Mostar Day One
After waving goodbye to Dubrovnik, it was time to head on to Mostar, Bosnia – a city which we’d accidentally discovered on a long weekend during our year abroad. How do you accidentally discover a city, I hear you ask? We’ll keep it a mystery for now, you’ll just have to keep clicking on our blog. Ha.
Anyway, Mostar 2015 began – typically for this trip – with a bus journey through a heavy storm. If there’s one thing that we learnt during our travels, it’s that the Balkans loves a good storm. Which is fine, as long as you’re in a nice comfy bus.
Thankfully, the storm had passed by the time we rocked up at Mostar bus station. Our next challenge was to find our accommodation – and find it we did, down a quiet looking alleyway.
With nobody at the reception desk, we weren’t quite sure where we’d arrived (not the first time we felt like that!). Thankfully, all doubts were dispelled when we met Meša the owner – an ex-professional footballer whose career was ended through a horror injury whilst playing for Panathanaikos against Arsenal during a pre-season friendly. Needless to say, I (Matt) was quite excited – and we both warmed to him so much during our check in.
We’d never had a welcome like it, and – nearly a year on – we still haven’t. Firstly, he noticed that we had booked a twin room (it was the cheapest) but were obviously a couple – so promptly insisted on upgrading us to a small apartment, with 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen and living space and a bathroom with a washing machine!! Why were we only staying there one night?! We then all sat down for a good 20 minutes, and Meša told us all about Mostar, what to see and where to go – he even promised that his guests were like his family, and that he is a bit of a BNIM (Big Name in Mostar), so “if anyone touches my guests, they touch my family.” Feeling full of local knowledge, and rather safe, we said goodbye to our host and settled in to our new room.
By the time we’d got ourselves sorted, and explored all the cupboards in the kitchen, we were getting quite peckish. But with only one night to explore Mostar, food could wait! The centrepiece of Mostar is the infamous Stari Most, a beautiful old bridge dating back to the 16th century which became the tragic symbol of the bombardment of Mostar during the Balkans conflict in the 90s. The bridge was destroyed by Croat forces during the war, but restored to its former glory in the years that followed before ultimately being completely reopened in 2004. It was Stari Most which we headed to first – a quick and easy 3 minute walk from our apartment.
Needless to say, the bridge – and the surrounding Bazaar – was the busiest and most touristy bit of town. We made our way across the bridge to the other side, avoiding the weirdly eager American man who was collecting money for someone to jump off the bridge. The Stari Most bridge jump is a popular pastime in Mostar, being both a traditional, organised activity and also a way for divers to earn a bit of extra cash.
We didn’t really fancy handing over money to encourage someone to jump off a 24m bridge, so we just headed down to the riverbank below to watch for free – like any true student.
With all the excitement of the bridge jump out of the way (the guy survived – but I still wouldn’t fancy doing it myself!), we gave in to hunger and headed to a very traditional looking Bosnian place which Meša had recommended to us. Feeling adventurous, we went for a platter of traditional food. Oh. My. Days. Absolutely delicious. Somehow, Balkan food just seems to put our British offerings to shame – completely unpretentious and reasonably simple, but delicious. We were brought a giant tray piled high with all our favourites – cevapi (balkan sausage), potatoes, vegetables and even more unidentifiable meat. Oh, and some complementary shots of Rakija since we were staying at Chateaux Mesa- we clearly had friends in high places.
We finished our platter – every last crumb – just in time for the rain to begin again. This coincided with a bizarre procession past the restaurant of people in traditional dress – we never did find out who they were, where they were heading, or why there were there. An eternal mystery, but amusing nonetheless. With the rain starting to get heavier, and darkness creeping in, it was time to make our escape from the restaurant. After an early start, we decided to call it a night. Our route back to the apartment took us past half a dozen kittens struggling up some stairs, which obviously added a good 15 minutes to the journey, and we stopped by the supermarket to stock up on water.
The streets and bars were absolutely packed – Mostar is obviously an evening place – and we really wish we had had more time there to properly experience it all. Sadly, we were exhausted and fell asleep almost instantly!
Mostar Day Two
After a gloriously comfortable night’s sleep, complete with an actual, genuine lie in (!), we checked out of our room and left our bags with our new Mostar best friend so we could explore the rest of the town without having to lug everything around in the heat. It was already looking like it could be the hottest day so far.
We stopped for lunch/breakfast at a dead cheap restaurant with great views over to Stari Most – and even better Cevapi. Yum yum yum.
Meša kindly annotated a map for us and after lunch we followed it past the ‘synagogue’ (doesn’t exist anymore), mosque and church – basically following the old front line as it was during the war. There are still plenty of destroyed/gutted buildings even 20 years on – and bullet marks everywhere you look.
After a good 45 minutes of wandering, we finally found what we were looking for – the infamous Mostar sniper tower.
This is a high-rise shell of a former bank which we’d read about before our visit and really wanted to explore. The snipers would shelter in the upper floors which provided a perfect view across the town.You can still find discarded bullet casings and other discarded remnants from the war inside. Fascinating. Chilling. It’s also covered in plenty of intriguing graffiti – probably worth a walk down there just to look at the art alone.
The internet had suggested that we could find an entrance round the back. The internet was wrong – or, at least, out of date. The entire building has now been bricked up – the walls are a good 10 feet tall. It’s still technically possible to get inside by climbing on some of the outer walls and hoisting yourself up, but we didn’t see any way to easily get back out once you were inside. If we had had more time (we had a bus to Sarajevo to catch in a few hours), we’d probably have gone for it – but we didn’t fancy getting stuck inside an abandoned sniper tower under such tight timescales. Genuinely quite a shame, it would have been really interesting. Ah well. Next time?!
Outside the sniper tower, we were stopped by a taxi driver who asked us if we spoke German. We do. We said yes. And we were treated to a good 20 minute rant, in the taxi driver’s broken German, about how the mafia run Bosnia and are draining normal folk – and particularly the youth – of employment, opportunities and money. There wasn’t a lot we could really say in reply to him, other than offer him our sympathies and promise (upon request) that we’d tell everybody we knew when we got back to Germany. An interesting encounter.
Our next encounter was slightly less sobering, but no less bizarre. Wandering through a park, we stumbled across Bruce Lee. A massive gold statue of Bruce Lee, in karate poise. It turns out that the statue is there as a symbol of solidarity, bridging the ethnic divisions which have caused so much tension in the city. In hindsight, it makes much more sense – but at the time we were hilariously confused by Bruce Lee’s presence in this random Bosnian park.
And with a wave goodbye to Bruce Lee, and an attempted kiss/lick from a tired looking stray Alsatian (much to Lucy’s disgust), it was back in to the middle of Mostar to pick up our bags and head to the bus station.
By this point, the temperature was pushing the high 30s (Celsius) and we were seriously lagging from all the walking we’d done around the place. Enter an absolute jewel of a find – a bar in a cave! We were the only ones in there, but we didn’t care. A cool corner was found, many colas & ice were drunk, and it was absolutely lovely. We’d probably have both passed out on the bus if we hadn’t have found somewhere out of the heat to sit down! The cave bar saved us, and we finally found the strength to drag ourselves the extra 15 minutes down the road to the bus station.
We definitely regret not spending longer in Mostar. For a small place, there’s so much history and things to explore – you definitely need longer than a night. The surrounding area is also beautiful, and we were offered excursions by Meša which we would have loved to have done, but just couldn’t fit in. I have a feeling we’ll be back. For now though, the bus was boarded and our next stop – which we were equally as excited for – was Sarajevo…stay tuned!