We knew that traveling to former Yugoslavia would involve a bit of a history lesson – or a history reminder, rather. When we were in high school, this part of the world was in turmoil. As we traveled, we were constantly reading about the chaos that plagued this area in the 90’s. For the most part, we were completely amazed at the progress that has been made, in what seems like a relatively short time, considering the destruction.
Mostar, Bosnia is a gem of a town with a poignant yet inspiring history. You can read about it here. Today, Muslim mosques and Catholic crosses share the skyline and Mostar has a Turkish feel to it (so we read…we haven’t been to Turkey yet!). We stood outside a mosque as the call to prayer echoed through the streets. The people of Mostar are friendly and welcoming, happy to have tourists coming by the bus-load (at least during high season). To us, the Old Town felt medieval and fairytale-like…and on this particular day in March, it also felt very cold!
The Stari Most (Old Bridge) is Mostar’s pride and joy. The original stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993 by Bosnian Croat forces. It was eventually rebuilt using the original materials and traditional Ottoman technique, and was completed in 2004.
We visited the local museum, where we received an impromptu private tour by the museum keeper (as we were the only ones there). A kind gentleman walked us through the small spaces and described, in detail, all that we were seeing. He played a 12-minute movie about the bridge, which showed footage of the diving competitions that take place from the top. It also included film of the artillery fire and destruction of the bridge, as well as the 2004 ceremony when it reopened. It was done in a way that was somehow uplifting and thankfully, not too disturbing for kids. Although ours still had a lot of questions afterwards. It is disheartening to have to explain to children that sometimes adult arguments and conflicts can lead to such violence and destruction.
There are pros and cons to traveling during low-season. The most obvious negative would likely be weather. I’m sure the mood of the place might have been different on a warm, sunny day with tourists filling up the empty, damp patio chairs that were overlooking the river. So that leads me to the second con – atmosphere. A few places we visited on this trip seemed void of all life. Many restaurants were closed which made the selection of places to eat difficult. But then there are the pros. On this particular day in Mostar, the pros of off-season included the aforementioned private tour of the museum. We also spent 10 minutes inside a local shop, browsing through art and jewelry, not feeling crowded or rushed and striking up conversation with local shop owners. We also scored a seat with the best view of the bridge at this restaurant. Off-season isn’t so bad.
Among the overall feeling of tranquility that currently pervades, scars of war are still visible in Mostar. Yet, we were impressed by the perseverance to rebuild this beautiful town. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to visit.
*Mostar can be reached within 3 hours from Dubrovnik, Croatia. We went by car, but bus and train options are also available.
Spring Break trip, to be continued… Read Part 3