I have never been so happy to be “home.”
I’ll start by saying that we had a lovely time in Mostar. But…it was almost a bit of a disaster. Because I’m mean and I want you to read the whole post, I’ll leave that part of the story to the end (also because it happened at the end). I should warn you that this is kind of a long post, just so you know what you’re getting into. You might want to take a bathroom break now, and grab a beverage or a snack to hold you over.
We left Dubrovnik on the 8am bus on Saturday (for the record…ouch) and made it to Mostar around 11:30. We arrived at our B&B without incident – besides being overcharged for the cab ride (word to the wise: be wary of the metered ride, and if it costs more than 5 Euros to get to the Old Town, you are being ripped off). For our lodging, we went with a Rick Steves pick called Villa Botticelli that was a few blocks away from the Old Bridge, and we would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Mostar. The owner’s son Denis met us there, gave us the keys and took note of the times we wanted breakfast set out and the cab called to get back to the bus station the next day. He was very helpful and the whole stay including breakfast was only 46 Euros (about $60 USD).
We were the only people staying in the whole place, which was pretty nice. They were doing some work on the terrace so it was a little torn up, and the stream was kind of dried up, but we didn’t care (it was quite cold all weekend so it’s not like we were hanging out on the balcony anyway). It’s clear that in the high season, this place is impossibly adorable. Even with the chilly weather it was still pretty adorable – with the heater on, our room was as cozy as can be and we had an excellent nap that afternoon and sleep that night.
Can I also just take a moment to mention how much I love these blankets?? I wanted to steal them. Looking at this design and color combination instantly puts me in a good mood.
We set out to explore and get our bearings. Turns out, it does not take much time to walk the span of Mostar (or at least the Old Town). It’s pretty small. As we headed toward the Crooked Bridge, a Muslim call to prayer rang out in the quiet and crisp air. It was beautiful and moving. Our impression of Mostar was that it felt like a ski town in the mountains: it was really cold and the smell of wood burning stoves was in the air (we smelled like a campfire when we got home). The cold was really enchanting, but at the same time Mostar is the only place we’ve been so far that I would also like to see in the high season. There are a lot of beautiful terrace restaurants and bars (closed this time of year), and there is a club of divers who routinely leap from the Old Bridge in the summer months.
This thought brought up a debate that we’ve been having on and off about whether we’d rather be on this trip in the high season vs. now. For the most part, we aren’t missing out on much by being here in the off-season and there are a lot of inherent benefits (lower prices, fewer tourists). Sure, some things are closed, but in Dubrovnik we’ve still gotten to do almost everything we wanted to do (even if sometimes it was at the last possible minute) and even now there are still quite a few cruise ships coming through, so I can’t imagine what it would be like at full capacity. We aren’t getting the best possible weather now, but we’re also not getting the worst, and we’ve had some beach days so we’re not suffering by any means. It will be interesting to see how this view changes as we move on to other places, and whether Dubrovnik is just an anomaly. I’ll keep you updated.
A note on Mostar: it was horribly, mercilessly ravaged during the Croat-Bosniak War. A lot of the town was rebuilt, but there are still visible scars from the war everywhere. The most notable and crushing event of the siege of Mostar was the destruction of the Old Bridge, which had been a source of pride for the town and was considered an old friend (it was rebuilt in 2004). I don’t want to get too into the complicated history here, because that’s not really what this blog is about, but I encourage anyone who is not familiar to read up on the war a bit if you would like some insight on this region. It’s pretty hard to escape the war when you’re in Mostar (and to a lesser extent, Dubrovnik because it has been rebuilt so thoroughly). There is a museum dedicated to the destruction of the bridge, and there is a cemetery that used to be a park, where war dead were buried because it was the only place safe from sniper fire (often, bodies would lie unclaimed in the streets for days because it was not safe to retrieve them). Sorry to be a downer, but it’s kind of hard to talk about Mostar without giving some of this perspective, and I think this perspective may help to frame our experience there.
