When Jeremy saw a picture of the Mostar Bridge in a Lonely Planet Southeastern Europe travel guide a few years ago, he knew it was a place he wanted to visit, thus our Croatian and Bosnian road trip in 2015!
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The Drive to Mostar
After a brief overnight in Split, Croatia, we decided to head down the coast and had a super scenic drive. The water was an amazing color of blue, crystal clear, with a ton of super cute villages on the way. In general, the Croatian part was nicer since it had both the coastline and cute villages. Eventually we cut away for the coast on an inland highway and headed for Bosnia, which has an older charm, most adequately shown through pictures of Mostar.
After checking in to our apartment, the first order of business was finding lunch. Delicious! I had some sort of sausage and bread dish, while Jeremy got the trout. In Bosnia the food was super tasty (albeit sometimes on the heavy side), and very reasonably priced.
The Stari Most Bridge
After lunch, we decided to walk across the bridge, the Stari Most. One of the local late teens was collecting money with the claim that once he collected enough (it seemed like he was angling for about 20-25 euros), he would jump off the bridge. The boys were intrigued and thought he might be tricking us. But, we handed over a couple of Euros, and sure enough, 10 minutes later, he jumped off the 79 foot bridge. Crazy!
Apparently it is a local tradition, and a “rite of passage” for the local boys. If they don’t do it at age 16, it is said that their life will be a complete failure. Given that the shame of not jumping will make it very difficult to get a local girlfriend, or even a job, there might be some truth in that. After he jumped, another guy took his place, asking for money.
If you are crazy enough to jump, be warned that they aren’t going to let you collect money. Instead, they will charge you for the privilege. If you don’t die, then you can join their club and jump as many times as you want for free. Why would you do this more than once?!? Hopefully our little daredevil doesn’t decide to join their club!
The 1400’s era architecture and 1500’s era bridge are amazing! Definitely the highlight of the town, but it is actually new construction since the bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak War. Fortunately the people didn’t allow this beautiful landmark to stay destroyed and rebuilt it, staying true to the original design.
One interesting thing in driving through both Croatia and Bosnia are the signs of recent war. Some things have been rebuilt, but it is very common to see bullet holes in many of the buildings. John was intrigued and spent a lot of time thinking about the reality of living in a place with real war, rather than just stories of war. There is nothing like a bullet hole that you can put your finger in to make it come alive.
A Wander Through Old Town
From here, we wandered through the old town, which was mostly a long cobblestoned street with beautiful, but repetitive souvenir shops. I could have spent much longer looked at the copper dinnerware that was painted or etched with beautiful designs. If I go back, it would definitely be worth considering bringing some of the painted variety home. I probably should have gotten at least one of the trays, tea sets, or salt cellars that I saw. The copper jewelry was also beautiful. The bracelets in particular called to me.
At the top, we decided to visit the mosque and the boys delighted in climbing the minaret to the top. The views, both at the top and in the garden, were quite amazing and the source of many of the previous pictures.
At this point, we went back to the hotel to rest. For dinner, we found an amazing rooftop restaurant with the best restaurant view of our trip. We had a corner table with a view of the bridge on an upstairs terrace at sunset with a mostly cute building that was blocking the full force of the sun.
Inspired by Jeremy’s lunch, I ordered the trout, which came with two, plus some super delicious greens and some very tasty potatoes. Jeremy reversed roles and got the sausage.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Breakfast and Departure
When looking for somewhere to get breakfast, we were sadly disappointed. All we could find was coffee! Finally, we found a place that was selling cake and ice cream, so we went with it. Jeremy, James, and I decided on some sort of delicious honey cake, while John decided that ice cream for breakfast was a delightful idea.
Drive to Montenegro
From here we started our drive to Montenegro, which turned out to be much more of an adventure than we intended. As we drove down the road, we saw plenty of shot-up buildings, graveyards and other wounds of a war not too long ago. Very different than our time in Italy.
Knowing we wouldn’t have access to Google Maps (we bought an inexpensive Irish SIM to get mobile data for the trip; it worked in EU countries like Italy and Greece, but not in Bosnia), we decided to download Open Street Maps in our GPS device, which, as it turns out, was not as good. Starting on the main highway, the roads kept getting smaller and smaller. When it turned to dirt, we considered turning back, but though it might just be a mile or so. But then it rapidly turned into really rough dirt with high sides that even a tractor might have difficulty with. As the road narrowed, we decided to get out of there before it got even worse.
When researching the trip, we had read articles about remaining landmines from the 1990’s war still affecting several handfuls of people a year – mostly hikers in remote places. They’ve been working to remove the mines, but simply haven’t found them all. Memories of those landmine articles weren’t particularly reassuring when on a narrow farm road, out in the middle of nowhere in Bosnia. It ended up being a bit of work to turn the car around, but we made it back to the main road.
At this point, we pulled out our paper backup maps, realized that the GPS program was trying to shave off about 5 miles from our drive by taking us on winding mountain back roads for about 50 miles. So, we got back onto the highway and continued our journey the old-fashioned way – without GPS technology.
Key takeaway: if you ever take a road trip in a foreign country that still has active landmines, always carry a backup paper map. On to Kotor, Montenegro!