When my friend suggested a last-minute trip to Bosnia while we were in Dubrovnik, I confess that I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I’d heard lots about it during their war years but I had no idea what it would look like or how close Mostar was from where we were – when you are on a 4 day trip and suffer from motion sickness, you really don’t want to waste time stuck in a car. It turns out that it was quicker to visit the neighbour country than to go up to visit Plitviče, in Croatia (which by the way I still need to go to) and you can get there in just over 2 hours.
When you enter Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can feel that it is still recovering from the 90s war. Unlike other European regions that been through war (though these have not experienced it as recently as Bosnia), the Balkan country is still visibly ruined. Some areas have been reconstructed or renewed over the years, but be prepared to see a little bit of both. I think the gloomy weather may have been especially responsible for this impression that stuck with me.
Like the abandoned house in the photo, many more buildings and other sites looked unoccupied, destroyed and overall forgotten. I found it very sad that 20 years after the war, they were still left in this precarious state, bullet marks included, especially when you can see that so many people there don’t have a roof to sleep under.
On the way to Mostar we stopped in the medieval town of Počitelj, where we visited the derelict castle, which was constructed over the rocky hills just by the Neretva river.
It felt like a forgotten town and I left thinking little was being done to preserve anything there and that it really doesn’t have many residents. There isn’t much information available on Počitelj in general, but I did find later that it was used as a fortress during the Ottoman Empire times and that it was heavily attacked by the Croats during the Bosnian War. I also found that both Počitelj and Mostar are listed as endangered cultural sites in the World Monuments Fund website (it didn’t take long to realise that they both need attention).
Walk up the steep hill if you have time and visit the derelict castle – no doors, just an abandoned castle, which gives you a nice view of the river and the town if you go up its teeny stairs.
It’s not all neglected places though; the centre of Mostar has been partially renovated and its historic bridge, Stari Most, rebuilt. There are still lots of shattered buildings, but the historic part has some cute little Turkish houses (which Mostar is famous for) and the Neretva river gives it a dramatic feel.
Stari Most, Mostar
Some things become prettier when you know the history behind them or when you’re aware of what they represent. In Stari Most’s case, it isn’t one of the nicest bridges I’ve seen, but its meaning makes it so much more relevant. On one hand, it represents diversity as it’s a bridge constructed to connect the two parts of town (Catholic and Muslim); on the other it’s a link built to re-unite the town and a very symbolic way of rising above the war and the attempts of ethnic cleansing – this bridge was completely destroyed by a Croat attack in 1993 (see video of the bombing below).
Apparently some tourists actually dive from the bridge so they can swim in the river, during Summer time – I wouldn’t dare doing this, but I guess it’s a thing! There are lots of restaurants and cafés around the area, and some street stalls selling mostly Turkish souvenirs; some of these may be look staffless at certain times when they’ve gone out to pray for a few minutes.
I think the most curious part of this trip was border control; Croatia and Bosnia share nearly 1000km of a border which means you need to go through border control SIX times each way. With Bosnia not being in the EU (though its application has recently been accepted), I thought it would be a bigger problem to go through it, but it was pretty straight forward most of the time. I’d also heard that they always stop you if you go in a Croatian car, but we only got stopped once, just before re-entering Croatia for the last time. There was extensive search and a language barrier issue involved, but we got through it in the end and they weren’t as rude as they were playing out to be at first!
Some practical info
Their official languages are Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian, but you’ll get by with English in the centre, if you speak none of those.
Their currency is the Bosnian Convertible Marka (BAM), but in all honesty they never even asked us to pay in marks, probably due to the low monetary value of their mark; they accept Euros or Croatian Kunas everywhere (at least in these two towns they did).
Overall it was a good experience to visit a country that is not as touristic and mostly, to see different type of scenery than the one you seem to always get in Europe.