Mostar

13 – 15/10/2016

The owner of Balkan Han Hostel arranged a shuttle transfer for a few of us from Sarajevo to Mostar. It cost 25KM. A little more than a bus would have, but it was direct door-to-door. It took just over two and half hours, with a little bit of traffic leaving Sarajevo, and a few stops along the way. I think the driver took the opportunity to courier things between cities and municipalities. It was a scenic sunset drive through the mountains. Bosnia is a truly beautiful country.

One of the girls from Balkan Han Hostel (Prue) and I stayed at Hostel Majdas, which was run by the lovely Majda. I decided to stay here because Neil, who I’d met in Bled, highly recommended doing Bata’s tour. Bata is Majda’s brother. Neil raved that it was a one of the best tours he’d ever done, and I definitely agree with him. But tour aside, I have to say Hostel Majdas was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. It truly felt like a home away from home. As soon as Prue and I arrived, which was just after seven in the evening, we were pulled into the cosy common room and sat down for some welcome mint tea and cake. Checking-in could wait. That’s one of the things I really missed when I was staying at the bigger hostels in Berlin and Amsterdam. In the smaller hostels throughout the Balkans, you weren’t just a number, another backpacker, another bed. The staff took the time to get to know you. Hostel Majdas really ticked all the boxes. It was only a short walk from the Old Bridge and Old Town. The communal areas were perfectly set up to allow you to meet other people, but at the same time, you could still sit and have your own space.  The beds were comfy. The bathrooms were renovated and clean; and the showers were hot!

One of the best things about Majdas though was the homemade breakfast waiting for us each morning. It was a wonderful way to start the day. All of us gathering together for breakfast, chatting and making plans for the day. Breakfast one day was deep fried batter with various spreads – sour cream, jam, ajvar (capsicum relish, which is super popular throughout the Balkans). They were like doughnuts, but they looked like chicken nuggets. None of us thought to ask Majda what they were called. We all just ended up calling them “doughnuggets”. Another day, we had battered and fried zucchini on bread. I preferred the doughnuggets. The zucchini was a bit too greasy for me. I still ate it though. Of course. Breakfast always came with a mug of hot mint tea, freshly brewed Bosnian coffee, and a small bowl of muesli and rice pudding. Seriously. Breakfast of champions.

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Day one in Mostar was spent exploring the city with Prue, Cat (a Kiwi girl who had been travelling for a whopping 13 months!), and Yasin from Turkey. We spent the morning wandering round Old Town and hanging by the Old Bridge to catch a few local divers jump. Top tip when exploring Mostar’s Old Town – wear shoes with decent support and grip. Mostar has the biggest and most polished cobblestones I’ve ever come across. They’re super slippery. The Old Bridge was even worse because the stones were flat slabs.

The biggest attraction and heart of Mostar is the Old Bridge, naturally. It’s in the name. Most means Old and Star means Bridge. It’s a busy spot, as many tourists gather to see one of the local divers, or even a brave tourist, jump. The local divers usually wait for a large group of spectators and collect tips (usually amounting to approximately 25€) before jumping. It helps to time it when a tour group wanders down. The jump only lasts a few seconds. But it’s undoubtedly an entertaining and impressive few seconds. I really wish I’d seen a tourist jump. I did considering jumping myself, but my feelings of self-preservation trumped any adventurous thoughts. While I knew there were hundreds of people (mostly Aussies, I’d been told) that had completed the jump, I just couldn’t bring myself to commit. It looked and sounded like you hit the water hard. I mean, you’re jumping from approximately 20 metres, depending on the water level on the day. It’s amazing though. You pay approximately 25€ for a local diver to teach you the proper technique, do a few practise jumps from 10 metres, and then you jump from the Old Bridge. Surviving that, you get a certificate and from then on, you’re allowed to jump from any Red Bull bridge in the world!

In the afternoon, Prue, Cat and I went to see the statue of Bruce Lee in the park, before exploring the Sniper Tower. You need closed-in shoes and someone to give you a boost up and over the wall at the base of the former bank building turned sniper base. Unless you’re super athletic; which we were not. Once we made it over the wall, we slowly made our way up through the levels, studying the graffiti art, taking in the view, and searching for old shell casings. Chris and Chloe, who I’d caught up with in Sarajevo, said they’d found one pretty easily. We weren’t as lucky. When Bata heard that we went searching for old shell casings and couldn’t find any, he joked that it meant he had to go scatter some more. We went all the way up to the roof of the building, where we sipped a few beers while watching the sun set over the city, and reflected on the impact of the war and the incredible resilience of the Bosnian people.

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Bruce Lee. A symbol of peace.

Casing the Sniper Tower.

Day two was spent on the roller coaster that was Bata’s tour. It was fun, entertaining, eye-opening, and thought-provoking; and at the end of the day, I felt a little more connected to Bata, Majda, and the people of Bosnia. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the tour because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that may happen to stumble across this post. All I’ll say is that if you’re considering whether it’s worth it, it is. Do it. Absolutely do it. A few people at the hostel who were “umming” and “ahhing” about whether to go said that they weren’t all that interested in seeing the places that were included on the tour. But that’s not what I took away at the end of the long 12-hour day. It isn’t your typical sightseeing tour. Although the sights were spectacular. Bata is the heart and soul of the tour. It was his personality, enthusiasm and real honesty and openness that made the tour an unforgettable experience. It was a perfect and seamless mix of exploring the sights in and around Mostar and learning more about Bosnian War through Bata’s personal experiences.

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The water at Kravice waterfalls was bloody freezing. It felt like a million tiny needles were piercing all over my body.

The village of Pocitelj.

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Blagaj at night is a bit magical.

Mostar was much like Bordeaux. It was a highlight because everything was just on point – the people, the hostel, the weather, the sights, the food. I found both Sarajevo and Mostar to be unpretentious, yet vibrant cities. I’m glad I gave myself a bit more time to explore and enjoy this unparalleled country.

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