Bridging Cultures: 24 Hours in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Travel Guide & Itinerary
PRICE POINT: ✪ CURRENCY: Convertible Marka LANGUAGE: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian FOOD TO TRY: Ćevapit TIPPING: 5-10% WHERE TO STAY: Hostel Nina
A TUMULTUOUS PASTAlthough I went without many expectations and only 24 hours in Mostar, the city absolutely blew me away. With the ever growing popularity of Balkan countries like Croatia, Mostar represented much more than just another tourist hotspot, great for a quick daytrip. It’s a town whose hospitable residents readily invite you to explore its beauty. However through this beauty, they also beckon you to remember the vicious cycle of a war they endured not too long ago.
Destruction that the war left on Mostar. You easily can see the pockets left on the wall from bullets and artillery shells. ↓
WHERE TO STAY IN MOSTAR
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MOSTAR
MEANDER THROUGH THE STREETS OF OLD TOWNHaving the unique privilege of being a city caught in the crosshairs of various cultural identities, Mostar’s Old Town features everything you’d expect in a Balkan Old Town but with an Ottoman flair as a result of its Bosniak Islamic heritage. Split in half by the Neretva River, one side of Old Town houses its Bosniak roots while the other caters to the Catholic Croats. Most of the streets lined with trinkets and baubles aimed to attract tourists lay on the Bosniak side of the river. Being a sucker for Middle Eastern decor, I dazzled at all the lanterns hanging from kiosks and copper goods hammered by hand for sale. If only my backpack wasn’t already bursting at the seams I would have bought one of everything. Which can be easily done when everything, even the things geared toward tourists, are ridiculously cheap.
BRIDGING CULTURES AT STARI MOSTAs the most sought after landmark in Mostar, Stari Most (literally translates to Old Bridge)links the two cultures on each side of the river. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bridge was built in the 16th century and is a pristine example of Ottoman influence in the city. After standing solidly for 427 years, the bridge was destroyed during the civil war. It’s said that the Croat army intentionally pelted the bridge with shells during the war due to its strategic positioning in the city.
TAKE A LOOK AT THE WAR PHOTO EXHIBITION
While exploring Old Town and Stari Most it began to pour (hence the busting ass). Luckily I quickly took cover in the bridge tower and accidentally came across the War Photo Exhibition – a gallery of photos taken during the Yugoslavian conflict. As a history buff, this was well worth the few euro entrance fee. Although it’s a quick browse, the photos taken by Wade Goddard during the civil war were wrenching.
Seeing snapshots of injured civilians and women trying to cross Stari Most before its destruction under the cover of makeshift awnings to shield them from the sniper fire sent a chill down my spine. The photos of children with dirt streaked faces who would have been my age at the time hit the hardest.
GRAB A MEAL (OR TWO) AT TIMALRMAAfter the rain subsided I headed to Timalrma, a traditional family-owned cafe for 30 years in the heart of Old Town. Growing hangrier by the minute, I opted to skip the wait for a cute outdoor table and took a seat at a long wooden bench inside. And oh man was this food incredible. With the suggestion from my waiter (also the brother of the chef) I ordered the Ćevapi, minced veal and beef in meat balls with traditional bread and onions along with a Bosnian beer to wash it down. All this for a whopping 7 euro! I was in budget backpacker heaven. I loved Timarma so much that I went back for dinner that night with a hostel friend and ordered the Ćevabdžinica Irma, a cheese and veggie salad for a meager 4 euro. And yes, it was just as scrumptious as lunch. As a true testament to the nature of the Bosnian people, the chef recognized me from lunch, thanked me for bringing in another customer and gave us free beer. She knew the way to my heart that’s for sure.
VISIT THE VUČIJAKOVIĆ MOSQUEAfter lunch I walked south to Vučijaković Mosque dating back to 1564. Although I ended up arriving during closed hours, you can enter the mosque for a small fee and climb the very narrow minaret for a hell of a view. Before the war, a little park was erected next to the mosque. Due to lack of space for the rising body count and the other cemeteries in the area compromised due to their close proximity to sniper fire, the park was turned into a burial ground during the war. This wasn’t the first cemetery I visited in Europe. But it by far had the most resounding effect. The other burial grounds I had come across during my trip were peppered with historical tombstones spanning centuries and others who had lived long, memorable lives. The tombstones in Mostar were almost all exclusively dated to 1993, 1994, and 1995. The average age of death was around 20-35 years old.
CHILL ALONG THE RIVER BANKIn a place like Mostar you can’t help but reflect on the effects war has on a community. Chilling along the river for awhile became a welcoming break. There’s a little river bank near Stari Most perfect for a swim in the summer or a place to dip your toes, although sections of the river were heavily polluted with trash while I was there. My favorite though was stumbling across the much smaller Lučki Bridge, south of Stari Most, that offered more secluded views of the city.
MOSTAR AFTER DARKAfter a long day of checking off things to do in Mostar, I headed back into Old Town to grab a brew at Black Dog Pub. Although it should have only taken us maybe 15 minutes to get there from Hostel Nina, our Google maps betrayed us and had us walking in circles for 40 minutes before finally hearing music coming down below.
Pro Tip: Ask for directions to the pub from a local. Here we a fine example of technology failing in the twisting turns of a city built when the moon was the only satellite.
DON’T FORGET ‘93As soon as you step foot in Mostar there’s no denying its role in the Yugoslavian conflict. In countries like Croatia catering to a recent boom of tourism, the scars of war have long been erased. Stitched up in closed books of yesterday. Unlike its northern counterpart, Mostar has made no attempts to completely hide it’s past from visitors. As one of the most intense battlegrounds of the war, the people of Bosnia refuse to let their tragedies sink into a forgotten history. Walking around Mostar with its collapsed buildings overgrown by nature, actual homes peppered by bullet holes, it becomes a sobering moment to see firsthand the physical manifestations of war. Yet at the same time, through the ardor of the people, the city has become a humble testament to the resiliency of human nature.
24 HOURS IN MOSTAR ITINERARY
- Morning: Set out early to explore the streets of Old Town before the tourist buses
- Afternoon: Walk across Stari Most and explore the War Photo Exhibition. Afterwards, head south through Old Town to visit the Vučijaković Mosque.
- Evening: Chill along the riverbanks of the Neretva. Wait until the sun begins to set to explore Old Town again after the tourist buses leave.
- Night: Hit up Black Dog Pub for a brew and on some nights, live music.