Dubrovnik, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina is only 129 kilometres; the bus though takes between three and four hours, as it takes the scenic route via Metkovic. The vast difference in arrival time is all dependent on the smoothness of the border crossings as you make three; Croatia to Bosnia, Bosnia to Croatia and finally Croatia to Bosnia. On our journey from Dubrovnik to Mostar it took three hours as the border crossings were smooth and we simply sat in the bus and handed over our passports when requested. A week later on our return journey to Dubrovnik, it was not so smooth and took four hours. This time we had to leave the bus and individually take our bags through inspection. This was compounded by a young lady and another male being separately questioned at length on each Croatian entry. The cost of the bus trip each time was AUD$20 each.
The journey from Dubrovnik to Mostar is a very scenic one indeed. The first part is along the glorious coastline with stunning views out to the islands. Once the bus cuts inland towards Metkovic and then up through Bosnia the scenery changes as we follow a beautiful river rimmed by mountains.
Mostar is the largest city in the Herzegovina part of Bosnia – if Herzegovina had a capital city this would be it. Our hosts in Mostar met us at the bus station and drove us to our apartment we had for the next week. The apartment was very nice, close to the Old Town and had everything we needed. It was our hosts, though, who stood out for us, as Armela and Adam certainly went well above what was expected of them. Firstly, our fridge was full of basic food, milk, cereal, bread, butter, jam, etc. Secondly, there was so much information, in the form of pamphlets and maps etc, of Mostar and the surrounding area that we didn’t need to do our own research. Di and I often do our own day outings and use public transport – Armela and Adem offered to take us to the main tourist places, for a reasonable fee, or we could come up with our own tour and they would take us, again for a reasonable fee – Di and I accepted and did two-day excursions and these were two of the best day trips we have had, all for a reasonable fee of course.
Mostar is simply immersed in history with a large slab of that history being modern history. Mostar was ravaged by two major sieges during the war from 1991 to 1995. The consequences of that war are plain to see throughout the city. By just standing on the balcony of our apartment the horrors of the war on this beautiful city are obvious. The buildings on either side of the apartment were still gutted from the war and basically a façade of buildings; yet this lovely apartment stood between them.
The view offered from the apartment was of mosques, churches and other tall old buildings – yet, next to these, were buildings still bearing the scars of war with bullet holes riddled across them.
Then a touching cemetery filled with war dead can be seen nearby – the reality of what occurred in Mostar twenty five years ago soon poignantly hits home.
From our apartment it was a few minutes walk to the large cobblestone streets of Old Town – these cobblestones were the largest I have seen in any Old Town. Leave the stilettos at home ladies!!!
The Old Town is in the style of the Ottoman Empire and has that Turkish feel to it, yet a towering Catholic church is nearby. As I said earlier, there is a blend of Islam and Christianity here that you seldom see elsewhere.
The Old Town is small and souvenir shops abound, some of these shops have Islamic items, rugs, lamps, etc, whilst others are the usual tacky fridge magnet type.
It is a short walk through Old Town to the centre piece of Mostar – the magnificent Mostar Bridge.
It is here I feel I should outline a little of the war history of Mostar as I know it. Bosnia & Herzegovina was one of the states to make up the old Yugoslavia. In 1989, the Soviet Union broke apart and this eventually flowed on to Yugoslavia. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of who did what, but the break-up of Yugoslavia was a bloody and brutal four year war, starting in 1991, until peace in 1995. The final break-up of Yugoslavia led to the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina getting independence; some taking longer than others, of course.
The Yugoslav forces, primarily Serbian, tried to prevent this break-up. This led to the first siege of Mostar in April 1992 through to June 1992. In this siege Croatian and Bosnian forces fought together against the Yugoslav forces. Then in June 1993 a second siege occurred whereby Croatian forces fought against the Bosnian forces – this was the bloodiest part of the war. Quite literally the town of Mostar was divided into two, with Croatian forces on one side of the river and the Bosnian forces on the other – the historic Mostar Bridge was destroyed during this siege. The siege ended in April 1994 with Mostar in ruins.
The war cemetery near our apartment was at the time of the siege a grassed city park – it was turned into the cemetery during the war due to necessity. The city of Mostar is littered throughout by buildings destroyed and gutted during the conflict – 22 years after the event it is an amazing sight to see these buildings, and to see people actually living in buildings, with prominent war damage evident.
