Today, we got up early to make a 2.5 hour bus trip to Mostar, another city devastated during the warring period of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I thought that Bosnia was mountainous before, but the trip to Mostar took the term “mountainous” to a whole new level.
It really was a beautiful landscape, and it just kept getting better as we went! However, I can certainly tell you one thing — if you’re not a big fan of altitude, sinuously winding roads etched into mountainsides, and nauseating motion sickness, don’t got to Mostar.
All joking aside, though, Mostar was a really fun place. It’s a city of bridges, and it certainly lives up to its reputation.
That is the city’s main bridge, the Old Bridge, and is a symbol of the city’s resilience during a siege similar to Sarajevo’s. The difference between Sarajevo and Mostar? While Sarajevo was completely surrounded, Mostar was only cut off at certain points and still received food and supplies. People were allowed to enter and exit the city, just in a more restricted fashion. That does not mean, however, that Mostar escaped some major damage.
Mostar’s geography is similar to Sarajevo’s — a valley city surrounded by hills. One of the first buildings to be shelled from the hills was the city’s church, although its reconstruction was finally completed last year.
The city is also largely Muslim, much like Sarajevo, although Jews and Catholics continue to get along well with them. The streets of Mostar are paved with strange, smooth cobblestones that are very slippery in general but especially when wet. It is rumored that these stones were put in in order to keep the women from looking at the men by forcing the women to watch their feet on the treacherous stones.
The bridges which are characteristic of Mostar were made before the innovation of concrete, so large pieces of stone are held together with molten lead, sheep’s blood, and milk. It has yet to fall down….
Near this bridge is also an area that our guide, Lydia, said that she frequented when she was younger. People would stand in the street holding hands, and kids on the pathway above the courtyard would make loud, fake kissing noises to annoy them. This was answered by a barrage of rocks. And so the days went, back before Mostar was attacked.
We also passed a mosque dedicated to leatherworkers. Because of their trade, they are a naturally stinky bunch of men. No one wants to pray in the same mosque as them and their stench. So, they have their own mosque.
After walking by this mosque, we learned a little more about the history of the Old Bridge. Originally built at Sultan Suleiman’s request in the 1500s, the bridge was frequently shelled during the siege of Mostar, but civilians rallied together to protect it. They took tires from their vehicles and strapped them to the sides of bridges to reduce damage from mortars. They also put up a wooden shield over the bridge to help civilians cross more safely. Unfortunately, even with their best efforts, the bridge was destroyed. Rebuilding began as soon as the siege ended, and the new bridge — an exact replica of the old one — was completed in 2004.
Lydia finished her time with us by telling us that there are in fact divers who will jump off of the bridges (look at the picture above and find the man in peach-colored shorts with no shirt on the left side of the bridge — he’s a diver). She explained that Mostarians, always die-hard (no pun intended) fans of dark humor, “respect the tourists” and do not commit suicide by jumping off the tourist-favored Old Bridge. They go to one of Mostar’s other bridges to jump to their deaths. Her morbid attitude was certainly entertaining. Anyway, she did tell us that, during one tour that she was giving, a visitor pointed to the river and said, “Look at that mannequin floating in the water!” She had to come up with a polite way to tell the people that that was no mannequin — it was a successful suicide attempt from a bridge upriver. Later, it was discovered to be a Czech man who came to Mostar to die.
On a happier note, look at how beautifully colored the water is!
Then, Lydia was kind enough to give us a traditional Bosnian sweet called Rahatlokum; pretty much, it was a Bosnian Turkish delight. I’ve never had Turkish delights before, but I’ve always wanted to try them. I quickly fell in love with the Rahatlokum candies, I can tell you that much! The texture was unique – seemingly chewy, but smooth. Still rubbery though, but not difficult to chew. Incredibly sweet. My first one was, you heard right, a rose flavored one. As in the flower. It was absolutely amazing. After that, I had a walnut one, pictured below.
I felt a little like Edmund from the Chronicles of Narnia, gumming away on Turkish delights (I had five of them) and waiting for a white witch with some polar bears and a dwarf to pop out and ask me what else I wanted.
After eating my first delight, I went with a couple of friends to a café overlooking the river. The picture illustrating the water’s beautiful color was taken from my seat at the café. Unfortunately, my chicken soup was definitely not worth the 3 KM I paid for it. After the meal, we were free to just wander around, and I did exactly that for a few hours. The bus ride home seemed much shorter, and after arriving back at our hostel, Kelly and I went out for dinner.
For the same 3 KM that I paid for that crappy chicken soup, I got an 8-slice pizza. I ate five slices. By myself. For those of you who don’t know me well, one piece of pizza is normally enough. But by golly I was not letting this pizza go to waste!
When we saw the restaurant’s menu outside, we saw that it had a considerable amount of food for a pretty reasonable price. Kelly tried the door to the building, but it didn’t budge. The bartender inside came to the door, and Kelly said timidly, “Are you open?”
“Sure, why not?”
He was a young man, probably in his early twenties, and we were the only people in the restaurant aside from the other employees who were eating. He flirted with Kelly, and we had to sit and wait for quite a while – probably 20 minutes – to get our food despite the fact that we were the only ones there. No big deal, though.
Kelly ordered a pasta with alfredo sauce and peppercorns, and I ordered the pizza. We ate happily, and four or five more people came in. Getting our bill, however, was the ordeal of the day.
We tried for about half an hour to flag down the waiter, knowing that in much of Europe a bill is not given to customers until they ask for it. Eventually, we just had to go up to the bar and ask for it ourselves.
The trip home tomorrow will be long – probably around 11 hours on the bus. But I really enjoyed Sarajevo and Mostar! If I had to describe Mostar in a word, it would be “charming.” It was a small city, very manageable to travel through; after being in it for only about half an hour, I felt that I could get anywhere that I needed to go and back without a map. The small beach of the river was pleasant, and we sat down there for a while and just enjoyed the sun and beautiful color of the water. Overall, it was a pleasant few hours of my day. Still, I’m glad to be heading back “home” to Budapest.