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MOSTAR - A City of Beauty and Bullet Holes

MOSTAR - A City of Beauty and Bullet Holes

Old Oct 29th, 2007, 12:16 PM
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MOSTAR - A City of Beauty and Bullet Holes

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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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 12:49 PM
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Great report; can't wait for the next installment. You write so visually that I feel as if I am there with you. Thanks.
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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 03:18 PM
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More, please.
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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 03:32 PM
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Delightful -- can't wait to hear more~
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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 03:33 PM
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Yes, how interesting! Please tell us more.
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Old Oct 29th, 2007, 03:49 PM
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Lovely start. Looking forward to more . . .
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 08:28 AM
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Oh, this is making me wish I was back there right now!! Great report, more please.
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 10:46 AM
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Thank you for your kind comments!

I would hope to be able to post again tomorrow, but in the meantime, you could look at some of my photos...

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/w...AZOWTdi0ct2LoY

Only the first 27 are of Mostar, the rest are from my time in Dubrovnik, plus Montenegro, Korcula and Split.

Barb - I can't remember the name of the restaurant we had dinner at? I didn't keep the receipt. Do you recall the name? I can describe its location though!

Back soon.
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 11:32 AM
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I don't recall either, but I do have it at home, so I'll get it at lunch. Love the photos.
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 01:23 PM
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Julia-So enjoyable reading this travelogue. Mostar is definitely a city of contrasts. Nice that you were able to explore with your new found friend. Can't wait to read more!
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 02:10 PM
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Lovely report - I like you style and eye to detail - not to mention that this is not another London or paris post (not that there is anything wrong with those).
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Old Oct 30th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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Such beautiful photographs! Although I have never visited those places you seem to have captured their essence.
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Old Oct 31st, 2007, 08:49 AM
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After changing, Barb and I set out for dinner. During our walk earlier we had spotted a restaurant on the Muslim or East side of the Bridge. However this only appeared to have outdoor seating and it was really quite cold that evening. Well, it was mid-October! On the other side of the river were several restaurants with tables set on small terraces clinging to the side of the riverbank, but we wanted somewhere warm. We did go and look at a couple of these restaurants but were subjected to quite a sales push and frankly we didn’t find the menus very appealing. Wandering along the main cobbled street on the West or Croat side we came to Restaurant Sadrvan, with a fountain in the courtyard. Just before is a tiny cobbled street which leads down to the River Radobolje and the Crooked Bridge, and also to another entrance of the Motel Kriva Cuprija. Tucked away on the right was a flight of steps with a chalk menu board at the top. It overlooked the rushing river and the lighted windows looked really attractive. The restaurant was very rustic, lots of stone and timber, rugs hanging on the walls and it was wonderfully warm. Neither Barb nor I can recall the name but the food was very good. We both had veal dishes which we shared. Then it was a short stroll back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed, though I have to say the pillow was a bit large and firm for my liking.

Up in good time for a leisurely breakfast, there was plenty of choice at the buffet table. Rolls, meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, cereal, pastries, coffee and a wide selection of herb teas. We paid our bills and loaded our bags into the car up on the street.

Asim from Fortuna Tours arrived promptly at 9.30am. A very personable young man with excellent English, he was a delightful guide. He filled us in on lots of the history not just of Mostar but of the former Yugoslavia without being dull; he made lots of little jokes and was even a touch flirty at times! He told us he had been 11 years old at the time the Bridge was shelled and told us of hiding in cellars and basements. He didn’t tell us too much about his own personal experiences and we didn’t like to ask too much more. Nevertheless he gave us a very good insight into what life was like during those 18 months or so of living in a divided city. Many families were ‘mixed’ and it became very difficult for Serbs and Croats to live together, children had to choose which parent they wanted to live with, often one child would choose his mother and his brother would choose his father so families were at war with each other. It wasn’t just about blood, but religion came into it too. It must have been so hard for these people.

He took us to a Turkish house – Kajtazova Kuca or Kajtaz House - which was most interesting to see how a wealthy Muslim family would have lived. Incredible embroidery, rugs and original household objects were throughout the house. The courtyard was lovely and peaceful. I read in a guidebook that this house has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and is protected by law as the finest example of an Ottoman home.

We moved on towards the Old Town, passing a bombed out high school and reaching a small cemetery. All the graves are dated 1992 and 1993, and this small area used to be a little grassy park. At the height of the conflict bereaved people could not get to the cemeteries outside the town but had to bury their dead somewhere and this was the only place, where they would go out under cover of darkness. Most of the gravestones have an Eastern style, as this is on the East side and therefore where most of the Muslims were living. Then we went to the Pasha Mosque, which is a fine example of Ottoman Islamic architecture, and Asim gave us quite a lot of information about this, what each painting on the wall signified, and so on.

