While I “only” made it to Mostar and the surrounding area (a detour to Montenegro got in the way of coming back to Bosnia for Sarajevo and more), I cannot say enough about Bosnia and Herzegovina. I ended up extending my stay by a night, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my trip. If you didn’t have Bosnia and the Balkans on your radar, add it. Now.
I got in to Mostar, Bosnia mid-afternoon, my first place I showed up without a reservation of somewhere to sleep. I rang the bell at the Hostel Majdas, which had great reviews online and which I’d luckily starred on my map. I was ushered into the courtyard by a young woman who sat me down at one of the picnic tables, handed me some colored markers and some fresh cake, and asked me to create a colorful nametag for myself while she went off to make me hot tea. Living the life much?
Once I was all checked in, I browsed some of the travel books on Montenegro and Bosnia she had on a bookshelf and got ready to go wander out to see the Stari Most bridge, the bridge that was built in the 16th-century, destroyed by Croat bombing in 1993 and then recreated from the original stones in 2004. On the way out, came across an Australian girl curled up on the couch drinking tea and a Dutch guy with long hair. Talked to them for a bit (turns out the Dutch guy is traveling for 2+ years, spent 5 months in Mexico, and is only planning to stop when he runs out of money), and then the Australian girl ended up joining me to go out and wander.
The main street of the city (from what I can tell) is much more lively than I expected. Kebab shops and little cafes line a cobblestone street, and you eventually get into a really cobblestoned street just before the bridge (which, by the way, is really hard to walk across since it’s so steep and the stones are so slippery). There are actually elevated stones across the whole thing to help you stop from slipping. It was nice to see it at night and see all the mosques lit up across the city. There are 26 of them – all destroyed during the fighting but now rebuilt. On the way back, we stopped in to a quick place for cevapi – basically beef and lamb grilled meat sausages served with onions and pita and ajvar (red pepper paste). For 5 euro total, we got a massive plate of it and brought it back to the hostel to eat outside. On the way out, a table of 2 middle-aged women and men stopped us to ask where we were from. Sadly, I’ve realized my instant reaction is to want to say “American” and expect jokes or semi-insults. Instead, one of the women lit up and talked my ear off (in a great way) about how her family now lives in New Jersey and how excited she was that we were visiting, and offered help with any part of the rest of our trip. It’s the first time I can really remember in traveling that someone was so excited to hear from an American and so welcoming and surprised about my own time in their country.
Back at the hostel, a huge group got back from a tour organized by the hostel, raving about everything they saw. Again, the beauty of traveling without plans: I decided on a whim to stay an extra night and go on the tour the next day. It’s just too worth it, they kept saying.
So, just like that, after an amazing homemade breakfast in the courtyard made by Majda herself, the group of us (including the Dutch guy and the Australian girl) got in Bata’s van and headed outside the city. Before that, though, I did stop by the Sniper’s Tower in Mostar, an old bank that was used by snipers and professional killers in the Bosnian War to terrorize the Bosnian part of the city. While I didn’t climb up to the top because I was short on time, it’s an eery place to be even on the ground floor. There’s politically-related street art all over, hanging TV boxes left over, and main stairwells still intact, but missing all railings. On the top floor, casings of the bullets still lie there. The building was chosen because it’s one of the tallest in the city and easily separates the city. Hearing our guide later that day tell us all about how best friends of his from school became enemies of his overnight, shooting down from the roof of this building to try to kill him just for being from a Muslim family, gives you chills. The city itself is very much divided, but not by the media-propagated line of the river. Instead, it’s where this sniper tower lies and then beyond. To this day, every year the government from Sarajevo (mostly made up of Croats) decides which buildings in Mostar to renovate. Yet, every year, it’s the buildings where the Serbs and Croats live that are redone, and the Muslim area is left in complete disrepair. Buildings are bombed out, rubble left, and gunshots left on walls. Continue reading