Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mostar, Bosnia: The Most Brilliant Bridge

So I was supposed to head from Split to Dubrovnik and spend an extra day in Dubrovnik relaxing....but.....well.....you know me.  I decided to audible the plan at the last minute and head into Mostar, Bosnia, for a night (it's kind of on the way, therefore efficiency). I had heard the most incredible things about this city and I was thinking I might not get this chance again for a long, long time.

David clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into, because he decided to come along with me.

Again, it was a miracle we made it to the bus station and onto our bus - let's just say it involved me leaving my phone in the hotel room and then locking myself out of it and then walking down halfway to the station before I realized.  #hurricanewang.  ANYWAYS. All's well that ends well. 

What It's All About:
Mostar is a city in Bosnia & Herzegovina, about an hour away from the border. Coming here was incredibly surreal, because I remember being a kid and "Bosnia" being a really scary word - I don't think I understood exactly what was going on (ok, that's giving myself too much credit - I had no idea what was going on), but I knew there was some kind of war and it was not good.

The famous Old Bridge overlooking the city and bridging the two sides
There is a huge Muslim influence here, which is evident in the city's numerous mosques (which live alongside Catholic churches), and the city loudspeakers play the call to prayer 7x/day.  The city itself is absolutely beautiful - especially the riverfront - but even walking down the street, you see remnants of the war everywhere.  It's more than common to see buildings with shrapnel and bullet holes everywhere, or burned out shells of buildings sitting right next to new builds. It's crazy for me to see, and still very surreal. I mean, the war here was only 20 years ago, which is so recent.

A Brief History Lesson:
When Yugoslavia broke up, the Croats/Bosnians initially fought together against the Serbs - but then eventually turned on each other. The Western side of Mostar (primarily Croats) and the Eastern side of Mostar (primarily Bosniaks) were divided, and a lot of ugly fighting happened. I was wandering down one of the main dragways in the city, and it was said that you couldn't even walk down that street back in the 90's, for fear of being taken down by snipers. People would only go somewhere exposed to the open at night, and even then they had to wear all black, and run fast.  The bullet holes in some of the buildings are ridiculous - it's not just a couple here and there; it's literally everywhere on these buildings. You can get a small feeling of how insane it must have been.

Building riddled with bullet holes. These are everywhere; you don't even have to look hard for them
More bullet holes

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Got into town in the afternoon - after the Bosnian border control scared the living daylights out of David, as he was sleeping when they got on the bus and he was prodded awake by a Bosnian policeman (omg. hilarious.). We checked into our hostel (ironically named Hostel David), which is the best - our host immediately welcomed us with a snack of fried dough and a glass of blueberry juice.

 Blueberry juice and fried dough welcome snack

  • Walked on down to Old Town to see the Old Bridge (Stari Most).  The bridge is an iconic symbol of the city - it was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and it has long been an incredibly proud point for the city and all the different ethnic/religious groups that have lived here (Muslims, Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, etc.).  Despite their differences, everyone embraced the bridge and what it stood for.  It survived for almost 500 years - even after Nazi tanks rolled over it during the war. When the Bosnian War went down, however, the bridge was shelled heavily - both because they were shelling everything, but also as a statement against a symbol of Muslim architecture. It ended up crumbling into the river below.  After the war, UNESCO and private donors raised almost $13M to rebuild the bridge the exact same way it used to be - they even used the same rock quarry and used the same technology/method of cutting the stone as the Ottomans did back in the day. It was completed in 2004 to a huge fanfare, and citizens embraced it just like their old friend beforehand. 
The Old Bridge (Stari Most)
View from the bridge - you can see at least 3 mosques in the background

David and me on the bridge. Just to prove we were there
  • Nowadays, you can still find youths jumping the 75 feet from the bridge into the icy river below: historically it was done to carry on tradition and as a way to impress girls (I would absolutely be impressed by this. Call me later).  However, looking from the bridge down into the water, I can't understand how anyone would be compelled to jump (it's SO HIGH).  The guys who jump even charge tourists 25 Euro to jump if they want to do so - for that price, they give you a brief tutorial on how to jump and a certificate of completion after you finish. We watched a professional guy jump earlier in the day, and he dove seamlessly into the water - barely even a ripple.  Then later, I saw a tourist making the leap - he hit the water so hard that the thwack it made was painful to even hear.  I was sitting on the banks as he crawled out of the river - he told his friends his entire body was burning. 
The tourist with arms outstretched is about to jump

The tourist jumping into the water. I can't believe people pay to do this. 75 ft = no joke

  • Later on, David went back to the hostel to rest, so I wandered around the Old Town for awhile by myself. As I was sitting on the riverbanks and dipping my feet for a bit, I met a couple from New Zealand, Cody and Gizelle - they've been traveling for 4 years (!) (my dream!?!) and were passing through Mostar. After chatting for a bit, we went and grabbed drinks at a cafe overlooking the bridge. It was awesome hearing about all their traveling stories, and I loved meeting them. So many people out there doing such interesting things! 

Cody and Gizelle - drink buddies
View of the city from drinks

CATS! Cats everywhere!

  • Later on, David and I got dinner and drinks in Old Town - there are so many cool bars in Mostar!  And with drink prices rock bottom, you could seriously just stay out forever.

Old Town and its cobblestone streets. Which are a death wish in flip flops, FYI.
The Old Bridge at night

Dinner of beef and rice, as well as the delicious local beer
Ridiculously awesome cave bar.  Never mind the complete lack of people.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Bosnia is not included in AT&T's international data plan, ever, under any circumstance - which they will not inform you of until after the fact. Consequently, they charge $20/1MB of data, which they will also not inform you of.  FUN, FUN FACT
  • Everything here is so cheap!!! Beers cost nothing, and my hostel was 10 Euro/night - which was accompanied by the most incredible guy running the place (Peeta, which is not how his name is spelled, but Hunger Games reference FTW)  - in addition to the welcome snack, I was sitting in the courtyard at night on the phone and he brought me a cold beer.  And then he personally cooked breakfast for everyone the next morning (though he did not own a bakery - another Hunger Games ref, WIN). AMAZING.
  • Buses in Croatia charge you for each piece of luggage you bring on board, which typically costs around $1. Also, the seats recline SO, so far back.  And as I type that, the guy in front of me currently has his seat reclined so far into my personal space that my laptop is scrunched up on my lap.  And while we're on the topic of buses, every long-distance bus I've been on here has stopped multiple times at rest stops - however, the bus driver will start up the bus again and just take off without any warning, head-counting, or even checking to see if everyone made it back. No nonsense; just the way I like it. I've taken up the habit of always asking how long the break is before I get off the bus, because I have these visions of clutching an ice cream in the middle of nowhere as I watch my bus take off into the distance.


  1. I feel like I'm learning more about European History from reading your blog than I ever did in high school! Don't know if that says more about your baller blogging skills or my sad public school eduction... :)

    Are you still going to Greece? What is happening over there?!

    xo catherine

    1. Haha, good to know the history lessons aren't boring you to tears 😂 Also, not sure if I remember anything I learned in high school anyhow, soooo

      I am headed to Greece now as we speak! I'm hoping my tourism dollars at least aren't hurting the situation....