Balkans Day 9 – Mostar
19th September 2018
After a breakfast of cherry and sour cream croissants, we head down the 247 steps (who’s counting?) from our hotel to the car park and set forth for the Bosnian border and Mostar. I know three things about Mostar; (1) it has a famous Old Bridge (2) the front line in the civil war ran through Mostar and (3) the original Old Bridge was destroyed during the war, so the current Old Bridge isn’t old at all.
The border crossing is in the hills on the outskirts of Dubrovnik. Once through, we are in a remote mountainous area. If we’d realised quite how remote it was, we’d have filled up with petrol beforehand. We start to get a bit worried. Then suddenly, like a mirage, a pristine petrol station in the middle of nowhere. I go to the toilet. It is my first experience of a toilet seat cleaner. It’s a bit alarming; I thought I had pressed the flush so wasn’t expecting an arm to shoot out of the cistern and the toilet seat to rotate though 360 degrees.
Shortly after the petrol mirage, Google maps takes us 3.6 miles along what looks like a goat track. Not surprisingly, it is totally deserted. The old man is unimpressed and starts to mutter about land mines. Eventually, we re-join the road and continue our drive through an area which consists of mountains, trees, bombed out buildings and cemeteries. With 37 miles to go, we get a new warning light on the dashboard to add to the one that the Hertz rep in Montenegro told us to ignore. We decide to carry on. There isn’t much choice; in 50 miles the only signs of civilisation we have seen are a dead wolf and an old man throwing stones at a cow that is stuck in a hedge.
We reach our hotel; Villa Fortuna, which is both a surprise and a relief. After a short break, sitting on the hotel balcony with its view across town, to destress and Google warning lights (it turns out to be a tyre pressure drop), we take a wander round Mostar.
We cross the Old Bridge and find a restaurant; Urban Grill, which has a terrace overlooking the bridge, a perfect spot for lunch and a beer. Mostar is such a beautiful place, with the turquoise river running through the stone buildings of the ancient town. It’s sad to think that such a lovely, tranquil place was once, not so long ago, the front line in a brutal war.
We walk back along the river past a mosque, where nearly every gravestone dates from 1993.
Onwards to Spanski Trug, with its walls sprayed with bullet holes and its graffiti covered Sniper Tower.
We round the day off at the Franciscan Church, where you can climb 370 steps (helpfully numbered) to the top of the Bell Tower for a view over Mostar and the surrounding mountains.
Balkans Day 10 – Sarajevo
20th September 2018
Today is going to be smelly. We have run out of clean clothes and yesterday’s car troubles put paid to our laundry plans. So we will be driving to Sarajevo with the windows open.
Three things I know about Sarajevo; (1) Franz Ferdinand was assassinated here, the event which sparked World War I, (2) during the Bosnian War the city was under siege for several years and (3) it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
This morning entails another scenic mountain drive, much of it along the valley of the beautiful blue-green Neretva River. We stop in Jablanica, site of a WW2 battle, where Tito’s Partisan forces took out a railway bridge to thwart the advancing Germans. The bridge still lies upended in the river as a monument to those who fought.
On the outskirts of Sarajevo we stop at the Tunnel Museum. During the Siege of Sarajevo, when the city was cut off from the rest of Bosnia, a tunnel, was built under the airport to smuggle supplies in and the wounded out.
Now, The Tunnel of Hope is a tourist attraction and you can go into the tunnel to see how it operated. Rails were laid through the tunnel, and then trollies, wheelchairs, stretchers etc were adapted to fit the rails.
First stop in Sarajevo is the Laundro Lounge. It’s run by the lovely Juliet, who combines her passion for metalwork with a laundry service; so you can wash your clothes, browse her jewellery collection, or just have a chat and get some travel tips.
Once we have clean clothes we take a wander round Sarajevo. We walk through the aptly named Pigeon Square, along the riverside, stopping at the point where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. Here, somewhat bizarrely, you can find a plaque and an illustration of the monument which once marked the spot.
We return to our hotel; Lula, via the cathedral, with its rather unflattering sculpture of Pope Francis, who visited in 2015. Sarajevo isn’t what I expected of a capital city. It’s somewhat down at heel with a rather war torn look. I’m surprised how many of the buildings are still peppered with bullet holes almost a quarter of a century later.
We round the evening off with beer and kebabs and retire pending a full tourist onslaught on Sarajevo in the morning.
Balkans Day 11 – Sarajevo
21st September 2018
We get up and go for breakfast. Hotel Lula is a unique place. I can’t quite decide if the décor is shabby chic or just shabby. The stains on the carpet have almost sold me on shabby, when we descend into the basement dining area. Along one wall is the breakfast buffet. The other 3 walls consist of a fake cottage, a fake woodpile and a fake forest. Running right through the middle; a fake tree.
After breakfast, we set off to explore Sarajevo. We start at the Yellow Bastion which offers a great view of the city (i.e. involves a long uphill walk). On the way up, we pass a huge war grave, one of many you can spot from the top of the hill.
Next we visit the beautifully restored City Hall with its ornate interior and stained glass roof. The basement contains a museum with interesting displays covering the key events of the city’s history.
We continue along the river to the assassination spot of Franz Ferdinand. Here there is a (very small) museum which includes wax figures of the archduke and his wife who you can join for a bizarre photo op.
Final destination is the 1984 Olympic complex, scene of Torvill and Dean’s gold winning Bolero. It’s a bit forlorn nowadays.
We walk back along the river, past the Eternal Flame (a memorial to those who fought in WW2) and stop for a beer in a bar where a surly waiter seems quite angry that people are ruining his afternoon of drinking and smoking by wanting stuff.
We spend our last evening in Sarajevo is the Bascarsija; the cobbled pedestrian area in the heart of the old city. We have dinner; the local favourite; Cevapcici – mini kebabs in a flatbread with onions) and shop for souvenirs amongst the myriad of stalls.
After blowing our last few Marks on beer, it’s time to pack ready for tomorrow’s long drive to Split.