After spending a large chunk of time on board, we decided it was time to get off the boat for a few days and explore some inland sights. We had met several new friends here in Montenegro who highly recommended a visit to the city of Mostar in Bosnia (about a 3 hour drive away). We rented a car, and by late morning we were on our way out of Montenegro. This was now our 6th country to visit since arriving in Europe in early April.
The drive inland takes you way up into the mountains of Bosnia on a simple, two lane roadway. After a period of time, you start making your way down into this amazing, fertile valley cut through by a beautiful, teal colored river. Towns at this point have been very few and far between and cell service even less (definitely not a great place to run into car problems). Before we knew it, we had arrived in Mostar. It was blazing hot and packed with tourists (par for the course at this point). I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we might need to go to the Arctic for the month of August….that shouldn’t be crowded or hot, right?
So, what is significant about Mostar? Mostar is a crossroads of where East meets West. Bosnia is as far as the Ottoman Empire pushed into Europe. Mostar is renowned for some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. It is also one of the epicenters of the Balkan conflict in the 90’s. This is the first place in Europe (that we have seen) where the landscape is not only dotted with Christian churches but also Islamic mosques and minarets. The streets overflowed with tourists dressed in the traditional summer attire of western cultures and full on head to toe burkas (only the eyes were visible) of some Islamic cultures. It is also the only place in Europe I have heard the call to prayer by the many minarets. It was definitely a fascinating confluence of cultures all in one place.
We spent a little time wandering the streets once we arrived in order to get our bearings and make our plan for a full day of exploration the next day. The city itself blankets both sides of that beautiful river I mentioned earlier. In the heart of town, spanning the river, is Stari Most (Old Bridge). This bridge was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt to it’s original glory. The bridge is very picturesque and popular. At the highest point, it is an 80 foot plunge into the cold, swift moving water below. I mention this because this bridge is famous for it’s “cliff divers” (obviously it is not a cliff, and they do not dive….they jump). This draws quite the cheering crowd to watch them leap off this very high bridge (my heart stops and my palms get sweaty just watching these guys). People have died attempting this. The local divers prance around the bridge in their speedos, collecting money from the tourists. Once they deem that they have collected enough, they jump. If you’re really nuts (I try to think that I am not!), you can actually PAY to do this. There is some coaching involved to guide you in your technique so you don’t kill yourself 😬🙄
The following day, we got an early start and headed out exploring. The city itself is very picturesque. You would never know that this place was once ravaged by war….until you take a closer, deeper look. While they have rebuilt the heart of the city in spectacular fashion, deeper down the alleys and on the outskirts you can still see the bullet and mortar shells pocking the structures. Some of the buildings outside the center are nothing more than skeletal ruins from being blown apart. From there, we headed to the genocide museum. We choose to visit these types of places wherever we go in order to learn more about the history of the countries we visit. Needless to say, we always walk away feeling sad and empty inside that humans can do these kinds of things to one another. This one perplexed me even more so given that history’s most notorious genocide happened in Europe only 50 years prior! As a person who loves traveling the world and learning about other cultures and ways of life, it breaks my heart that humanity cannot get to a place of live and let live.
We spent one more day wandering the streets of Mostar and enjoyed some wonderfully authentic Bosnian dishes, but it was time to make our way back to the boat and start making our way south. As we made our way out of town, we made a couple of other stops to see some sights. The first place we stopped was an old airplane bunker built into the mountainside. Tito had built this to hide his planes during the Cold War. Unfortunately, it appeared as though the locals have turned it into their dumping grounds as the roadway into the tunnels were littered with piles of trash and discarded furniture. Dan walked as far in as he could see, but without a flashlight, he could not go all the way in. No way in hell was I going inside this pitch black tunnel that looked like the perfect set for a horror movie kill scene! As we made our way back to the car, I caught sight of this giant mop of fur laying on one of the trash heaps. The closer I got, I noticed legs….pretty sure it was a very large dog. Needless to say, I ran back to the car. Gross!
Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in and of itself. This trip was no exception. Google maps is our lifeline for finding our way around. Unfortunately, google maps is not always right. Several times we were sent down roads that we were pretty sure were not roads. We were mapped down one way roads, going the wrong way. And my all time favorite….being guided to cross a foot bridge in the car as a means to cross the river. When we finally managed to find our own way across the river, we continued on our journey to our next stop. Once again, this was a highly frequented tourist attraction, so it was a zoo! This was a Dervish house in Blagaj. Despite the huge crowds, this beautiful place sits on the river beneath huge cliffs. It is surrounded by tranquil gardens along with many riverside restaurants to cater to the tourists. This place existed in the mid 17th century and was renovated in the mid 19th century. It is quite a sight to see.
Needless to say, this was just a very tiny glimpse into a piece of Bosnia, a former part of what was Yugoslavia. Once we are back on board, we will continue our journey down the coast of Montenegro with some new sights and adventures!