Mostar - Jan 10-12
Jan 12, 2011
|January 10, 2011
Our bus today left at 8am so after an early wakeup so Elizabeth could wash in the now clean water, we walked down to the bus station and bought our tickets. We’ve found here that you also have to pay to put bags on the bus too which seems absolutely ridiculous to me but nonetheless we paid up and got on board. Elizabeth was a bit grumpy as she was tired so I cunningly suggested that if we sat on different seats we’d have more room for the journey. In fact, the seats were bloody low on leg room and I struggled to get comfortable so it was a good idea on both counts! We did the little section of crossing into Bosnia and then back out into Croatia again before we finally crossed another border point and were out of Croatia for good although, again, they didn’t stamp our passports. This is quite good for me as I’m quickly running out of pages thanks to the idiots in Australia who kept putting their stamps on brand new pages which no-one else will now use!
We weren’t sure what to expect from Mostar and Bosnia. The country was war-torn until only just over 15 years ago and although the same can be said for much of the reason, this country was significantly poorer and less well prepared for recovery than some others, like Croatia and Serbia. As we got off the bus, the difference between Mostar and Dubrovnik could not have been any more obvious as we were immediately surrounded by children hassling us and begging and the area of the city we drove around was full of derelict buildings with holes from bomb blasts and bullets. This was certainly not what we were expecting especially as the Lonely Planet book initially describes the city as a place where “surreally picturesque Ottoman architecture crowds around Europe’s most famous bridge”. I understand that the city is more than just the old town but this description certainly didn’t fit what we saw!
We easily found our hotel, too, directly opposite the bus station but thankfully in a better state of repair than some other surrounding structures! The room was a good size and the owner was friendly and helpful and got us settled in. We were both quite hungry so we decided to take a walk in to the main part of the city. As we walked along the main road it was marginally better than the buildings we had seen on the drive in but we were soon presented with a newly-renovated cobblestone street and a handful of similar buildings. This was the old town and although it had been mostly rebuilt since the mid-1990s it was really pretty and the fast-flowing river gave it a perfect setting. There are many minarets and mosques around the riverbank, too, but the main attraction is the Stari Most (Old Bridge). This had stood for over 400 years until it was destroyed in 1993. The river running through the city acted as a barrier between the warring Bosnian Croats and the Muslims, two sides who had previously been allies during the breakup of Yugoslavia and had fought together against the Serbs. All of the bridges along the river had been blown up and the last to fall was the old bridge which was destroyed in November 1993. By 1995 the old town was almost completely destroyed and only with international assistance have the Bosnians been able to rebuild it so wonderfully. The bridge itself was not finished until 2004 as it was rebuilt using stone from a quarry in Tenelija, where the original stone had come from in 1566.
As we were mostly on the lookout for lunch, I hadn’t bought my camera out as we had two more days to explore the city. We found a restaurant called Šadrvan for lunch and here they served traditional Bosnian food. It was right in the heart of the old town so it was a little pricey but well worth it to try some proper local snacks. We got a mixed platter full of mostly meat-based dishes including minced meat and rice wrapped in spinach, pepper stuffed with minced meat and rice, deep-fried mince-meat, some kind of beef stew, rice with grilled veggies, potatoes and a big, fat ćevapčići. This one wasn’t as good as the one we’d had in Dubrovnik (despite being a Bosnian speciality!) but I suspect that was because it was the last thing we ate and the meat was comparatively bland compared to all the spiced meats we’d had in the other things. The local beer, Sarajevsko, was a good accompaniment, too.
As we walked back we noticed less of the contrast between the old town and the less-glamorous parts as in many ways they sort of blended together somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t like the area suddenly changed from bad to good and back again; it was more of a gradual change and we certainly noticed that more walking back. We stopped at the supermarket for drinks and snacks and breakfast provisions. Dull as it may seem, we still have to eat some meals “at home” like we would anywhere else and, if anything, it gives us some sense of normality in trying to strike up some kind of routine. I’d recently said we should try and wake up at the same time each day to try and get into a routine but that went out of the window after about 2 days, particularly when the cricket was on and I was sitting up until 3 or 4am listening to it!
Back at the hotel we went into our fairly warm room and lazed around. It had been freezing when we arrived (warmer outside than in!) but the heater was working overtime trying to make it bearable. We watched a film on the laptop before having some dinner and then settling in to watch some more episodes of The Office on the laptop! We’re up to Season 3!
January 11, 2011
After not taking my camera out yesterday, I was hoping to get out today and get some pictures of the old town and the buildings along the “front-line” but by the time we had got ready the rain had started to fall. We waited around for a while but it didn’t completely stop so we eventually headed out anyway and tried to find some food. It wasn’t raining too hard but the overhead thunder and lightning were a sign for us to get inside soon. We found a busy café and ordered a couple of beers and a pizza to share and as we did the rain outside began to come down really heavy.
After we were done the rain had almost stopped so we went for another stroll around. I had brought my camera out anyway but the dull, grey, dreary background didn’t make for great photos but we walked up to the old bridge nonetheless. We stopped briefly to look at some old pictures of the city and watch a short video about the destruction of the bridge. It was quite sad seeing the mess the old town was in and seeing the 400+year old bridge being destroyed seemed so senseless. Compared to the loss of life during war the loss of a bridge seems meaningless but the sheer symbol of the act just showed how needless some things are. We managed to find a cheap Bosnia magnet but by the time we had done this the bloody rain had returned and we headed back towards the hotel in the rain. We did make one other stop though – a bakery – as we needed something for dinner and if the weather was going to be raining on and off all day then I wasn’t going out again!
