Monday, December 2 to Friday, December 6
Vagabonding Days 63-67
Location: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
I’m huddled under a blanket in a drafty apartment, drinking hot tea and trying to stay warm. Our new location is Mostar, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city is known for the iconic Stari Most bridge – a graceful arched stone bridge constructed by the Ottomans in the 16th century – as well as it’s East-meets-West vibrant mix of cultures. The bridge was completely destroyed during the brutal war that took place here in the 1990s but has since been completely rebuilt.
We arrived in Mostar a few days ago by bus from Dubrovnik. There are two bus stations in Mostar, a legacy of war which left the city divided – with Croats on the west side of the river and Bosniacs on the east side. We arrived at the eastern bus station and walked to our apartment, luggage in tow. As we walked, we passed multiple bombed out buildings nestled in between businesses and houses – empty hulking shells standing as stark reminders of the Siege of Mostar which took place only 25 years ago.
The apartment we rented is a unique space, a no-frills artist loft spanning 3 floors with an actual art studio on the ground floor and interesting art throughout the flat. The place has character and great art but it doesn’t feel very homey. It’s also freezing which is problematic as I am also fighting off a cold. On our first day, we struggled to stay warm as the heat went straight out of the drafty windows. Daniel created a wall of pillows and mattresses in the 6’ by 6’ bay window to help keep out the cold air and that helped a lot. We quickly found that our clothing wasn’t warm enough for the weather here and had to shop for new coats.
On the bright side, the apartment does have a lovely view of the Stari Most bridge and Old Town. A UNESCO Heritage site, the Old Bridge area of Mostar is filled with winding cobblestone alleys and inviting shops and restaurants. This part of town has been almost completely rebuilt following the 1990’s war and the area is absolutely charming.
But the scars of war are still painfully visible over the rest of Mostar. Derelict buildings, irretrievably damaged by war, stand next to new ones in the middle of the city center. Of the buildings that survived the war, many are still riddled with bullet holes which have been hastily patched up. These buildings now house shops and restaurants and apartments full of people.
At first, I am surprised by the sheer number of abandoned and damaged buildings that line the city’s streets. But my perspective changed after visiting the Museum of War and Genocide. I hadn’t fully understood the absolute level of devastation that occurred in Mostar and the atrocities that took place.
During the war, entire villages of civilians were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 2,000 people died in Mostar alone, half of which were civilians. About 60% to 70% of buildings were destroyed or badly damaged in the Bosnian-populated areas of Mostar (such as where our apartment was located). Given the level of devastation, it’s a wonder the city has rebounded as much as it has in 25 years.
On our last day in Mostar, Daniel and I visited the Partisan Memorial Cemetery. A monument to Mostar residents who fought in World War II, the cemetery was completed in 1965 and features winding paths and a cosmological centerpiece surrounded by fluted concrete. Although these days it is somewhat rundown and neglected, it’s easy to see how magnificent the cemetery used to be.
I’m glad that we got to see Mostar, but it’s the first city we’ve visited which I actually looked forward to leaving. I’m not sure why to be honest. Some of our friends recently visited Mostar and absolutely loved it. I believe my perspective may have been colored by an illness and fatigue which I couldn’t seem to shake. The cold and dreary weather didn’t help – I always get a little blue in the winter due to lack of sunlight (thanks Seasonal Affective Disorder!). I also seem to have re-injured my right foot which is keeping me off trail. That’s never good for my mental health.
Lest you think my experience in Mostar was all negative, I’ll end on a positive note: the food. I absolutely fell in love with Bosnian food during our stay in Mostar and looked forward to eating it every day. We went to several local restaurants which sold us a “mix plate” with a variety of comfort food – peppers stuffed with rice and meat, cabbage rolls, stewed beef, dolma, mashed potatoes, stuffed onions, and various rice dishes. It was balm for my weary soul. I could eat that food every day.
Photos from Mostar
Where are we now?
View the map here: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.