Day 25: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar was a simple day trip on the way from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo. Situated almost half way between each city it was the perfect way to break up the bus trip and see a cool old town that still has traces of the war’s wrath all over. Mostar is a town that dates back to the 15th century and most likely even before that and to this day serves as the unofficial capital of Herzegovina. The most prominent and memorable sight in the city is its Stari Most, or “old bridge,” which is where the city gets its name. The crescent moon shape stone bridge was built in 1557 to replace a former wooden bridge and was immediately considered one of the finest and most spectacular bridges to see. During the time of its construction it was said to have been the largest single span arch bridge in the world. Towering above a narrow but deep river the bridge also serves as a leaping point for thousands of divers since its creation. The organization of Mostar Bridge divers dates back to right after its construction and to this day is still going strong. These brave souls jump off knees down into the green water below.

During the war the bridge, which had previously enjoyed such a wonderful and fascinating past (in the 16th centuries pilgrims and travelers passing through the area always stopped to see the bridge and gaze at the divers) was completely destroyed. It wasn´t until 2003, ten years after it was leveled, that it was rebuilt stone to stone and was listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (See photo below to compare what the old bridge looked like circa 1970 versus the newly built bridge above.)

We spent a good deal of time admiring the simple yet brilliant architecture of the bridge, however, Mostar definitely had a lot more to offer. For starters Bosnia & Herzegovina is the first taste of Muslim culture in our trip. The country has a large thriving Muslim population and Mostar and Sarajevo are both cities unique for their tolerance (where else can you find a mosque, Orthodox church, cathedral, and synagogue in the same town or even on the same street!) We explored two of the mosques in mostar, both of which were beautifully ornate (nothing could compare to our later experiences in Istanbul, a city part of a country that is 99% Muslim).

We also hiked around the outskirts of the town and walked by many sobering relics of the war. One stretch in particular was littered with old buildings that had been leveled or partially destroyed by mortar shells, bombs or even just sprayed with bullet holes. It´s an amazing sight to see since as an American its hard to imagine living through something as horrendous as the 3 year plus siege on Bosnia. I would imagine that Mostar has plans to rebuild the rest of the city (the old town was preserved for tourism reasons) but its hard to say since the city also showed signs of real poverty. We also stumbled upon a cool memorial and cemetery in the hills that was littered with graffiti and broken glass.

While we took a bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar our plan, after a recommendation from a fellow traveler, was to train it from Mostar to Sarajevo. The old train runs through the mountains and tunnels covering a great deal of ground and going around lots of beautiful lakes and rivers. Stunning sight to see. I was sitting near some kids the entire time one of which had essentially a heat stroke. The poor girl was clearly dehydrated, sunburned and above all was freaking out since she was on a train. Her parents or the adults she was with were useless and at one point gave she and her boyfriend cigarettes (these kids were pushing the age of 14 if i had to guess. Anyway some older women on the train nearby sat her down next to me near the window and tried to cool her down. I offered some aspirin and my water as a fever reducer. It was a chaotic situation that I was in the center of. eventually they stopped the train and rushed the girl outside to meet an ambulance, which may have just been a taxi cab. Interesting train ride. Later the old woman thanked me for the aspirin then called me handsome. Despite my creepy facial hair old women still love Warner.

We arrived at Sarajevo and once again were greeted at the train station by a hostel representative who gave us a free ride to our hostel. Pretty cool. For dinner that night we had a local Bosnian staple dish, cevapcici, which are small sausages served in pita bread with vegetables and sauce. We were looking for a light snack the night we arrived since it was late. Our meal was dirt cheap and was anything but light since we each got ten of these sausages. Oof ten sausages.

Sarajevo warrants its own entry since it was definitely one of the highlights of this entire trip and there is so much to tell.

Keep on keeping on

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Day 23, 24 & 24: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is a gem of a city. The small coastal city is about as far south as you can go in Croatia and it took us an excruciating hot 8+ hour bus ride. Despite the lack of air circulation the ride itself was quite stunning since the route runs along the jagged and maze like coast through mountains and bays. Honestly I sat looking out the window the entire time, never once reading my travel book or dozing off. The views were that breathtaking.

Dubrovnik was originally a significant seaport for trade but now is a tourist hot spot for Europeans, mainly French, Italian, and Germans. Since the pan Balkan war of the 90s the city has been successfully boosting the tourism by allowing massive cruise ships to dock in its waters. On our second day one such boat unloaded hundreds of Americans into the small town. Still while the crowds got to be a bit much the city is still incredibly beautiful.

Our hostel was a bit of a hike from the old town but was in the hills, had a nice view of the city and was close to some cool beaches and sights. Not only that this was the first hostel we encountered where we got picked up from the bus station and later given a ride back for free. Due to the current wave of tourism there is a surge of people looking to rent out their extra rooms to backpackers looking for a cheap place to lay there head. When we stepped off the bus initially we were instantly surrounded by older women and men spitting off prices and accommodations features. Our hostel was very nice since we had a private three bed room still if I had been solo I might have taken up one of the offers at the station.

Our first night was spent just walking around our area and getting a feel for that part of the city. We walked down a cool path that runs along the rocky coast and has little trails down to the water every 100 meters or so. Similarly to Zadar, Dubrovnik´s waters are clear and light blue-the kind of agua that just begs you to jump in. Day two we headed early to the old town which is quite small (the city itself is surrounded by a massive stronghold stone wall used for defense) and checked out some of the easy walking sights such as the Cathedral, Mosque, Onofrios fountain, and a couple main plazas. The city reminds of me of Spain and Italy due to countless outdoor cafes, plazas, traditional drinking fountains, and a smell of fresh seafood and salt water in the air.

After a couple hours exploring the city we decided to take a ferry across the bay to the small island of Lokrum, which was famous for its secluded beaches, old hill top fortress, and botanic garden. The gardens were lame but the fortress was pretty wicked and was worth the long hike. As for the beaches, Croatia is mainly rocky so sun bathing is tricky and sharp but swimming in the ocean was extremely refreshing. We went to a couple of different spots and also found a cool inland natural pond (we didn´t go into this since it had been taken over by 45 screaming children). Paul picked up a bug of sorts in Zagreb and had been feeling ill for the past couple days so his experience was different, still he enjoyed the scenery.

For dinner we found a cheap pizza place (Dalmatia is similar to Italy in terms of food-pasta, risotto, gelato, and delicious thin crust pizzas!) I had one with olives, mussels, tuna and ham divided in four pieces. The next day we went back to the old town and walked on top of the wall, which goes all along the city, takes about 2 hours if your pace is enjoyable, and gives picturesque views of the coast and the town´s red roofs (see photo above). We also explored outside the immediate old town walking along the coast. Similar to Zadar, Dubrovnik has very little to see in terms of sights or museums but the scenery and pleasant walks offered definitely make up for its size. Three solid days was a perfect amount of time.

Our last day we got up early to catch an 8am bus to Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. The hostel owner´s brother in law drove us and gave us a giant water bottle filled with homemade Croatian wine as a token of hospitality. While the wine was a bit harsh I really liked it and it once again showed the kindness of people and hospitable culture in Eastern Europe. (The wine made it all the way to Sarajevo where we were forced to leave a third full bottle at our hostel since we knew trying to fly with a mysterious looking water bottle filled with moonshine wine wouldn´t fly with Air Bosna security).

Sobering but beautiful Mostar is coming up next.
Keep on keeping on