Cities / Towns Visited: 60
Countries Visited: 17
Steps Taken Today: 15,250
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,093,818
Our afternoon was going to involve a rather long and tiresome bus ride to reach our new temporary home, but we had one last morning to enjoy the seemingly inexhaustible beauty of Dubrovnik. Thus we packed our bags, stowed them with our AirBNB hosts, and headed one last time into town.
Wading through the never ending column of tourists we made our way through the old town until we were spat out on the other side. We were going to find one last Game of Thrones location which we had merely caught a glimpse of on our tour, but wanted to visit on its own merit, both for its fictional draw, but also because it commands a rather nice last look over this city we had grown to love. Gradac Park, was used as the backdrop for the Purple Wedding in the show, and although they are less than regal when not filled with sets and beautiful people, they still offer a still and serene area in which to appreciate the surroundings.
We allowed ourselves a long moment to bask in the glory of both the gardens and fountain, as well as the stunning view of Fort Lovrijenac and one last glimpse of that unforgettable sea of terracotta rooftops. Making our way back into town we stopped once more at the ice cream shop for our final scoop. I never thought I’d be so sad to leave a shop behind, and yet here I was sadly eating that last cone of what I have to say is the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had (seriously it’s as rich as a fudge brownie, but in refreshing frozen form).
Grabbing lunch for the bus trip from the nearby bakery, we fetched our bags, lugged them to the local bus stop, and made the journey to the depot to transfer onto our bus out of town. With luggage stowed under the bus, and us squished into our seats, we were on our way; next stop, Bosnia. Now for anyone who has never dared to endure the excitement of Eastern European bus services, may I inform you that they are somewhat less than enjoyable. What would normally be a two hour drive, suddenly becomes a four and a half hour route. You see, Dubrovnik is isolated from the rest of the country by being surrounded mostly by Bosnia (and a small part by Montenegro), but we needed to pick up passengers from Split, thus we had to go through passport control three times, once out of Dubrovnik into Bosnia, one back into the main part of Croatia, and a final time to get back into Bosnia. I know it’s all formalities, and I’m all for border control, but my word it was tiresome having to constantly hand over our passports having not moved from the seat we were crammed into.
Eventually though, we tumbled out of the bus and seemingly onto another planet. As the bus drove off we had our first glance of Mostar, and what can I say, my first thought was honestly ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?’. Now to be fair we would find out the next day that the bus stop is in a much less repaired area of the city, but as a first impression it is bleak to say the least. As we made our way towards our hostel, the scene before us was quite confronting; unfinished footpaths which you can’t walk on anyway as all of the cars are parked on them, leaving us to wheel our luggage on the rather patchy road while trying to navigate out of the way of traffic. On either side of said road run down or empty shops are dotted between gutted buildings overgrown with plants, taped off with signs warning that entering them is at your own risk of death. It was less like stepping into a new city and more like having stumbled into a war zone; only the war ended 25 years ago, and yet they still live with this much destruction.
With a heavy heart, we eventually made it to our hostel, and it became even more obvious how much the people of this country are struggling to make ends meet in this postwar land. It is less of a hostel then a large family house, which they obviously rent most of out to tourists to supplement the family income. Not be put off though, the hostess, of whom the hostel is named after, Nina, is an incredibly warm and welcoming soul in such a desolate landscape. A light in the dark if you will.
Being shown into our room we found that we had a full kitchen, as it was clear that usually this is a kitchen dining room area when it’s not parading as a two person private room. That worked out well for us though as we planned on cooking our dinners while we were here. Checking the cupboards to see what equipment we had to work with, it seemed that a few of them were filled with odds and ends of groceries, many of which were open, spilling onto the shelves or way past their best before. With a few ants popping their heads out on the bench, I took a moment to give the cupboards a good empty out and clean, as well as quickly defrosting the freezer which was solidly iced up. If only a little, I hope it takes some of the load off this family.
A quick walk to the shops saw us cross a bridge, and in doing so gain our first glimpse of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) just down the river from us, which gives the town its name. This beautiful stone arch has a story all of its own, but that’s for another day.
As we settled in for sleep, before we had to rise early for a tour, I thought about my first impressions of Mostar. As I’m sure you can gather, it was not what I was expecting, and if I’m honest, had I been alone I would have been edging closer to fear than just plain discomfort. I am very thankful that this scene is not a regular occurrence in my life, but in acknowledging that, I realised how difficult it must be for the people of this city to live with such obvious reminders of such a painful time in their history. And so it was that my initial discomfort changed to a deep sense of empathy and compassion. Much like in Turkey, and even Croatia to an extent, it is easy to get frustrated with the constant heckling from store owners trying to convince you to buy their wares or dine in their restaurants, but if you look below the surface it is not simply a cultural difference; they are usually in severe need of patronage just to survive. It’s begging but in a circumstance where they have something to offer in return. These people are struggling, so before you jump to anger, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes, and walk the rocky path they tread. The bombs may not be falling anymore, but they still live in a minefield.