Saturday, May 1, 2010
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The guidebooks all say you have to go to Mostar. People who have been to this area said I have to go to Mostar. Pepo, my driver, had decided to include Mostar even though I had only asked to be driven to Medjugorje. I am so happy I went to Mostar. It's going to be tough topping Mostar as the highlight of my trip.
A trip to Mostar makes so much of the history of this region -- not just the Homeland War period -- make sense. Mostar is a divided city. There is a "Croat" half, modern and clean, with its Catholic Churches and belltowers. And there is a "Bosniak" half, looking like something from the Ottoman Empire, old and stone and Turkish, with mosques and minarets. Lots of minarets.
The centerpiece of Mostar is the "old bridge," Stari Most. The town takes its name from the Stari Most, as Mostar means bridgekeeper. The bridge is a rather small, but very historic, pedestrian bridge spanning the clear green waters of the Neretva River. It lies entirely within the Moselm sector. The bridge was destroyed by Croat bombs during the Homeland War. It has been painstakingly rebuilt by the city, often using the stones from the original bridge.
Scenes of Mostar (from top to bottom):
(1) The Crooked Bridge. This is not the signature bridge of Mostar. It is not photographed nearly as often. It must feel left out. The other bridges must mock it. So I shall start my photo essay of Mostar with you, the much-overlooked Crooked Bridge. I think you're just as photogenic as the more popular Stari Most.
(2) A minaret just inside the Moslem sector of Mostar. This definitely lets you know you're not in Catholic Country anymore. Even the street-paving material changes dramatically to let you know when you've crossed from Croat into Ottoman territory.
(3)-(4) Street scene atop the Stari Most. The bridge surface is kind of slippery, so it's nice that they have elevated stones to use as feet-catchers. There are young men who, after collecting a sufficient sum of money from the tourists, will jump off the bridge into the icy waters of the Nevetna. It's a far drop, so the water must be decently deep. Alas, a sufficient sum must not have been collected as there was no bridge jumping occuring during my time there. Just some teasing by the jumpers who go the edge, hang on the rail, and return to the bridge. Which, for me, would be scary enough.
(5) Stari Most. Classic view.
(6) Stari Most, as seen from where we had lunch. Lunch on the Ottoman side was a Bosniak classic: cevapcici. "Little fingers." It is bits of whatever ground meat are in the kitchen. Sheep definitely. Goat possibly. Maybe even a cow. (But no pig, as we are in the Moslem sector. This dish will include delicious swine if we were in Croat Country.) It's shaped like link sausage, or fingers, hence the name "little fingers." Cooked over an open flame so it has that smoky grilled flavor. Pure deliciousness. Served with onion and a greasy bread that looked delicious (but, alas, I could not eat), it's sort of Bosniak variant of the Greek gyros.
(7) The Catholic Church ensconced on the Croat side. We parked in the lot of this church. After exploring the Turkish side, we came back to the Croat side and met up with a friend of Pepo's, who operated a travel agency and art gallery in Mostar. I'm not sure if this was part of the standard tour, but my host -- the owner of Meridian-Mostar, treated me to two servings of "grappa," a excellent (very) strong wine (brandy?) made from re-fermenting the grapes left over in the cask after the first round of fermentation. Zivjeli.
(8) -(9) Scenes of war scars in Mostar. Part of what makes Mostar so fascinating is that the damage from the Bosnian war of the early 1990s is still so clearly visible. So many burned-out ruins of buildings, many right in between two newly reconstructed properties. And the damage to the exteriors from the shelling is an incredible sight when you consider just how recent this war was.