Finally we ended up back at the Fortuna Tours house – which is painted bright pink, and Asim offered us a drink while we watched a 10-15 minute film about Mostar, before, during and after the conflict. No dialogue but a most evocative soundtrack. It did bring a lump to the throat for both Barb and me. Tour over, we paid up happily and gave Asim a 10 euro tip. He really had been an excellent guide. I’m very glad we chose to use a reputable company.

Time for some more shopping in the bazaar, I was thinking Christmas presents! We ate lunch at Sadrvan, sitting under the vines by the little fountain. Grilled vegetables and veal kebabs. One last look at the beautiful Bridge – there were a couple of young men in swim trunks there but we did not wait to see them dive, then back to the car and off on the two and a half hour drive to Dubrovnik.

24 hours in Mostar was just about enough time, and you could easily see Mostar on a day trip but could not truly do it justice. It had a different atmosphere once the day tourists had left so working in an overnight stay would be well worth doing if you are planning a visit.

I really liked Mostar. It had a wonderfully happy feeling which surprised me a little, I though it would feel more reserved somehow but the people were so friendly and cheerful. I like to think of Mostar as a jolly middle-aged lady after a makeover- well perhaps a full facelift - she has been given a new lease of life with her re-cobbled street, rebuilt Bridge and restored houses! But everywhere are the visible signs of what she has been through, bullet holes and shell holes in almost every other building. Right behind the lovely Motel Kriva Cuprija is the shell of a damaged building, and new buildings too. One building by the bridge has been rebuilt but a shell hole has deliberately left in the wall as a reminder. Maybe some of these buildings will be restored in time, but in many cases the original owners are no longer around for various reasons, and no-one quite knows what to do with them.

I also loved the colours. The white, grey and pink of the stone buildings, the red roofs, the green lushness of the Old Town and the banks of the river against the stark grey of the mountains, the pure white of the minarets soaring into the oh-so-blue sky, and finally the graceful arch of the glorious Stari Most above the icy green and blue of the River Neretva.

Mostar – a city of beauty and bullet holes.

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Old Oct 31st, 2007, 10:35 AM
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Julia, thanks so much for such a beautiful report. I felt transported back there. It truly is an amazing city and we had such a good time there.
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Old Oct 31st, 2007, 06:11 PM
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So Julia, How far of a drive from Dubrovinik? Sounds like you'd recommend spending the night there, is that correct. The other option is of course to do it as a day trip.
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Old Oct 31st, 2007, 06:30 PM
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Keep it coming. You write very well. The pictures are beautiful too.

I'm an Eastern European history major, but Yugoslavia was never an area of much interest to me...then I spent 2 weeks in Novi Sad, Serbia this summer and I'm hooked on the beauty and the friendliness of the people. I hope to return next summer and the Dubrovnik area has been highly recommended to me. Your pictures and story make me want to explore even more of the area.
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Old Nov 1st, 2007, 12:06 PM
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Barb, it was lovely to meet with you after reading your posts here on fodors. I know I have found a good friend in you, and look forward to meeting with you again, somewhere...

tidy... the drive to Dubrovnik from Mostar took about 2 1/2 hours. The speed limit is mostly 50 kph which is s-l-o-w, though in some places it goes up to 60kph (is that maybe 45mph?). I had read so much about speed cops pulling people over and fining them, I didn't want to risk it, but I was constantly overtaken. I would definitely recommend a visit to Mostar - I loved it. It was the highlight of my entire trip. Yes, it is easily doable as a day trip, either driving yourself or taking an organised tour from Dubrovnik. I liked having the flexibility of doing it myself, staying overnight because the Old Town is lovely once all the day trippers have left and you almost have the place to yourself. I liked being able to pick my own tour, rather than following someone holding an upraised umbrella around the town. Also if you go on a tour you don't get to choose where you want to eat lunch - you have to sit with the rest of the group and have the set tourist meal. You don't get time to go back to that little stall where you saw a lovely watercolour, copper bangle, etc. I also liked the luxury of having the time to sit and marvel at the fabulous scenery and colours without being harried along.

Kellye, Dubrovnik is a great place to visit. I liked it too, though Bosnia snared my heart! It's back to Mostar, and Sarajevo too, for me next time... Did you write about your time in Novi Sad? Do I recall something about your daughter going there for a competition? Now I have 'discovered' the beauty of this part of Europe, I want to explore more of it.
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Old Nov 13th, 2007, 08:38 AM
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Thanks Julia t. Great trip report. Great pictures too. I missed it first time around because I've been away for the past 6 months. Now back and catching up and thinking about Croatia/Bosnia/Montenegro for 2008.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2009, 08:01 AM
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Thanks for the trip report. We will definitely consider an overnight trip to Mostar.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2009, 06:04 PM
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I missed this report the first time around. I loved all the details that made me feel as if I were there. Well written in every way. I enjoyed all the pictures as well.

Thanks for bringing back all the memories of my trip to that part of that world in 2006.

I too was struck with the cemetery with the graves from the war. I noted that most of them were young people and thought, "When are old men going to stop sending young men (and women) to do the killing and be killed?"
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