There are places in Mostar where murals have been painted on some of the war-torn buildings in an attempt to beautify the hostility. One such place, the Spanish Square, has several old war buildings near to a new building which is all painted in bright orange – the contrast is startling.
The Mostar Bridge was the last bridge across the Neretva River to collapse during the war. On November 1993, the bridge crumbled to the river below. Those responsible for its destruction were never brought to account for their actions; as a judge determined it was impossible to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, who caused the final collapse – though blame is directed at the Croatian forces.
The reconstruction of the Mostar Bridge, or as it is known in Bosnia, the Stari Most, began in 2001. Hungarian divers recovered stones from the original bridge from the river below and the reconstruction was completed in 2004.
The Mostar Bridge is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is a simply stunning bridge.
The Bridge is quite steep and the surface is smooth, making it rather slippery, especially when it is wet. There are ledges built into the bridge surface, approximately a normal foot stride apart, to combat the slippery surface – it is, though, still a little awkward to walk upon.
The views along the river from the bridge are gorgeous. The river water is a unique green colour and, with the mountains in the background, makes for photo utopia. The river banks leading to the bridge are lined with tasteful restaurants that blend into the scenery. The skyline around the bridge has several mosques and Catholic churches – the call to prayer is often followed by the peal of church bells – it is a unique town.
On the other side of the river the narrow, cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants return. There is a fast flowing stream running through the centre of this side of the Old Town, with the delightful Crooked Bridge as the main attraction.
The Neretva River, through Mostar, now has several bridges across it. Each of these bridges has its own special view of the river, the surrounding town and mountains and each of these bridges should be visited to appreciate these views.
The restaurants in Mostar, especially those around the Mostar Bridge and Old Town, are some of the best value for money restaurants we have encountered in our travels anywhere in the world. We ate at three such restaurants in Old Town, and the food quality and quantity was fantastic, plus the price was very economical. In fact, at one restaurant, we had soup each, I had a large mixed grill of meat, Di had grilled chicken, I had a large glass of red wine and Di a Diet coke and it came to AUD$40 and the food was scrumptious.
A few negatives, there are beggars roaming the streets around Old Town. Most of these beggars are Romani people who are commonly known as ‘Gypsies’, there is no threat from them, it is just annoying people asking for money, especially when they are children.
As much as the war ruins enthralled me with the history surrounding them, many of these buildings are showing signs of far-reaching decay. Di and I were literally walking along the street and a large chuck of one of the buildings fell to the roadway and a piece then rolled down the street stopping in front of us. I am glad we were not walking under the building when it fell.
I mentioned earlier that murals have been used to hide or decorate some of the war damage, this I enjoyed, but the city does have a graffiti problem with reckless spray paint damage rampant.
Whilst we were in Mostar it was mid-November and, as such, tourist crowds were down. However, in the summer months the small Old Town and Mostar Bridge area will become packed with tourists. Many of these tourists are day tourists, cruise ship also, from Dubrovnik. It is funny but some of the best views of the Mostar Bridge are from a viewing area below the bridge. Di and I were at the viewing area with a large group of Asian tourists and we were struggling to find room for our happy holiday snaps. I approached the Bosnian guide and asked when she was moving her photo hogging group to their next location – she laughed and said ‘five minutes and I will move them on for you’ – sure enough five minutes later we were alone for 27 seconds and snapped away!
The Mostar Bridge was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans and for over 450 years people have been jumping/diving from the bridge into the fast running Neretva River below. The Bridge is only 29 metres long, 4 metres wide and is 20 metres above the Neretva River. There is a Mostar Diving club located near the bridge who regularly dive, particularly in the summer months, when diving competitions are held. The Bridge is now part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition circuit. Tourists can pay to train to dive from the bridge and once certified off they go!!!!!
Mostar is such a gorgeous and unique city. The recent history of Mostar is fascinating and at times I felt like I was wandering through a war-torn, Second World War city, such are the devastated building remains still about. The Bosnians are economically poor and it will be a while before they can finance the complete rebuilding of the city.
Over the next few days our hosts, Armela and Adem, would take us to many ex-Yugoslav places and we would see many more war, Second World War and Bosnian War, monuments and relics. We also would see some absolutely beautiful scenery and visit lovely places which I will cover next.
The Bosnian adventure will continue……………………