There are not a lot of reasons to travel to the northeast corner of Bosnia & Herzegovina . The landscape is flat and full of cabbage fields. The architecture, for the most part is nondescript (although the old library and Hotel Posovina are worth a look). Good restaurants are hard to find, no medieval castles stand upon rocky cliffs, and no must-see entertainment exists.
Nevertheless, it is an interesting region to visit, stuck as it is, somewhere between Titos failed factories and farms and modern conveniences and consumer aspirations. It is a place where street side cafes seem to out number citizens, where the newest Mercedes share streets with horse carts. It is a location where subsistence farmers use mobile phones.
Brcko District, which encompasses the town of Brcko and several surrounding villages, is the third, and much less known, entity of Bosnia & Herzegovina (the mostly ethnic Croatian and ethnic Muslim Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina and the mostly ethnic Serbian Srpska Republik are the other two). By United Nations mandate, and because the other two entities couldnt decide who would take possession of the region, the UN now administers Brcko District.
The UNs administration has had positive effects. The business climate is healthier, politicians are more accountable and government services are more reliable than in most other areas of the country. These achievements are noteworthy considering that Brcko is made up of a healthy mix of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats who all live and work, more or less, in harmony. This wasnt always the case. During the Balkan wars in the 1990s, Brcko was a hotbed of violence where the front line ebbed and flowed on the southern and the eastern sides of the district mirroring the Sava to the north.
Brcko, a town of 50,000 souls, in the heart of Brcko District folds along a bend in the Sava River on several low-lying hills. In fact, a five minute walk across the bridge will place a traveler into Croatia . Travelers journeying to Brcko District, perhaps for an afternoon break, on their way from Zagreb to Belgrade will find an enjoyable stroll along the river or through the downtown. If walking along the river, look for a white one story house (concrete shack really) sitting just behind the row boats anchored along the river bank. Inside one is likely to find local fishermen filling the space around wobbly tables. While the fishermen are nourish themselves with locally made brandy (slivovitz try some if you have the stomach) treat yourself to the local fish soup. The soup is cheap and tastes like homemade, but watch out for bones. Two streets above the fish house stands a renovated restaurant. The food is okay, but the view and the stone and wood deck with a view of Croatia across the Sava is relaxing.
The best local dishes include sarma (stuffed cabage), roasted lamb or pork, and burek (meat pie). Unless you have the pleasure of trying these dishes at someones home where the tastes will be delightfully memorable, it is better to opt for something else. A good, cannot be made poorly, choice is chevapi. Chevapi is to Bosnians what a hamburger is to Americans It is minced meat served in small links with onions, pita bread and, if one prefers, runny goat cheese called kaymak. A couple places in town serve it in a tasty heart stopping fashion wrapped in bacon.
After a meal, why not join the locals in doing what they like to do best. Sit at a caf, sip an espresso made from the poorest quality beans around, and watch time go by. To really fit in, put your mobile phone on the table in clear view and occasionally pretend to sent a text message. All in all, Brcko is a pleasant view of the real town life in Bosnia.