The famous Stari Most Bridge-Mostar
One of my favorite quotes is from an ancient philosopher named Atticus. It states "I hope to arrive to my death, late, in love, and a little drunk." While I am presently stone sober, and not hoping to die anytime soon....I get where he's going with this. As for our day............
We were still dragging a bit this morning. The whole Gatwick thing and the poor quality sleep we got surrounding it really threw us off…..but we were up early as we had to move. We left our little apartment in Dubrovnik around 7 a.m. and carried our packs down the hill. We stopped in a bakery and picked up a Burek (stuffed pastry) for our breakfast and we left the old town by the Pile gate and walked to the cab stand across the street.
We went up to the line and the lead cabbie started loading our stuff. I was a bit wonky this morning and didn’t notice it but Laurie did…..we talked to him the day before and asked questions about getting a cab to the bus station early in the morning. Like everyone here, he was chatty and friendly. We arrived at our bus in plenty of time.
We both dozed on and off on the bus. The roads in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are two lane and snake around lots of mountains. The locals pass on a solid line like madmen, thinking nothing of it. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a narrow 12 mile strip to the sea, and you leave Croatia, then you go 12 miles, then you leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, then you go a little ways further and you cross back into Bosnia and Herzegovina again. They gather your passports at each stop, and you stay on the bus while they scan them. Then they bring them back and you go. You’re not exactly going fast.
Looking up through the market in Mostar
We stop at a hotel in Neum with a large parking lot, apparently the rest stop for the buses. It’s a mad frenzy at the counter with people buying coffee and smoking like mad. They’re loud and gregarious here and it’s just how they are. It means nothing bad. We met an elderly gentleman at the bus station who spoke good English and he sort of shepherded us during our journey.
He studied economics at Berkley in the USA. I’m standing there and he asks what I want and I told him a coke. He shouts above the din and tells the bartender in Croatian to get me a coke! Turns out the bartender spoke perfect English…..but the local yelling over the crowd got me better service. I have my coke and we both use the bathroom. Then we’re back on the bus for the rest of our journey.
We nod off a bit more and eventually pull into Mostar. The bus station is reminiscent of bus stations in the states. It’s in a sketchy part of town and it’s scruffy and dirty. I never felt unsafe, but we were there mid day. I’m sure it’s fine as violent crime isn’t an issue around here. We’ve been told by locals that pick pockets work the crowds in the summer but not so much in the winter.
Many of the places we travel to have issues with pick pockets. We have strategies for dealing with that. My phone holster has a Velcro front on it that makes and audible “ripping” noise when you open it and I can feel it on my belt and keep it under my coat. I always carry around 50 buck (or the local equivalent) in my shirt pocket. My passport, most of my cash, and credit cards are in a money belt thing that is under my clothes. We are lucky and haven’t had any issues with this so far….but we are careful.
We walk about ½ mile from the bus station to our hotel. The town gets nicer as we go. Our hotel is quite nice, right on the river, with a balcony. The room is huge and this is probably one of the nicest hotels in town. It is called the Hotel Bristol, and the staff was exceptionally nice and helpful. Our cost was around $63 for this room and we could have stayed MUCH cheaper if we wanted.
Damage from fighting during the war is not difficult to find.
After this we head into old town. Damage from the war here is much more visible than in Dubrovnik, and things have not been rebuilt to the level they have there. We see bullet holes in many of the buildings, shelled out buildings that were destroyed and not rebuilt, holes in masonry walls made by RPG’s. The fighting here was intense and even decades later, the results were still quite visible.
We wander the old town checking out the market. There are craftsmen there making things out of copper, trinkets, and many other things. To their credit, many of the items appear to actually be made locally. We like supporting those who make things with their hands as both of us did that for a living in the past. If I’m on the fence as to whether I’ll buy something, knowing that I’m talking to the actual person that made it will close the deal.
I stopped at a shop and looked at small leather bags. They were quite well made and were actually made in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The prices were very good and I began talking to the shopkeeper. He stood up to talk with me and I then noticed he was missing a leg at the hip.
He was obviously a war casualty. The bags said “Edo Collection”. I asked if he was Edo and he said yes, that was him. In addition to being a craftsman, he was someone who wouldn’t lay down. He kept working and had his own leather business. Not wanting to carry the small bag around, I asked how late he was open and would come back before closing.
