Balkan Honeymoon–Part Eight: Mostar

[Continuation; see parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.]

We awake at 7am with aching backs. In a trip full of hard beds, this one is the clear winner; it was like sleeping on plywood. We eat breakfast at a place where they bring the bill in a treasure chest. I like this country.

We leave Split, and head for the border with Bosnia. Unfortunately, we take a wrong turn, and end up on the slow, scenic coastal route. I know, right? Who wants to look at the scenic Dalmatian coast on their vacation? We switchback our way back to the A1, but then Google leads us on little teeny roads that wind through a gorgeous vineyard-clad valley and across a swamp. If you are driving from Split to Mostar, do not follow this route. Take 513 to 8; it has more than one lane, and is likely just as scenic.

It doesn’t help that we’re both pretty nervous. We’re about to enter Bosnia, and we grew up with images of this place at war. We still have this vague sense that it’s not quite first world, and it doesn’t help that Google Maps has almost nothing on this country (compare this to the Bing version).

Turns out that view is totally unfounded. The border crossing is painless – the Croatian officials dutifully record our leaving Croatia, but the Bosnian officials just wave us through. Our drive to Mostar is scenic and uneventful, and Mostar strikes us with its beauty. I mean, seriously: this is the view from our window:

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Our hosts are amazingly hospitable. Our host sends his 16-year-old sister to guide us to the place, and once we’re parked and settled, she brings us fresh homemade lemonade. The Airbnb listing shows that the flat has access to laundry; we send a message asking where it can be found, and 2 minutes later our host knocks on our door, and does it for us. It’s a little ridiculous.

We head out to explore the city, starting with a score near the Old Bridge. Stari Most has a long history; it was built in the 1560’s, and the original bridge carried German tanks in WWII. Nearby, there’s a museum that shows a heart-rending film about the bridge’s destruction in 1993, and the rebuilding that was completed in 2004.

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The cobblestone streets in the old city center are ruinous to our ankles, but we brave them anyway. It’s pretty obvious why.

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There are reminders everywhere of the conflict that tore this city in half. New construction sits between ruins, and some buildings are still unsafe to enter. Nearby there are 80’s-era apartment buildings with bullet holes still in them. We visit a cemetery near the city core where every tombstone is dated 1993 or 1994.

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Nevertheless, Mostar has charmed us. Don’t make our mistake; this is a thoroughly friendly, modern city, and we never once felt unsafe. I had four bars of 3G for the entire stay.

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We’re not feeling like night life tonight, so we return to our room, where our hosts strike once again with apple cake and homemade ice cream. Sheesh.

We awake early, and strike out to find breakfast. This is once again challenging. We find a place that’s open, but finding the proprietor is another question. Three shouts later, we have Bosnian coffee, an omelet, and a pršut-and-cheese plate with crème fraîche.

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We return to our room, pack everything into the car, and go back to the mosque that had been closed the night before. We get there by chance about 5 minutes after it opens for visiting.

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We manage to find the tiny door that leads to the minaret. A tiny door for a tiny staircase.

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Worth it.

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We go back to the car, maneuver it between restaurant tables and strolling tourists back to the main streets, and pull over to breathe again and plan our day. Our first stop: a store named “Robot”, where we hope to find a camera charger. Nope; it’s like a Fred Meyer. We skip the home furnishing section, and buy snacks and some more potted mystery meat.

Stop number two: Blagaj (blah guy), where there is an honest-to-goodness dervish monastery. I’m totally not kidding. No, really, Wikipedia backs me up.

Nowadays, of course, it’s also a museum, and there are at least two restaurants. We enjoy delicious fish on the banks of the Buna river.

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After that, we hit the road again. We’ve decided to take the scenic route (note that’s a Bing link; Google won’t even acknowledge that half of those roads exist) through Srpska. We’ve tamed our nervousness about Bosnia, but this is the Serbian part of the country, and many of the road signs don’t have English next to the Cyrillic. We stop at the only gas station of the entire trip where no English is spoken. Nerves are a bit frayed; tension is elevated.

The country is beautiful, though; rugged, pastoral and lovely. And most of the driving is in the country.

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We pass through Gacko, which has something that looks suspiciously like a nuclear power plant, surrounded by signs that say “No photography”. Turns out it’s a coal-fired power plant, but the nuclear angle makes for a good story.

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After that, it’s an easy drive to Trebinje, the last Bosnian city we’ll be passing through. Just as we’re exiting the city, a police officer flags us down. At this point, we realize two things.

  1. A genocide happened here 20 years ago. We remember it.
  2. Nobody knows where we are.

The whole Srpska detour wasn’t on any itinerary that we left with anybody, and we haven’t checked in on Facebook since Mostar. Nobody knows we’re not in Croatia.

I stop the car and roll my window down. Becky fumbles frantically for our passports. The officer comes up to the window, and his English is pretty weak, but there’s one word that freezes our blood.

“Lights.”

It’s actually illegal in this country to be driving without your headlights on. I switch them on, the officer waves us on, and I try to drive while the adrenaline drains from my body.

2 thoughts on “Balkan Honeymoon–Part Eight: Mostar

  1. I am awestruck with the scenery you two have encountered on this trip! The artist in me would love to sit for hours in every location and paint…

  2. Pingback: EtW: 442 (Bosnia) | Band of Charac­ters

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