So lets start from the beginning
I am originally from Croatia and before I came to live in Banja Luka at the age of 12, I came here only twice to visit relatives. Although I’ve been living in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1992 and have visited most of it due to work related trips, I didn’t get to choose the places I visit or to really explore them. So I’ve decided to correct that and take on a quest to discover Bosnia and Herzegovina, starting with Banja Luka, as a traveler, and write about these experiences.
How to get here or where is Banja Luka
If you ask people around these parts, they will tell you that Banja Luka is on the crossroads between Sarajevo, Zagreb and Belgrade.
Coming to Banja Luka from Zagreb, Croatia
Most of my trips, during first 10 years of me living in Banja Luka, where with my parents to nearby villages between Banja Luka and Bosanska Gradiška. Bosanska Gradiška is a small town, some 40 kilometers west from Banja Luka, on the border crossing between Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia. So if you come to Banja Luka by airplane, aside from the small local airport (that has only one flight a day) you are most likely to use the airport in Zagreb. I usually recommend this option to people who come by airplane, as this is the closest international airport and there is a highway leading you almost directly from the airport to Banja Luka, and you are bound to pass through Bosanska Gradiška. You will also pass through those aforementioned near by villages under Kozara Mountain, one of which is Jurkovica (you will see it mentioned on the highway sings), and that’s the one my father’s family is from.
Coming to Banja Luka from Belgrade, Serbia
Aside from covering these short distances, in this restrictive period, I had couple of opportunities to go in the opposite direction towards Belgrade. Well one of those trips was actually to Belgrade, to visit relatives, and two were for the school trips, one to Montenegro and the other to Greece. You will probably wonder how on earth did it make sense to take this route to get to Montenegro or Greece, but at the time if we went east or south, we went around instead of through BiH. So if you go to Belgrade from Banja Luka, through BiH, it will take you around 8 hours by bus, although you will probably get there faster by car. However, most people, who are in a hurry or are not in sightseeing mood, will use the highway in Croatia to get from Banja Luka to Belgrade in 3 to 4 hours, which will depend on the time you spend on the border crossings. So personally, unless I have some business to attend in the eastern part of Republic of Srpska, if I am going to Belgrade, I use the faster option, through Croatia.
From Sarajevo to Banja Luka
So until 2003, these were my only trips through the country. In October 2003, I went to Sarajevo for the first time in my life. Now that was an adventure. It was the first trip that I went on completely by myself, and it was the first in many to come. And that is how my traveling began.
Today my trips to Sarajevo are a regular occurrence, as it is the capital of the country, and if you do any kind of business in BiH, you are bound to end up in Sarajevo at some point. Sarajevo is some 300 kilometers away from Banja Luka, and there are multiple ways to get there. The shortest route, that most male drivers prefer will take you via Kneževo. A bit longer option, in the same direction, will take you through Jajce and the special perk that goes with both these options is the drive through Vrbas River canyon. However, this is somewhat treacherous road so personally I prefer to take the route over Borje mountain, Teslić and Zenica. From the scenic point, to me this is equally beautiful as the previous option, but the road is of better quality and it is less stressful for the diver and the car.
The adventure begins – Banja Luka city centre
So, last week I started cruising around the city, taking notice and pictures, and trying to see my surroundings through the travelers eyes.
On the first day of this adventure, on my way from work, I stopped at the city centre and looked around. The first thing that I came across is the orthodox church surrounded by the municipality building and the culture centre, the president’s palace, the monument to Ban Milisavljevic with a small park and hotel Bosna on the opposite side. Although it is a bit open for debate which square is the main square in the city, from outsiders perspective I believe that this place looks like one.
Hram Hrista spasitelja
The church in the middle is the orthodox temple, called Hram Hrista Spasitelja. This is a new church, build on the grounds of the church that was destroyed during the second world war. Some of the remains of the old church are displayed in two squares on the sides of the new church grounds. The new church was built couple of years ago, and today aside from being the place for practicing religion, it is a hangout for local people, mostly parents with small children in the early evening. As seen on the picture it is not uncommon to have some kind of a fair, like this small book fair, at this small stretch of the road, that is a popular hangout for local youth in the summer and they usually refer to it as Parkić (small park). The actual park behind it is a new addition. It is meant to be the tribute to Ban Milosavljevic, whose statue is placed in the middle.
The old looking street that starts next to the municipality building is called Gospodska (gentleman’s) street, this is main shopping and strolling street in Banja Luka, and it leads you to the other town square.
The actual main square and Boska
This other square, the locals would refer to it “at Boska” (which is the name of the strange looking shopping mall building in the middle) is a place where different manifestations that require larger open space are held. The blue square box behind the crossroads sign in the picture is the tourist info booth.
Hotel Palas and Multiplex Palas
The unfinished building on the opposite square is Hotel Palas, the building is sort of a landmark, but it has been in that status of incompleteness since before I came to live here. The large stairs in front of that building lead you under ground, to Multiplex Palas, the only movie theatre in town.
Park Petrar Kočić – the main city park
Across the square is one of many parks and hangout places in town. This one is named after Petar Kočić, and the glass building at the opposite side is called Staklenac also used for manifestations, but also for having a casual coffee in the ground floor coffee shop.
The Museum of modern arts and street chess players
As foreigners usually notice people here like to hang out at coffee shops, restaurants and in parks. This is still a traditional community, that likes to stay close to relatives and neighbors, so there is content for every age group everywhere. As you can see from the picture of older men casually playing street chess in front of the Modern arts gallery (the yellow building behind them).
And with this I concluded my exploration and a small tour around the city centre, for the day.