Before I start, I want to say that I am a big fan of local tourism. Many people skip visiting interesting places in their vicinity because they think it’s boring, too predictable or that they can visit it whenever they want. Ironically this whenever often turns into never.
I was like that before my visit to Recanati, Italy in summer of 2013. I went there to study Italian language and culture as a part of an organized summer course. During one month of my stay there, we had excursions to some large Italian cities, including Rome, but we also visited many small towns around Recanati, such as Macerata, Ancona, Loreto, Osimo, etc. I had a great time in Italy and I enjoyed every single one of those excursions. So when I came back home to Banja Luka, I had a realization: “Wow, I’ve visited more places around Recanati, than I’ve ever visited around my own city! This needs to be corrected.”
I’ve been fascinated by the amount of pride the Italians exhibit about all those small cities, and how they want to show it all to tourists. Of course, Italy is a country with, perhaps, most monuments and cultural heritage per square kilometer, but it doesn’t mean that people in other countries shouldn’t know about interesting places in their surroundings. So, after a month spent in Italy, I decided to visit some places around Banja Luka. In that same summer I visited Prijedor, Doboj and Sarajevo. I enjoyed those trips, and this strengthened my attitude that local tourism is well worth of time spent. And it goes without saying that it’s much more affordable than distant destinations and that it gives you better understanding of the place you live in, and its place in the bigger region and the whole world.
Back to the present. Yesterday, I’ve visited a small town of Kneževo for the first time. It’s a town of around 3,500 – 4,000 people (around 10,000 in whole municipality) in Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I wanted to visit it for a long time, because it’s a town well known for its cold climate and clean mountain air. It was designated “vazdušna banja” (“air spa” – a term used in former Yugoslav countries to describe places known for their clean air and unspoiled nature). It’s also one of the less developed municipalities in Bosnia, and as someone who lives in the second largest and most developed city in Bosnia, Banja Luka, I wanted to explore and experience the way of life in less developed regions.
I traveled by bus. The whole trip lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes. The bus is old, small and it got very crowded. It should definitely be replaced, but it’s easier said than done. While the driving itself wasn’t comfortable I enjoyed looking through the window. We passed through some very nice landscapes.It’s a mountainous region with lots of meadows, some forests and large open spaces with very little population. I took some photos from the bus:
It’s even prettier during the summer when it’s all green, or during the winter when it’s all covered in snow.
I arrived in Kneževo at 1.30 PM. The weather was sunny, but cool. First I went to a Tropic (a large chain of supermarkets in Republika Srpska) supermarket to buy some mandarin oranges. I had some colds recently, and I wanted to get some vitamin C, to prevent another cold. Or maybe I was too impressed with the reputation of Kneževo as one of the coldest cities in Bosnia. The supermarket was fully-stocked, neat, orderly, finely designed and quality-wise no worse than a typical supermarket in Banja Luka. The women who work there were also kind and nice. With one kilo of mandarines in a bag I continued exploring the town. Climate wise, it wasn’t that cold, but I’ve noticed some remains of snow still. In Banja Luka all the snow melted much earlier. I’ve also noticed that the town is quite stagnant, with very little new buildings, but the old ones were all nicely distributed and well-built, in a style similar to the other cities of former Yugoslavia and with some characteristics of mountainous regions. There are also some high end buildings with brick facade, and an old hotel, now abandoned, which testifies of the past of the city. It was one of the winter and weekend resorts, because of its climate and nearby mountains and ski centers. Currently the tourism sector is gradually recovering and re-gaining its importance. While walking I took a few photos of the town. Then I went a bit outside of the town to try to get a panorama.
View of the landscapes from the city
While I was returning to the town, an older woman met me and asked me where I was going. I realized that it’s a small place in which everyone knows everyone else, so I was a new person in the town, and when someone is unfamiliar, people get curious. I told her that I was just walking and exploring. Then she asked me if I could give her a mandarine, and I did it. Than we exchanged a nice greeting and parted our ways.
At that point I got hungry. As some of you might know, Bosnia is very famous for its grilled meat, especially ćevapi (che-vuh-pee). And each city has its own style of chevapi. So I decided to visit some ćevabdžinica (che-vup-jee-nee-tsah – a restaurant that sells chevapi) to try authentic Kneževo ćevapi.
It was a small restaurant, a typical grill restaurant, oriented towards older male clientele. I was by far the youngest person there. All the others were also males, ages 50+. There are two great things about that place. First the price. Large portion of ćevapi is just 3 KM (1,5€) which is quite cheap, even by Bosnian standards, and the portion is large enough to keep you full and well satisfied for several hours. Second, the fact that everyone was engaged in a relaxed conversation with everyone else. The place really has “soul”. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone expresses their opinions on all sorts of things in relaxed, and quite witty ways. Those guys there are “old school” with their personal wisdom accumulated over many years and relatively unspoiled by modern technology and fast evolving society.
After finishing my ćevapi and beer (everyone else was also drinking beer), I decided to continue exploring. I got a bit tired though, so I visited the bus station to check the time of the next bus for Banja Luka. I found out that the previous bus just departed a few minutes before, and that there were 3 hours till the next one. So I had to find a way to spend those hours. Luckily, the same guy whom I asked about the bus first offered me to take me back to Banja Luka in his car, which I refused because I didn’t want anyone to spend so much time and effort on me, and then offered to show me the town. Even though I already explored the town, I was happy to do it once more with someone local. So he explained to me, how, before the war, the city was full of tourists, and how today, the economy is in decline. But he also went with me to another cafe. That one was a more modern cafe restaurant, oriented to younger generations. It was similar to many cafes in Banja Luka. I drank another beer while listening to my new tourist guide talk about the city. He also mentioned the places young people go to when they go out. I asked about the schools in the city, and whether young people often go to college or they start working right after the high school. And from the answer that wasn’t very clear I gathered that college education is a little less popular than in Banja Luka, but that a nice proportion of young people do go to college indeed. After that we went to another supermarket (that one was a little less orderly than Tropic), and my guide suggested that I buy some local cheese which is delicious. As I don’t like cheese at all, I bought it just for my mom. Then we went to a pizzeria and after a Coca Cola (I couldn’t drink more beer), it was a time for me to get on the bus and go back home. I exchanged the contact details with my newly met friend, so that we can get in touch if he comes to Banja Luka, or if I go to Kneževo again.
While coming home, the bus was, luckily, much less crowded, and even though I wanted to sort out all my experiences, I got very sleepy and pretty much slept all the way to Banja Luka. The mountain air can indeed tire a person, but it’s a nice type of tiredness.
Today, a day after my visit to Kneževo, and after a very nice and refreshing sleep, I can say my experience was very interesting and positive, and I definitely plan revisiting Kneževo, especially during the winter, when it’s covered in thick snow, or in the summer when Banja Luka gets too hot and Kneževo offers much needed refreshment.