing because she is from Santa Cruz, Bolivia where Che was killed by the Bolivian army. One of her relatives on her mother’s side of the family was probably in the unit that found him in the mountains of Valle Grande, near Santa Cruz. He also didn’t serve Coca Cola, and so we ordered Emir’s Revolution Raspberry Juice (delicious). There was a picture of George Bush behind bars. I think he is a bit carried away with the anti- imperialism stuff, but I do agree with a lot what he has to say. The war of the breakup of Yugoslavia was tough on him and before I can judge someone, I need to walk in his shoes.

The Small Chapel at Drvengrad
The Small Chapel at Drvengrad

I think Kusturica is an original and I enjoyed getting to know him a bit better. I will definitely look up his films and I do plan to return again. I will probably do some more blog posts on him and his work. You can see more photos on my account.

I recommend the place for families and I also hope to explore Zlatibor and across the border in Bosnia. I saw on the map that the city of Visegrad, from “The Bridge Over the River Drina” is very close by.