Back at the hotel we cursed our fortune with the bad weather and wished we’d done more when we arrived yesterday as it had been drier and brighter. We still have one more day left so we shan’t despair just yet although it feels like today was a big waste of time.
We had roughly decided what we wanted to do in Greece when we get there so we tried to work out a rough itinerary. We aren’t sure yet whether we can get into the country due to Elizabeth’s visa problems but we’re going to try and cross the border anyway and see what happens. We’re not going to book anything though in case we can’t get in but we want to be prepared in case we do! Given the time of year, many of the inter-island ferry schedules are sporadic at best and non-existent at worst so we’re trying to keep things as open as possible.
In the evening we watched more stuff on the laptop and feasted on some pastry stuff we’d bought earlier. Another fun night in!
January 12, 2011
Today the weather was finally a bit better and so we made sure we got out at a reasonable time and tried to see some of the city. We started by heading north across the river and walking along the street that used to represent the front line between the warring factions in the city. Many of the buildings here have not been touched since 1995 and are still riddled with bullet holes and bomb damage. It was quite striking see so many buildings like that especially as around them were brand new structures and, in some cases, the new buildings were built into the old ones. It was obvious that these were being kept as a reminder to the war that occurred here although many of them looked really unsafe and had signs warning people not to enter them. The gymnasium building, however, was very bright and new-looking and quite a difference to some of the surrounding buildings.
The walk around the area was a horrible sign of what had happened here and it is really strange to be able to peer into these buildings where people were shot at and possibly even killed whilst fighting for their independence. It was a stark reality and made you really think about what had happened here, especially after we’d complained a couple of days ago on arrival about how dirty and run-down the city looked. In hindsight, it is probably amazing how far it has come in the last 15 or so years since the war.
As we walked around the far side of the city towards the old town we saw lots of cafés and bars – it almost seemed like the city has three parts. The old town which has been rebuilt as it was, the central area around the river which has been left almost as it was after the war and the northern part of town which had been “smartened” a little bit. All three areas were quite a contrast.
Back in the old town we crossed the crooked bridge, which had also been rebuilt, and the old bridge and headed for the two museums we wanted to go and visit. The first of these, The Old Bridge Museum, was shut despite having winter hours posted on the door. We asked at the shop next door and it appears that as well as the winter hours they have a period where they don’t open at all. We were in that period! The second museum was about the city and told the story about the war here. Well, it would’ve done except we couldn’t find the museum and the street it was supposed to be on looked like a bombsite.
One thing we did manage to visit as we walked around was a graveyard along the main road. A graveyard is a solemn place at the best of times but the striking thing about this one was the dates on the headstones. Almost all of them had a date of death as 1993 with a few exceptions. The ages of many of these dead were between 20 and 30 years old, truly highlighting the stupidity of and hurt caused by war. No age is a “good” age to die but when the age is young and the reasons are so infuriating and avoidable you can’t help but feel sad. The rebuilding work here is ongoing and many parts of the city are improved already but you have to wonder how long the mental scars are going to last for many of the people who live here.
We were a bit annoyed as we’d made sure we had plenty of time in Mostar to see everything and a combination of crap weather and off-season opening hours and useless street maps meant that we’d actually had little to do other than walk around, pretty aimlessly at times. We stopped for lunch and we tried some more burek, similar to those we’d tried in Ljubljana. This time we shared a meat one and a potato one and they were both good. In fact, eating a bit of each at the same time reminded me of a Cornish pasty!
It was barely 1pm by the time we were finished and were wandering back in the direction of the hotel. We didn’t really want to go back there but there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. I’d have happily sat in a bar or café for the afternoon but given the amount of smokers in these places I really didn’t want to. The few places we’d popped into to look at menus had made me feel ill and I definitely didn’t want to spend hours in a smoke-filled, non-ventilated room. A few years back, I’d not have thought twice about this but given the introduction of non-smoking bars, pubs and restaurants you quickly get used to being in a “fresh” environment.
Walking back we noticed a load of signs had been put up around the city, mostly near the mosques. Many people were looking at them and on closer inspection it appears that they were notices of people who had died. We don’t know how often they post these up but we hadn’t seen any walking around the previous two days and all of a sudden today there were loads of them. I’m not sure if this is a Bosnian or an Islamic tradition.
Back at the hotel I decided to have a sleep and Elizabeth watched a film. We were both getting a bit bored especially as this was the second full day we’d had with very little to do. This usually wouldn’t be a problem but we’ve had very little going on anywhere since Christmas and we are both now really looking forward to getting to somewhere a little different. Hopefully this will be in a week or so when we get into Greece otherwise we’ll work our way across to Turkey quickly instead. Hopefully these places will offer a bit more and with India to follow that we should have some variety coming soon!
In the evening we headed out for food and ended up at a pizzeria called ABC. It sounds stupid but it seems like your choices for food here are either Italian or Bosnian so if you don’t want a plate of meat then pizza/pasta is your only other option! Elizabeth went for pasta but I went for pizza but quite honestly we were just glad to be out of the room! After dinner we walked down to the old town so I could take some pictures of the old bridge lit up. It looked really pretty but with everything else in the old town shut by this time we didn’t spend too long walking around there, either. We’re heading to the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, tomorrow so hopefully that will be a bit livelier!