Street art pops up....and some of it is quite good.
We continue our wander through the old town and on the other side of the bridge, we run into ANOTHER store selling exactly the same bags. Turns out he wasn’t Edo……..just hustling a sale. While I appreciate the fact he’s working, it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth and I never went back. Maybe he didn't fully understand what I was asking....but I got the impression he did.
We stopped at a mosque Laurie had read about and wanted to see. We wound up touring it, and climbed the minaret (like a steeple). This minaret gave the best view in Mostar of the famous Stari Most Bridge. It was 89 steps to the top, and the stairwell was very narrow and very steep….but the view was worth it. We took a bunch of photos and came back down.
We were hungry and wind up at a restaurant serving authentic Bosnia and Herzegovina food. It had been in business since 1967 (Communist times) called Restoran Balkan. It was quite tidy and the folks running it were exceptionally nice. We had a fantastic dinner of Cevapcici (sausages in a freshly made pita) and cabbage rolls. We had three entrees (we split the cabbage rolls), two cevapcici, two sodas, and a beer. Total cost was 31 marks, or 15.50 US dollars.
We wander back through the old town and are at the world famous Stari Most Bridge. I get out a camera tripod and am taking photos up the river at the mosque and minaret which are lit up after dark. In a room above the arch on the bridge, a man is sitting in an open window watching the people go by. Laurie notices that he is watching me and he begins to yell at me. I didn’t hear him and Laurie pointed it out.
He yelled “Come up here! The view is better for photo!” We were invited up and it turns out it was a tiny coffee shop right above the bridge, the oldest in Mostar. It was nothing more than an espresso machine in an ancient room, right on the bridge. Our host worked at the coffee shop a few days a week and he spoke very good English. He moved from the window so I could take photos and he started talking with us.
I love this photo. Mustafa is standing and Amir is sitting . If I had to take one photo that would sum up the whole of Mostar......this would be it.
His name was Mustafa. He grew up in Mostar. He and his family fled during the war and they lived in Italy. His children are now all grown, he is divorced from his wife, and he missed Mostar. Against the advice of his children, he moved back to Mostar.
He told us of stories about old Yugoslavia and how me missed it. He said it was wonderful then as people all got along, even though they were all different religions and beliefs. He said that Mostar was a great example as a large percentage of the families there were “mixed”, meaning Christian and Muslim, and how tolerant the society was.
He called old Yugoslavia “civilization”, because everyone talked to each other and everyone got along. They “had coffee” and conversations. He said these conversations were how everyone got to know and understand each other….which was the basis of civilization. He spoke about how everyone got along and they all played together as children, with no thought to what someone’s religion was. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox, all playing together, just as children.
He spoke with sadness about the war, telling us how someone he was close friends with as a child and played football with wound up as an enemy. He said he was going to war against friends, and you never knew if you crossed paths with them on the street if they would be happy to see you or try to kill you. He talked about living in fear of those encounters as he didn’t want to kill a friend.
Understand, that you didn’t get a choice what side you were on here. Your beliefs were irrelevant. If you had a Muslim name, whether you were practicing or not, whether you believed in the cause or not, you were with the Muslim forces. The same with the Christians and the Serbs. You didn’t choose it….you were assigned a side based solely on your name. Many people were Muslims married to Christians with extended families. It was a hell of a mess.
Mustafa told us to check on youtube as there is a story about one family where one son fought for the Croatians, one for the Bosnians, and the father fought for the Serbs. I’m not sure how that happened but it was a hell of a mess. You didn’t get a choice here, you fought, you fled, or you died. And these were the only choices offered. You may have wound up fighting against friends, family members, even brothers. It was a horrible situation.
Mustafa had a friend named Amir that sat silently and listened to his stories. We all sat around for quite some time, talking about the state of the world, our perspectives, history, and how the world goes. It was a totally unexpected meeting that gave our visit here so much more depth. Our visit with Mustafa gave us a true understanding of the soul of Mostar and the people.
We bid our farewells, humbled by the hospitality shown us by Mustafa and Amir. The people here are so wonderful, welcoming and warm. We are falling in love with Bosnia and Herzegovina.