Three hours, a turn inland from the coast, and a couple of border crossings finds us in the midst of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the town of Mostar. It’s the best and worst of Tito’s old Yugoslavia. During Tito’s years Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosnians commingled their cultures in harmony.
Even a small number of Jews was in the mix, literally, as some intermarriage amongst the groups was a not uncommon occurrence. This stone (“For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people”) marks a spot where the current government is planning the rebuilding of a destroyed synagogue.
As we walk toward the old town center the reminders of the three-way war are still evident; bullet holes and crumbling stone. The country unraveled in the early 1990s as the three ethnicities went to war. Amazing to think just how recent all this was. Mostar is rebuilding at an accelerating pace though with locals and tourists all returning and living in new found peace (may it last).
Along the Neretva River it’s interesting to see strong evidence of the Muslim culture – the numerous minarets mingling with the churches stand proudly, and we hear the call to prayer at 1 pm. During the 400 year control of the area by the Ottomans many Slavs converted to Islam. They retreated later, but left behind a cultural, religious, and architectural legacy. If you squint you’d swear you were in Turkey…including in the gift shops.
The rebuilt iconic Mostar bridge (originally completed in 1566) spanning the Neretva was the link between the cultures before the war and has been rebuilt as a symbol of hope. It was the longest single-span stone arch in the world when it was built – and 400 years later supported the Nazi tanks rolling over to occupy Mostar. UNESCO and individual donors came up with $13 million to complete the rebuilding.
Note the man standing on the ledge at the center of the bridge. He’s one of a group of local men forming the “Mostar Diving Club”. We discovered they jump or dive off the bridge in a show of machismo…for money, often getting injured in the relatively shallow, rocky water below. No one shells out to see this time.
We also see a large stone in front of a gift shop selling pens made from rifle shells that says, “Don’t Forget ’93”. It’s strangely moving there.
A spectacular look back at the bridge as we wander the old town.
The eclectic mix of architecture around every corner.
And, of course, a stop for lunch at a charming restaurant serving and satisfying the Bosnian constant craving for meat. Truly delicious sausages (10 of them!) on a bed of extra crispy fried (in olive oil) potatoes, a pile of raw onions, a mound of soft cheese to spread, and a wonderful bread (cross between a pita and a lavash) to sandwich it all if you want. The local beer was outstanding too. A belly buster of a meal that should have had us walking back to Dubrovnik.
Marsha wrapped up her extra sausages to give to the Romany baggers (women/children/babies) that were more evident here than anywhere we’ve stopped on the trip. They are professional “gypsies” and not to be given money we’re told (or food either). But Marsha presents it to a woman and her baby who takes it without even a look. Later, a friend who was lagging behind us says that the woman unwrapped the sausages and broke them up to feed the pigeons.
A beautiful, fruitful fig tree on the way back to the coach. Some are just starting to ripen as the spring season is setting in.
So here we are. In the middle of recently war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not far from the site once of the winter olympics. We take a hard look at the sign. And turn left.
The three hour ride back seems short as we think about where our feet have just trod, it’s history…and it’s future. And, our own.
Back in Dubrovnik we have a spectacular farewell dinner complete with toasts and speeches and stories (as though this all took place years ago), and a celebration (again) of Andi’s birthday. We’ve made new acquaintances and new friends we hope to see again. And, a head and heart full of new memories.
So that’s the last full day of our adventure. We have a 3 am wake up call to make our 7:30 am flight to Frankfurt and connection back to Philadelphia. We’re so glad you could join us…again, and really look forward to seeing you soon. To bed.
P.S. – I’ll be putting together a package of photos (especially the ones I couldn’t show you on the blog). I’ll send you a link.