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