I never thought that I would become emotional over a bridge.
But in Mostar, standing beneath the huge arch of Stari Most, I did.
Leaving the picturesque beauty of Kotor and arriving in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was like doing a 180-degree flip.Bosnia is a young country having declared independence in 1992. It is still in the process of recovering from the the devastating war that followed and ended only 20 years ago.
Our shuttle dropped us off on the Bosnian side of town (Mostar is not officially divided anymore as it was during the war but there is still a palpable split between the Bosnian and Croatian areas).
My initial impression of where we had arrived was, in all honesty, not a fantastic one. It felt derelict and the sky was heavy with clouds; adding to the ominous feeling. It soon started to drizzle and myself and my travel buddy Caitlin along with a few of the other passengers who had caught the shuttle from Kotor, dragged our bags down the road towards our hostel.
Stepping through the entrance of Hostel Miran, I immediately felt my spirits lift after receiving a warm welcome from the owner Miran who was sharing a meal with friends in the common area.
We slept most of the first afternoon because of our early start in Kotor and because the torrential rain didn’t seem like great weather for sightseeing.
In the evening, we ventured into the downpour armed with the name of a nearby restaurant and a paper menu that had the English translations helpfully scribbled by Miran underneath the Bosnian words.
Due to the rain, we only had two full days to to see Mostar before our transfer to Dubrovnik.
DAY ONE: HERZEGOVINA TOUR
Most hostels in Mostar seem to offer day tours around the area but, from the reviews I read on Tripadvisor and Hostelworld, Miran’s is one of the best. After doing the tour, I can confirm that it is fully worth the €30 price.
The tour is one of the main reasons we chose to book with Hostel Miran (that plus the great price, cool vibe and amazing breakfast included).
The tour visits four sites:
- an airplane hangar built by Tito’s government in the late 60’s
- Blagaj which is considered one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s holiest sites
- Pocitelj which is a tiny medieval town with a fortress you can climb and which is located across the road from the sites of three former concentration camps used during the Bosnain war
- Kravica Waterfalls where you can swim in the icy water
At the end, a war tour through town includes a stop at a hill overlooking Mostar where the guide gives a brief but harrowing account of the war, as well as a building that is still riddled with bullet holes which was used as a front line.
While Miran usually runs the tour around town (and his stellar personality is at the heart of many of the fabulous reviews), he was unfortunately occupied with renovations at the hostel and unable to take us.
However, we did get an incredible second in the form of his cousin Asmer who drove and guided us and even threw in some local Bosnian tunes to groove to while we were making our way to the different songs (click here to listen to the coolest song we’ve heard along our trip. I still can’t get it out of my head so apologies in advance).
Asmer was able to give us a first hand account of the war which he experienced when he was only three years old. He was young at the time but remembers being placed in a camp with his mother while his father was taken away for four months. When we were at the war talk spot he lifted the sleeve of his shirt and ran a finger down a light scar across his forearm and recounted being hit with shrapnel fired by Croatian soldiers.
It was hard standing there and listening to the stories. Myself and Caitlin had to hold back a few tears. I was impressed that he was so matter of fact about the whole experience and could calmly tell our tour group about the years of hardship and then jump right back in his usual playful tour-guide mode straight away.
TIME: +- 8 hours
COST: €30 (and worth it)
TOP TIP: You’ll be offered the chance to either eat lunch at the waterfalls or stop at a bakery to grab some traditional Bosnian pastries (you can also do both). I would say definitely stop at the bakery and grab some burek. You can get spinach, cheese or meat fillings and they are cheap and delicious.
DAY TWO: EXPLORING THE CITY
You can’t take a trip to Mostar without visiting the famous Old Bridge (Stari Most) but that’s not the only thing to see.
Mostar is a relatively large city so there is a lot to be explored. These are the activities that we managed to fit into our day of sightseeing:
- Walk across Stari Most – The bridge is a symbol of the city and reaches across the river Neretva. Constructed in the 16th century, it was destroyed by Croatian gun fire during the war but carefully rebuilt using as much of the original materials as possible. After it was reopened in 2004 it was added by UNESCO to the World Heritage Site list.
- Visit the markets along the riverbanks
- Visit the Koskin- Mehmed Pasha’s Mosque – the Mosque itself is beautiful but the views from the minaret are even more special (I didn’t manage to make it up on this trip so I’ll just have to visit Mostar again… any excuse for a trip back) It costs €4-6 euro to enter and climb the minaret.
- Visit some of Mostar’s museums – We visited the Herzegovina Museum and had a guide take us through while explaining the history of the Herzegovina area from the ancient times, to medieval to the areas recent history of war. It cost €2,50 and it was worth it for how great and enthusiastic our guide was.
- Visit Bruce Lee’s statue in the city park! The story goes that after the end of the war, none of the parties could agree on a statue symbolising the peace that had been achieved. Naturally, Bruce Lee was the only logical choice as everybody loves him!
- Grab a Burek from one of the many Pekaras (bakeries)
- Visit Crooked Bridge – this small bridge is just around the corner from Stari Most and was built as practice for the magnificent Old Bridge.
- Take a walk to the Tower of Peace – the imposing clock tower stands on the Croatian side of town is the tallest structure in the city at 108m.
- For someone looking for something a little different, take a walk to the WW2 memorial – The memorial is on the Croatian side of town just past the university. It has a neglected feel due to the overgrown greenery and graffiti scrawled across the walls but the sprawling memorial is an interesting detour.
Mostar is a beautiful city and a definite place to go for anyone travelling through the Balkans; even if you’re only there for a few days.