Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Cultures Collide & Peace Prevails in Fascinating Atmospheric Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Mostar bridge & old town
Mostar Old Town
If you were born in the early 80s or before, you may remember Mostar being synonymous with war. Now over 20 years on from the former Yugoslav conflict, it is hard to imagine the trauma this historic place and it's multi-ethnic people endured. Despite obvious reminders in the form of derelict buildings on the edge of the old town and engraved 'never forget' stone signs incongruously but poignantly placed next to busy bazaars and buzzing restaurants.

Mostar means 'old Bridge' and this famed Ottoman Bridge gets some well-deserved attention. I couldn't stop taking photos! Richard coined the term 'bridging' as a verb to describe this new hobby of mine!

The Old Bridge was originally built in the 16th century by the Ottomans in significantly Islamic style. The current structure is a replica due to its destruction in the 90s conflict but the entire UNESCO World Heritage old town retains its historic appeal despite restoration.

Mostar bridge & old town
Stari Most - Old Bridge (as seen from the river bank)

The bridge is best viewed down on the banks of the wild river Neretva, where locals and tourists swim in the clear teal-blue river water.  Views of the Bridge and old town are also fantastic from the modern Bridge further down the river just outside the old town. Standing in this spot is a great place to admire the many minarets of mosques around the town. I am not saying how many I counted but suffice to say I kept losing count! Richard didn't help; his contribution was to ignorantly but affectionately observe that they were lovely and looked like 'rockets about to take off.' 

The buzzing vibe on and around the old bridge is quite something, and another must-see is the mini version further into the old town. At the main bridge a common sight in summer is local young men happily posing at the top of the bridge over the railings, building an audience then making a real show of plunging into the river far below. Small groups collect spare change from tourists for this but they aren't persistent.

Bars and restaurants in the old town of Mostar are a pleasure. The traditional atmosphere is great, with local music playing, and local dishes such as the tasty ćevapi - a delicious grilled kebab-type meal with amazing grilled pitta and onions. Richard and I were so glad we tried this, even our baby daughter enjoyed it just as much! We ate at the lovely Hindin Han restaurant on the terrace right in the old town, and guess what it was just €3.50 each! Most shops and restaurants take euros, kuna and Bosnian marks.

Mostar bazaars
Colourful Bazaar Stalls

For colourful scarves, lamps, jewellery, curious items handmade from copper, the bazaars will not disappoint! I delighted in a €5 pashmina scarf so much that I went back to buy a 'spare' much to Richard's despair! The stall 'Los Rosales' touched us both. They sell colourful magnets, art and jewellery made by children with special needs that the organisation helps. All proceeds go towards that cause. We let the bubby choose one, then just as we had decided she could have two,  a chubby little hand launched itself towards them and knocked one off,  chipping it slightly. Needless to say, that's the one we bought as her second one!

Walking around with a baby just added to our experience, despite steps and cobbles. When we had the pram, people were so helpful and delighted to see the baby. A lady selling ice cream (40 cents each!) Insisted on giving bubby one for free, and cuddling her. Another lady selling jewellery just had to hold her! So much affection can only do a child the world of good.

We were so glad to have stayed in Mostar overnight. There are many day trippers, so to really see Mostar, the evening atmosphere offers a totally different experience, with the Bridge, towers and minarets all lit up. Also the morning before the crowds arrive is a lovely time to view the bridge, get an uncrowded photo, and walk the streets in the relative cool. Mostar is very hot in summer.

Villa Cardak, Mostar
Villa Cardak Bedroom & Balcony Terrace

We stayed the night for just €55 at the immaculate and stylish Villa Čardak. The owners are so hospitable. Suzanna greeted us with fresh drinks and a traditional nutty Turkish delight, and her husband kindly parked our hire car for us in the pretty but narrow courtyard! This hotel was honestly better than most 4 star hotels I've stayed in elsewhere.  The kitchen facilities were also really useful for preparing bubby's milk.

Wandering this fascinating town it is easy to be struck by the presence of religion in so many forms. The minarets rear up behind every street, the call to prayer echoes musically through the streets with a peaceful but melancholy sound, and the synagogues and churches rise high up on the hillsides. Mostar is so clearly diverse with Muslims, Christians and Jews all living harmoniously.  I couldn't help but notice the necessity of tolerance and celebration of integration for a peaceful existence.  

The people of Mostar have clearly taken value from their past; the prominent words of 'Never Forget, But Forgive Forever' on a rooftop overlooking the repaired bridge sum this up perfectly.

Mostar old town
Old Town Mostar

Getting to Mostar is possible by flying to its airport from Rome, Naples or Bari in Italy, or flying to a nearby city like Split in Croatia or Sarajevo in Bosnia, then driving. Crossing borders (e.g. from Croatia) means getting the right paperwork but it's not difficult or expensive. Watch the local driving in Bosnia & Herzegovina; expect the worst and drive like Miss Daisy!

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