Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

12/03 and 12/04
Having looked at the bus schedules, we decided to spend at least two days in Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina. The bus ride takes three hours, including three border/passport stops. As we climb away from the Adriatic coast into the hinterlands, we follow rivers flowing from the mountains.

The countryside here reflects today's overcast dreary weather...not very inspiring nor well-kept, so far, a contrast to the neat captivating waterfront towns in Croatia.

Our Mostar greeting is less than friendly. No smiles, abrupt answers and pleas for handouts. With some help we arrive at our hotel where we are met by Teo. He is friendly and helpful, improving our impression of BiH. We have a nice room (we're the only guests) and a balcony overlooking the Neretva River. Great sleeping hearing the rushing water.

This "old town" isn't surrounded by walls and has no forts. One just starts walking on river rocks rather than sidewalks and you are in the "old town". Immediately you feel very mixed emotions that are hard to explain. Encouraged by authentic small stands and shops and then saddened by bombed out buildings. This was a town where people used to live in great harmony regardless of ethnicity or religion. It all changed in the 90's and certainly shows the horrific effects of war.

Stari Most (old bridge) is Mostar's pride and symbol. In fact, the town name means Bridge Keeper (Mostari). It was built in the 16th century and crossed the Neretva River for over 400 years. It was destroyed during the 1993 war with Croatia, rebuilt in 2004 at great expense, along with much of the surrounding Old Town. Ironically the Croats and Bosnians fought together against the Serbs before fighting each other literally on each side of their beloved bridge.

Remnants of the Bosnian wars are everywhere, bombed buildings/roofs, walls with bullet pock marks and cemeteries with 1992 or 1993 deaths (the war years). One stone is etched with "Remember 1993". These are constant reminders to locals and tourists.

Unlike towns in Croatia where there is ongoing (re)construction, here there is none, or what has been started some time ago has been disbanded. The lack of restoration has another impact...quite a bit of litter and trash in the streets, in the river, and in bombed buildings. Evidently people have lost some pride of their place even in the upper middle class neighborhoods.

Enough bad news! Sunday brings better weather and improved attitude. A young woman welcomes us to Karadjoz-bey Mosque, showing us the mosque interior and explaining about the Bosnian Muslim religion. One difference in practice here is that women are not required to wear a veil. Really enjoyed talking with this woman and she again said the people were living peacefully, but it was power hungry politicians and corrupt leaders that caused the war. She is a Muslim Bosinian and lived fine in Croatia during the war.

Ninety- five steps within a narrow, dark column brings us near the top of the mosque's minaret, giving a great view of the area. We have to climb down and out before 12:00, the second call to prayers for the day. They have five calls a day and you hear the chanting over speakers from the top of the minarets.

There is a very intense Turkish influence in Mostar. Lots of copper jewely and beautiful carpets. Also strong thick Turkish coffee.

Wandering the old town streets is harder than the streets in Croatia where they are mostly flat stone. Mostar's are made from rounded river rocks, some set on edge making them slippery and bumpy.

Most of the churches and synagogues were destroyed during the wars, too. St Peter and St Paul Franciscan catholic church was rebuilt with the highest tower/steeple. The Jewish Synagogue has not been restored. What remains is a stone shell. Why? The neighborhood is upper middle class, but that does not eliminate bombed-out homes.

We have seen another face of the former Yugoslavia. Interestingly, several people we have chatted with, including the Muslim mosque host, feel that the Balkans would be better off had Josip Bro┼ż Tito lived and held Yugoslavia together.

After walking over a bridge and climbing a minaret, both built in the 16th century, we now have our feet up in our room watching Meet the Press, which we have not been able to see since leaving mid October. Hard to grasp it all.

Tomorrow we return to Split to catch a train back to Rijeka, and on to Ljubljana, Slovenia, for a few days.

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