Paradigms of everyday Herzegovina
Going back just a half dozen years the once intertwined towns of Trebinje and Dubrovnik had cut off relations since the conflict of the early 1990’s. The US Embassies in Sarajevo and Zagreb decided to help facilitate these two old friends to get reacquainted. After two consecutive years of fostering economic ties and old friendships through conferences and travel visits, the ties between these two communities are once again thriving in most senses of the word. The Center for the Development of Herzegovina, a Trebinje based NGO helped facilitate that process and still play a key role in developing a wide range of tourism and indigenous agriculture projects. Supported by REDAH, this is one of those stories. Enjoy the ride.
The stretch from Ravno to Trebinje is an endless succession of paradigms: In this area there are structures, places and phenomena which, like ‘Bachelard’s house’ (Gaston Bachelard) reverberate with the great cosmic rhythm of nature, people, or seasons.
Let’s say that the year is 1920 (even though we know its not), and that you are traveling by ‘Ćiro’ narrow gauge train from Ravno to Trebinje. It would have taken almost two hours for you to travel those 40 something kilometers. Over Diklić and Lug you would reach Hum, the biggest train hub from which the Ćiro could take you to Montenegro, Croatia or Trebinje, the southern pocket of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If we press the fast forward button we end up in the year 2020. Ćiro no longer takes passengers through Popovo Polje towards Trebinje and has not done so since 1976. Some other voyagers now pedal their bicycles on the rail faster and quieter than Ćiro, which used to huff and puff, smoking and ‘speeding’ at 29 km per hour on the average. But it also brought the spirit of “La Belle Époque” to Herzegovina. Today, bicycles and ‘Ćiro’ are merged into a new Herzegovina paradigm, which can be grasped only once this whole story is downshifted to the Ćiro’s speed. So, off we go…
You wake up in the Stanica Ravno hotel. While you are having home-made donuts (from the flour ground in a local watermill) and prosciutto for breakfast on the terrace of the former Ćiro station (today a garni hotel) you enjoy the view of the Popovo Field and Ćiro’s path, the former railroad track opened for traffic in 1901 by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While you are bicycling along the old rail towards Hum and Trebinje you will pass under the Zavala Monastery that has stood there since the 13th century. Not far from this prodigious monastery carved in rock there is another natural attraction worth visiting, the Vjetrenica Cave. This is the longest cave found in BiH and has been nominated by UNESCO as potential natural heritage site. It is open to visitors year round.
The narrow-gauge trail then takes you along the very edge of the Popovo Field, a paradox in karst that adapts itself to seasons like a chameleon in that in the middle of summer it will explode in colors of peach flower, grapevine and apple tree blossoms, while molting in the winter into the gray of Herzegovinian karst. Through its center the subdued Trebišnjica River flows along lazily. This, once truculent river, submerging underground and springing fresh again, has been reduced to a canal where it is now possible to kayak and enjoy the water route following for the most part the Ćiro route. Below the village of Gornji Sedlari you can pass over to the other side of the Popovo Field. Under that bridge you can find the remains of one of the Trebišnjica watermills. The mills used to look like towers without a roof and were built on spots where the Trebišnjica River used to disappear into the earth. In such mills the grain for the wider area was ground for consumption.
During spring and summer there is no sound here except the sound of bees, so while you are riding further on towards Hum and Trebinje try to absorb as much silence as you can. Pretty soon you will reach Hum, this – once great – railway hub. The north side of the impressive railway station is completely destroyed. Standing on its south side however, next to Ćiro’s railway, with a little bit of imagination you will be able to see what the Hum station meant for Herzegovina in 1901 or 1920 where we started this story. If you have honestly absorbed yourself in the silence and nature, it is now possible to hear the whistle of the old locomotive, which will pull in any moment into the station. It may even be possible for you to see yourself in those much more calm and tranquil times which I am trying to evoke through this story; a story which used to be written by the pen and not in E Ink.
Once in Trebinje, the biggest town in East Herzegovina, get off your bicycle in front of the former railway station and push it along so you can really smell the smells and hear the sounds of this, most Mediterranean town of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here everything looks as though a still unknown creator decided to erase the borders between the oriental and Mediterranean, stone and water, people and buildings, and decided to draw the emerald green line of Trebišnjica River right across the middle, while piling up around it the centuries of history eagerly waiting to be rediscovered. After you rest under the plane trees planted by the gardener Franjo Bratusi in 1901 in the town center, your next destination is the most beautiful open-air market in the region. There you can buy special Trebinje cheese called “škripavac” (squeaky) and also the untamed, rocklike and ancient beans called “poljak” (‘fieldy’) promoted for years now by the local NGO ‘Center for Herzegovina Development’ thereby transforming it into the specifically endemic food type instead of local food as a generic term.
Nearby you can also find the traditional Herzegovina products shop “Hercegovačka kuća” (Herzegovina House), and next to the branches of the hundred years old plane trees you can find the walls of the Old Town, dominated by Osman paša’s Mosque, the building of the Museum of Herzegovina with the clock and the well-preserved Dovecote from the Austro-Hungarian period build at the spot where Trebinje developed. You could stay in this town for a few days if you decide to check out the wineries. You can start with the little family winery cellar “Bojanić” in Pridvorci and finish off with the Imperial Vineyards winery “Vukoje 1982” stationed next to the railway that used to run all the way to Nikšić in Montenegro. Finally, don’t forget the wine cellar “Anđelić” nor the fact that this is 2020, and in case you drink too much wine, the best possible course of action for you would be to spend the night in one of the dozen Trebinje hotels.