Although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia. It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock. We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993. Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.
Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subject to an eighteen month siege. Amongst destroyed monuments were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s palace with a library of fifty thousand books, as well as the Karadžoz-bey mosque, Roznamed-ij-Ibrahim-efendija mosque and twelve other mosques and all of the bridges across the river.
During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated. The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access and they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side and heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble.
The Croatian army engaged in a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar. Finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge, justifying this vandalism by claiming that it was of strategic importance. I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.
Without Bosnian Marks we tried unsuccesfully to change money and to make a withdrawal from a cash machine and I became concerned that this would be a visit without food or drink but I needn’t have worried because it turned out that everywhere was happy to take the Euro or the Croatian Kuna so after a walk through the restored cobbled streets fringed with eastern style bazaar type shops we selected a restaurant overlooking the river and the bridge and called for a menu.
Normally I don’t like those display boards that have pictures of the food you might get (but probably not) if you order it and there were none here, but in actual fact this might have been quite useful in this instance because there were some interesting sounding dishes but no real information that was of any practical assistance in making a selection. We settled for a Herzegovina plate that turned out to be local meat and cheese, and a couple of bottles of local beer that was very good.
We had a perfect view of the bridge and the famous divers who kept coming to the top and standing and posing as if to make a dive but this was all a big tease and they never did. After lunch we finally walked to the bridge ourselves and crossed to the other side and from the top it was still possible to see the damaged buildings and shell holes that had brought down famous old buildings and roofs. I was pleased to discover that after the war the people responsible were tracked down and brought to trial for crimes against humanity and other war crimes including the destruction of the Stari Most Bridge.
Mostar was an amazing experience and one that I will not forget in a hurry and we walked some more around the little streets and then back to the commercial centre and to the car that because of the place where we had parked I was glad to see was still there and in one piece.
Leaving Bosnia at the border we insisted on stamps in the passport to remember our visit by but almost immediately wondered if this had been altogether sensible when the policeman on the Croatian side eyed it with suspicion and applied his own stamp to cancel it. On my travels I am learning all of the time and this was something I hadn’t expected, I thought everyone had issues with the Serbs, I had no idea that Christian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks don’t exactly see eye to eye either.
Because I knew where I was going and how long it was likely to take the return journey didn’t seem nearly so bad and there wasn’t anything like as much traffic now, which made it easier. The potholes were appalling and what is certain is that they will be a whole lot worse by the time this diversion is ended when the new bridge is open. Finally we arrived in Gradac and booked into the Hotel Marco Polo that was right on the beach and had a room with a balcony and a view of the perfectly blue Adriatic Sea.
After settling in we walked along the seafront looking for a bar with a view of the sunset but as the town is situated in a bay and faces south this proved illusive. We found a nice restaurant that was entertaining a noisy birthday party and we agreed that this looked good for later on.
When we returned the party had gone and it was much quieter but I think the staff were worn out and didn’t fancy doing any more cooking because most of the menu was unavailable and the waiter presented us with a choice of fish starter, fish soup and fish of the day. This turned out to be a real bonus because the octopus salad starter was delectable and the fish was succulent and delicious and was cheaper and far superior to the disappointing meal that we had had two days earlier in Skradin.
This had been a fascinating day and certainly one of my best travel experiences and we went to bed looking forward to going to the Croatian islands tomorrow.