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Mostar – A Journey Through Time And History – Bosnia And Herzegovina

BOSNIA

Heather Markel, Best Selling Author, Professional Speaker, Traveler, Full Time Travel and Business Coach

With my decision to learn more about the former Yugoslavia, I choose Bosnia as my next destination. But, before leaving Zagreb I take a wonderful day trip to Slovenia. I explore Ljubljana, and Lake Bled. While the capital is touristy, it’s also beautiful, but Lake Bled is stunning. We take a boat to the castle, and I ring the bell inside the church for good luck. I make a mental note to one day explore this country more deeply. (Sometimes travel is about finding places you want to return!)

The bus ride from Zagreb to Mostar, where I plan to start, is too long to do in a day. (As a solo traveler, I like to arrive in a new city during daylight hours where possible.) I want to break up the journey with a stop in Dubrovnik or Split. Unfortunately, I learn that a bed in a shared room in a youth hostel in either of those cities, during the summer after the pandemic, is $100/night. I’m about to give up when the travel fairy smiles upon me. 

While in Paris, I met the chef at a random restaurant I discovered walking around in the 17th. The chef, Bouba, turned out to be Yugoslavian and had invited me to visit her in Vir, near Zadar. I researched places to stay there, and unfortunately, they were no better than Dubrovnik or Split. I called Bouba to let her know I would unfortunately not be able to come by, and she invited me to stay at her place! I accepted her offer graciously, and journeyed, by bus, from Zagreb to Zadar, where I changed buses to get to Vir. Note, if you ever find yourself at the Zadar bus station, you have to pay to use the restroom, and, it’s through a turnstile and down a steep set of stairs. There’s no way to bring luggage. I had wrapped my knee due to my torn meniscus, and the attendant refused to let me use the handicapped bathroom at the top of the stairs without showing her a certificate of being handicapped!!!!

That issue aside, I make it to Vir. It’s a lovely and small beach town. Bouba has a quaint house. I stay with her upstairs, and meet her friends, downstairs, from France as well. One of them teaches me the game of President. I’d never heard of it and quickly learn I will have to play it a lot to understand the strategy! I stay a couple of days, and we all spend the afternoon in Zadar which is a beautiful, medieval town. We have a fabulous seafood lunch and our later plans are detoured by heavy rain. It’s the first rain I’ve experienced since June, so, much as I am disappointed I won’t see all of Zadar, I’m glad there’s some rain!

The Travel Fairy smiles again, because Bouba’s neighbor is from Mostar, and he’s driving there the same day I had planned to get the bus. So, I end up traveling to Bosnia by car! Much more comfortable than the bus, and faster too.

When we get to immigration, we have our passports reviewed on the Croatian side, and as we are driving up to the Bosnian side, the car in front of us drives around the booth, to the other side, so he’s facing back towards Croatia. The driver gets out of his car, and is yelling at the immigration officer. So, when we pull up on the other side, he waves us onwards without even looking at our passports. So much for my Bosnia passport stamp!

I’ve booked two nights in Mostar, and then plan to go to Sarajevo and use some of my Marriott points to explore in style. My friend shows me around Mostar by car before dropping me off, and it’s beautiful. I know I will want more time here so I plan to return after Sarajevo since it’s a perfect way to break up the trip to Montenegro, my next stop.

koala

The first thing that strikes me about Mostar, which is different than Croatia, is the dilapidated, war-torn buildings that still stand. In this country, you can see the devastating remains of the war from the 1990s. I walk around in a bit of shock as I’ve never been so close to the impact of war. You can see them reminders of the war throughout town, in stark contrast with the joy you feel in other parts.

The beauty of Mostar is the old bridge, in the old town. It’s got the feel of a small Turkish market, and the view at the bridge is stunning. I take a city tour and get aquainted with Mostar’s history and sites. While walking, I cross paths with Martin, who I met on my free walking tour in Zagreb! We make loose plans to meet up while both in town.

I begin to learn the complex history of Bosnia and Herzogovinia. First of all, the city of Mostar is divided in half. There’s a Muslim side and a Croatian side. The friend who drove me to Mostar tells me his daughter goes to the high school in town, and they segregate classes by whether you’re Croatian, or Muslim. Even more complex, they teach different versions of history in school to each group! And, he told me never wear a tshirt for one “side” and venture to the other side in that shirt. I imagine an experience similar to the one I had wearing my Yankees t-shirt to a Boston Red Sox baseball game.

Most Bosnian’s I meet understand my confusion at who owns what because, as I travel through the country, it seems I am told different information. Am I actually in Bosnia, or Herzogovina? My free walking tour guide explains that Mostar is the capital of Bosnia, and Sarajevo is the capital of Herzogovina. But, I’ve also heard people tell me the opposite.

A bit of history I learn from my free walking tour:

  • Bosnia means “land by the river”
  • The Germans referred to the man who ruled the area as “King Herzog” which is how the Herzogovina name came to be
  • The Ottomans came in the 15th century and much of the current beauty and infrastructure you see now is from them.
  • Most of the people in Bosnia were Christian. However, to avoid paying taxes, they agreed to say they were Muslim. This begins to explain why, as I travel throughout the area, the classic Muslim rules are not always followed. In Bosnia and Herzogovina, that’s because it seems many became Muslim for tax reasons, rather than religious ones
  • While the Ottoman/Turkish influence here is huge, I love that Bosnians also made things their own. For example, they have Bosnian coffee instead of Turkish coffee. Cevapi and Burek are typically spicy, but here, they are not because the people didn’t like the spicy version!
  • The main feature of Mostar, it’s beautiful bridge in the old town, stood until 1993 when it was bombed. They say the Croatians bombed it, and the Croatians won’t own up to it

There’s a beautiful street full of street art I walk down one day. I learn there’s an annual street art festival, and the artists don’t divide, like the city does. Pavrati is also important to Mostar. In 1996, he read a report about the sad destruction of the city, and built a music school there because he felt that music reminds you of something good.

Another thing I love about Mostar is that people treat the stray cats with such kindness that I find many open to cuddles, and appreciative of food. I buy some cat food specially for one of the strays I find on the street art street, and meet some cuties on a walk to a local church on another day.

Some other interesting things I learn are that the Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian languages are all the same. Kids aren’t taught about the Yugoslav war in school. Apparently, they are waiting until 50 years have passed because therey’s not enough evidence. Most people in Bosnia are emotional about the war. I am beginning to understand that phrase I’ve heard, “history is written by the winners.” And also, that politics play a big role in the history we each learn.

To end on a more positive note, one of the things Mostar is best known for is the diving off the old bridge. Throughout the day, men in skimpy bathing suits request money from the eager group of onlookers, who then cheer him on. It apparently takes years to work up to the dive as it’s a long drop, and the water is freezing. There’s even a Red Bull sponsored diving event every year! Click here (or the image below) if you’d like to see a YouTube short I made of one of the divers!

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