Google Images initially enticed me to Mostar, as one of the first photos that arose from the search ‘Bosnia & Herzegovina’. I took one look at the legendary bridge, towering over the crystal clear stream and knew that I HAD to go. It didn’t take the others much persuading and we managed to fit a whistle-stop visit in the middle of our travels.
Mostar is a city in the south of Bosnia & Herzegovina, with the river Neretva running through the centre. Its pièce de résistance is the medieval ‘Stari Most’, a bridge which is embedded in both history and the city’s unique identity. One of the first things I noticed on our arrival is that everyone knows everyone in Mostar. It is such a close knit community and we were immediately made to feel at home by everybody that we met.
Our hostel was booked through HostelWorld.com and I think it could easily be the best choice we made during our whole trip. Hostel Herzegovina is a small family-run hostel owned by two brothers Almir and Taso and is situated close to the old bridge and the local market. From what I could see we were staying on the first floor of Almir’s family home, with his wife, child and mother-in-law living below. While simple, Hostel Herzegovina was pristine and Almir went above and beyond to make us feel welcome, giving us recommendations for restaurants, sights to see during our stay and holding a meeting at 10pm every evening for his guests. After a little exploring and dinner out, we returned to the hostel’s garden for our first 10pm get-together; not quite knowing what to expect. We were served fresh figs from Almir’s trees and poured fresh Bosnian coffee which is served very black with enough sugar to give anyone diabetes, and settled down to hear Almir talk about his experiences of war ridden Mostar where the conflict ended only 20 years previously. He told us the Bosnian side of the story, about shootings, bombings, lost relatives and spending 3 years with no running water, electricity or food. About the conflict that ended in the destruction of the historic medieval bridge, which meant so much to the local people as Croatia and Serbia fought for control of the ancient city. I was not old enough to remember the Bosnian war, but seeing Almir’s emotion and pain as he told his story really struck a cord with me. It must have been the most terrifying time for the people of Mostar and you only have to walk around the city to see that the community are still recovering from the horrors of the conflict.
After the late night the previous evening we didn’t surface from the hostel until midday, and headed towards the old bridge; wandering through cobbled streets lined with souvenir stalls and icecream. After walking across the bridge a couple of times (shuffling in my case as the stone was very slippery under my sandals) to take in the views and watch in awe as Bosnian men in very short trunks launched themselves off of the bridge and into the watery depths below, we headed down to the waters edge to watch. The way in which they skipped up and down the edge of the bridge at total ease, drumming up donations for their jump was so exciting; we could have watched them for hours. Almir later explained at our meeting that this represented one of the most important ‘coming of age’ traditions in Mostar. Having jumped the bridge himself many times; the earliest at just 14, Almir explained that all boys born in Mostar must jump if they are to be considered a man.
Bosnia & Herzegovina may not seem like the most obvious country to visit for a holiday or long weekend. But Mostar stole my heart, and I wish that I could revisit one day to discover more hidden gems within this breathtaking country. Mostar really is a place to remember.