Bosnia and Herzegovina: My Fiftieth Country

Our bus ride from Montenegro to Mostar started out really rough. First of all it was around two hours late, so that was a fun hangout in the bus station. Once we got on, I couldn’t find my bus ticket and the very old, very non-English speaking man who was taking tickets was NOT happy with this. I knew it had to be somewhere, so I was searching madly through my bag but to no avail. He kept yelling at me in either Montenegrin or Bosnian – I think there’s a difference – and we were totally unable to communicate. Eventually he stopped asking me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, right after that I found the ticket under my bus seat, where I swear I had looked several times, and I gleefully ran up to the front of the bus to show him that I was not in fact a grifter.

I’m not sure if the rest of the bus ride was so pleasant because we weren’t hungover for once, or because we were just happy it had finally arrived, but we were just in the best moods and the views were pretty incredible for a random bus ride. We still talk about this as one of our highlights from the Balkans.

The amazing sunset

Needless to say, we were in a great mood upon arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We did the 15 minute walk to the hostel, which we were really excited about. Hostel Nina is one of the most popular hostels in Mostar, and for good reason. It’s run by a Bosnian family who definitely are the lifeblood of the accommodation. The rooms are fine, and some things like the breakfast, while delicious, have an institutional feel to them. BUT the family is always around with a smile, and Zika (Nina’s husband) is actually a veteran of the war in the 1990’s. We didn’t want to visit Bosnia, and especially Mostar, without exploring both the stunning countryside and learning a little bit about the very recent and very horrible wars.

So on our one full day in the town, we packed it in with a full day trip around the region and then an evening walking tour and bar crawl.

HERZEGOVINA TOUR

I’ve wanted to come to Mostar since seeing a post of World of Wanderlust of a stunning cliffside monastery in Blajag, a town nearby. I came to Mostar specifically for this reason, and was excited when I saw that the hostel offered a day tour including this spot!

It is hysterical thinking back how much we hesitated about doing this tour. For 30 Euros you get driven around some truly gorgeous spots, and yet Haley and I, on our super tight and quickly dwindling backpacker budgets, debated this for so LONG. We couldn’t decide whether it was worth it, we thought there’d be other things to do, blah blah blah.

I would have absolutely kicked myself if we missed this. I travelled to Mostar to see this place, and it is SO funny to look back now and think about what an investment 30 Euros was. Now I’ll spend that $45 on a couple books. Ah, perspective! The details on the tour are here, but you visit the aforementioned clifftop monastery, Pocitelj (an ancient fortress), a mountain with a view across the whole area, and the Kravice Falls for a long lunch and swim stop.

The view of Mostar was an amazing place to start. You’re also at the site of the Millennium Cross, which is a bit controversial as a symbol of a specific religion overlooking a city that fought over religion and ethnicity so recently.

To be honest, the only thing I remember from Pocitelj is that there was delightful pomegranate juice on offer, but here is a photo.

The Kravice waterfalls were an unexpected delight. The water was freezing, but Bosnia in July was sweltering and we were happy for the respite. We had a wonderful lunch with new friends, walked around admiring the views, and stepped over the hundreds of other tourists enjoying the falls. These are a lovely alternative to the popular Plitvice and Krka parks, flooded with waterfalls, in more touristy nearby Croatia.

THE WALKING TOUR

Zika has put together a walking tour of Mostar with an amazing amount of historical and cultural information to take in. He doesn’t personally run the tours anymore, but they train a volunteer very well to do so. It’s really quite a confronting tour. This war was going on just a few years before I was born, and it was so brutal. We saw skeletons of buildings and learned about what had happened there. We learned the roots of the war, and why the tensions in the region had built up to such a horrible crescendo.

A wall of bulletholes in Central Mostar

Buildings like this are all over town

The volunteer took us to spots with sweeping views across the Old Town of Mostar, which I think is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. There’s so much to see and learn here. I love doing walking tours anywhere I go, but here, if you want to understand anything about the place you are in, it’s a must-do. And I firmly believe this walking tour is the best, due to the personal detail that makes everything feel genuinely real to you.

There’s a graveyard where half of Zika’s high school is buried. Zika used to be one of the infamous bridge divers from the iconic bridge of Mostar. There’s a sniper tower, which you can wander through, where just twenty five years ago Serbs and Croats shot at the Bosniak ‘side of town’. It’s visceral and challenging to take in, but this is stuff that has to be known.

You finish the tour at a bar owned by the hostel. It’s a bit of a contrast, because when you get there you are shown videos of the bridge jumps, and a truly devastating video of the bridge falling in 1993. Five minutes later, you get a free shot and drinking begins. We made some good friends from the hostel and spent the night checking out various bars, including Ali Baba which is a super surreal cave bar much more reminiscent of Santorini than Mostar.

All around, this was one of the most action-packed days of my whole trip. A day out in nature, an evening walking around town and a night of drinking all added up to make my short time in Bosnia a definite highlight of the Balkans.

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