Monday, 8th July
- Mostar (104 miles
Overnight in Astra Hotel
Farewell to the crystal clear sapphire blue Adriatic Sea, Croatia (through to the semi-finals of World Cup playing England…good luck Croatia) and Split (and Europe meaning no roaming data until Greece) as we head in land to our first stop of the day, Mostar.
Clouds are in the sky and forecast is for cooler temperatures and showers.
What do I know about Mostar? It has a bridge that was damaged in the relatively recent Balkan Wars. The city was under siege during the conflict.
Am trying to finish reading The ‘Cellist of Sarajevo before reaching there tonight but assume that most of the daily struggles in the book could be applied to any city in Bosnia that was under attack. Although fiction the book is based on the cellist Vedran Smajlovic who played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the tragic death of 22 people killed while queuing for bread. The story of this man’s courage and the daily lives for those living in the city is told through the voices of three characters: Arrow, a reluctant sniper, Dragan who works in the bakery and Kenan’s water collecting.
What a special place Mostar is. Once a place where Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews lived peacefully this ideal was, quite literally, blown away in 1993 when the town was attacked by Croatian forces. The bridge that had been the heart of the town linking the markets over the gorge and river was an immediate target followed by much of the Ottoman buildings.
Today it has been rebuilt using newly cut stone from the old quarries used for the first bridge. Where there were once 99 steps over the white shiny pavement of the bridge there are now only 93: a reminder the the year when Mostar was bombed. The once gate keepers will now jump from the bridge into the cold, deep, fast moving river for money, just as they had in days gone by for the sum of a gold coin from visiting pashas. Gone are the days when a young suitor would show his manliness by jumping to impress his loves family. To dive is a dangerous feat requiring two years training a a cold shower to prepare for the shock of the water below.
The markets are vibrant today with the sounds of copper being hammered into jewelry and the smells of the traditional cafes and restaurants. The call to prayer is a reminder of the areas strong ties to Islam and the feel of the market and the restaurants to Turkey.
Sarajevo in the rain! For the first time on our trip we are greeted by clouds and drizzle. Our hotel is in heart of the old town and an evening walked revealed bustling narrow streets with cafes and shops full of carpets, souvenirs and who knows what else. The old town has a very different feel to the old town of Split. Here you could be mistaken for thinking you were in Turkey, Jordan or even Egypt with women in hijab and Arab looking faces in the shops and in the street. The sound and smell of the hookah adds to the confusion of the senses and culture.
Tomorrow we explore the old town’s ancient and modern past with our guide. I have almost finished the Cellist of Sarajevo and seeing the acned faces of many of the old and new towns buildings facades and the closeness of the hills around brings the books new feeling of awareness. On our evening walk we passed the mark for the bakery.