Andreas and I took the train to Mostar yesterday. We’d stopped there once before on our way to the coast for spring break, but it was rainy that day and the city hadn’t quite come to life yet for the tourist season. We wanted to give it another go, and this time, we wanted to go by rail.
The south-bound train leaves Sarajevo every day at 7:05 am; the return trip departs Mostar at 6:45 pm. Alekka chose to stay home and work on her English assignment. You can only take so much family time when you’re 15.
The electric-powered train was already packed with daytrippers, so for us it was standing room only on the two and a half hour ride. Luckily we found an open spot by a window. We passed waterfalls and herds of goats; we crossed over high bridges looking down on idyllic villages. We followed rivers and went through long dark mountain tunnels. We also passed the ruined stone houses of whole towns obliterated during the 1990s conflict.
Mostar itself suffered greatly in the war. Structures that had stood for 500 years were blown apart or collapsed, including Stari Most, the medieval bridge across the Neretva River that is the symbol of Mostar and for which it was named (most means bridge, and mostar is a bridge-keeper). But, as in Sarajevo and other towns throughout the country, international aid and a strong desire to return to normal have made it possible to repair much of the visible damage.
The old town area has been completely rebuilt exactly as it was; Stari Most was reconstructed using medieval building techniques with stones from the original quarry. All this new-old construction gives the place a slightly Disneyland feel, but I’m willing to
go along with the collective fantasy and agree these are in some sense the original buildings. If you happen to have read 22 Britannia Road (and don’t mind a sort of random connection), I’d venture to say the motivating force behind the deception is similar. And it’s not really a deception – alongside the plaque on a building giving a construction date of 1830, you’ll see
another one thanking an aid organization or foreign country for the funds for its reconstruction after the war.
We spent the day walking around the town. We visited a couple of mosques built in the 1500s (and rebuilt in the last 15 years); we climbed the 96 steps to the top of the minaret at the Karadozbeg Mosque for a great view of the city. We wandered
through the little shops lining the cobbled streets of the old town, miraculously escaping with only one souvenir (a ballpoint pen fashioned out of a shell casing from the war). We walked through
areas still under reconstruction, where ruins of schools and hotels stand alongside buildings that are bright new versions of their former selves.
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at an outdoor restaurant by the water. We managed to mistranslate everything we ordered (our Bosnian could use a little work, and I forgot to bring the dictionary) but our mistakes led to pleasant surprises; the food in Bosnia is great.
In the late afternoon we relaxed with a glass of local wine on a balcony from which we could watch young men diving off the Stari Most into the Neretva.
The train was packed on the return trip but this time we got to the station early and so got to to rest our tired feet on the way home.
(My son Nik gets credit for the title to this post. It’s hard to believe they don’t sell Tshirts in Mostar with this slogan )