We were pretty sleepy from getting up so early for the bus, so we stopped for lunch and some Bosnian coffee at Sadrvan (you should pretty much assume at this point that our hotel and restaurant picks are all from Rick Steves; it’ll save us all a lot of time). For some reason, it wasn’t so cold that we needed to eat inside so we sot in their beautiful outdoor courtyard and watched the show of a pack of 10 cats running from table to table as food was served. As you can imagine, we enjoyed this to no end, and fawned over the most wee baby kitten that was really holding his own with the other cats. We saw him later that evening and fed him from our cat food stash.
After lunch we went back to our room and had a nap, took a shower and went back out for dinner. Dinner was delicious, but the highlight for me was when I ordered a “sour pickle salad” and was literally given a bowl of pickles. I do not mention this to be funny. Anyone who knows me or had eaten enough meals with me will tell you that I LOVE PICKLES. It’s kind of my thing. Sometimes (no joke) I will just order a side of pickles because I want them. So to be served a bowl of pickles was like a dream come true.
After dinner we walked around the town at night because I wanted some killer pictures of the bridge. We also had a drink at the only bar that was open that wasn’t a dance club for horny teenagers. Let me give you a little nugget of wisdom that we’ve picked up here: if you want free drinks in Dalmatia, tip your waiter. I can’t say that this is always going to be the case, but 95% of the time, that is what has happened to us.
The next morning we had a sweet little breakfast at our B&B and then lunch at Sadrvan again to fill up for the bus ride back to Dubrovnik.
Saturday afternoon, we had tried to get some cash out of the ATM…and it declined us. “Silly me,” I thought, “I forgot to let the bank know we were going to Bosnia.” We went home and contacted the bank and they told us it was no problem and we’d be able to take out cash in 10 minutes. After about 6 tries at various ATMs, we were still not able to get cash and the bank didn’t know why, but our card was accepted at dinner that night so we figured it would sort itself out by morning. We had exchanged enough kuna to pay for our room so we thought we’d be fine. We got to the bus station an hour early, just in case and well, things were not fine. We were 15 Euros short for the bus tickets, still couldn’t get money from the ATM, there was no way to pay with a credit card, hardly anyone spoke English and the bus we were planning to take was the last bus of the day back to Dubrovnik.
All of the sudden, the fact that people had left us alone all weekend (which we had previously found refreshing) became a huge problem, because nobody would help us. We tried explaining to anyone we could what the problem was in the hopes that they could suggest a solution, but due to the language barrier or ambivalence they all just shrugged and turned away. We were stranded, alone, and for the first time on this trip it became apparent just how very far we were from home. After about 45 minutes of trying everything we could think of (Jared even went to some restaurants to see if he could charge something and get cash, but they all thought he was trying to scam them), Jared let out an exasperated expletive in English and a teenage boy came up to him and offered to help. He translated between Jared and an agent for the bus company, who finally suggested he try an ATM five minutes away that was connected to a bank. We didn’t think it would work, but Jared sprinted down there anyway. When I saw him sprinting back, I knew it had worked, and we jumped on the bus 3 minutes after it was scheduled to leave (we’d persuaded them to wait a few minutes while we tried this last ditch effort).
I don’t know why our card didn’t work, or why it finally worked at this ATM, but sitting there completely helpless and thinking we were going to watch that bus leave without us was a terrible feeling. Look, I am very much aware that in the grand scheme of things, it was a very minor crisis, and we would have been fine. We could have afforded to stay another night in Mostar. We are very lucky, and we were safe the whole time. But something about the experience deeply bummed me out, and I’m still feeling it today. I think I feel particularly sad because it marred an otherwise lovely visit to Mostar. I’m sure we will tell our kids about “that time we almost got stuck in Mostar” and kind of chuckle in a oh-how-young-we-were-once sort of way, but right now all I can think about was how we were in trouble and nobody cared. I think that will probably influence my actions a lot going forward.
Also, the experience led us to the decision that we’re not going to take the bus anymore, even though it’s cheaper than renting a car. The driver went just a little too fast around some cliff-side curves for our taste, and it made us see that we much prefer to be in control of our own transportation. It also made us appreciate this nice little setup we have in Dubrovnik. We wandered around all evening saying how nice it was to be “home.”