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Trip Report MOSTAR - A City of Beauty and Bullet Holes

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During my recent week in Croatia on the Dalmatian coast, I spent 24 hours in Mostar. I was blown away by this incredible place. Cradled by a ring of mountains, the city nestles in a green valley, with grey stone buildings and white minaret towers piercing the incredibly blue sky. The water of the river Neretva is a wonderful shade of blue or green, depending on where you are standing. I don’t think I have been anywhere more picturesque or photogenic.

I had wanted to include a visit to Mostar in my itinerary, and when the opportunity for a mini Fodors GTG came up, there was no stopping me making my plans definite! The GTG was to be with Barb – remember her classic trip report of her time in Rome with the Divas ?

I reserved a single room at the Motel Kriva Cuprija http://www.motel-mostar.ba/eng/enter.htm for 35 euros to include breakfast, arranged my cross-border card for my hire car, and that was it. Barb also booked a room here, arranged to travel to Mostar by bus from Dubrovnik, and we exchanged phone numbers.

I left Trogir, drove past Split and down the Dalmatian coast to Opuzen where I turned inland and headed up the Neretva river valley towards Mostar. I had no problems at the border crossing at Metkovic, and managed to stay within the painfully slow 50km speed limit despite being constantly overtaken. I didn’t see any police, but felt it better not to risk it. Although viamichelin had told me the drive would take 3hrs 18m, it was much nearer 4 hours.

Approaching Mostar a large white cross is visible on a mountain up ahead. I later learned that this is from where the famous bridge was shelled. It is also a vivid reminder of the conflict that was going on just 15 years ago. The outskirts of Mostar are pretty much the same as any city with blocks of flats, industrial buildings, and building work in progress. I followed the signs to the Old Town, and when I got a bit confused I pulled over and called the hotel. They told me where to head, and then came and found me! I was almost there anyway but what great service! I parked on the side of the road, outside a new apartment building which was next to a derelict house. Everywhere you see this contrast. Only a few streets away is the street that was the front line in the conflict.

Motel Kriva Cuprija has some excellent reviews on tripadvisor, and is also recommended by Rick Steves in his Croatia book! I did not let this latter fact deter me, and was indeed glad I stayed there. It is a charming stone building set above the River Radobolje (which flows into the Neretva just a few hundred yards away) and is right by the Kriva Cuprija – The Crooked Bridge. This single-arch bridge was built in 1558 and is believed to have been a trial run for the building of the larger Stari Most (Old Bridge) a few years later. It is a most attractive setting, with the sound of the rushing water, and is literally just on the edge of the Old Town – you could not wish for a better location. As I checked in, I was told my friend had arrived and we had been given rooms on the top floor. I was shown up the outside stone stairs to a small terrace with table and chairs, from which a door led to the two rooms under the eaves. Mine was charming, spotlessly clean, and had a whizzy power shower with lots of jets!

I called Barb, who was already out exploring, and we met by the Crooked Bridge. First stop was a small café in the Turkish bazaar for wine and getting acquainted face-to-face. We had previously exchanged lots of emails, but it was good to meet in person. She is a lovely lady, and I really enjoyed her company. We sat on the side of the cobbled street, surrounded by stalls – there was some interesting artwork, jewellery, scarves, vintage army stuff like helmets and knives. She had had a fairly horrific bus journey to Mostar, but that’s another story! We then walked down through more stalls and I had my first view of the famous Bridge! It really is amazing, considering how high it is above the river, to think how it was first constructed all those years ago. It is not difficult to understand why it became a symbol of Mostar and why its destruction was so tragic during the years of conflict. Its reconstruction is truly a rebirth for the city. Across the Bridge on the right is a room given over to photos of Mostar and the Bridge. This is very interesting and quite moving.

We walked up through the bazaar on the Muslim side of the Turkish Old Town. More stalls, this is the heart of the bazaar. Fascinating stalls, silver and copper, a place to really shop! I did overhear someone say that a lot of the stuff was imported from India, and it may well be, but there were enough small stalls with the craftsmen inside beating copper and making things to ensure that you could find locally made items if you bothered to search them out. I bought a watercolour painting of the bridge, several scarves/pashminas, pens made from spent bullets. I didn’t find any jewellery I really liked that was within my budget. The currency here is mainly the euro, although they will also take the Bosnian Convertible Mark and also the Croatian kuna. Euros are preferred. Watch the exchange rate if you want to pay in CM or kuna instead, it varies from shop to shop.

We decided to take a tour the following day, and asked at the Fortuna Tours office. We were quoted 30 euros for a guide for a 2 hour tour which we deemed acceptable. We arranged for him to meet us at the hotel the next morning. No doubt we could have found a cheaper guide by asking around, but we had heard that the Fortuna Tour guides are highly trained, and deliver to a good standard.

It was now late afternoon and beginning to get a bit chilly, so we went back to the hotel, and sat on our private terrace in the gloaming with a glass of wine before freshening up for dinner. During this time the muezzin bell rang out and the call to prayer began, echoing from minaret to minaret. Of course, it was at the start of Ramadan, but it was a moment which brought the hairs on the back of our necks to stand on end!

More to follow…

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