The train ride to Mostar from the capital city of Sarajevo lasted roughly 3.5 hours. Mostar is Herzegovina’s largest city. The 110km ride was scenic, and quite cheap at 5 Bosnian Marks (EUR2.5).
Herzegovina is a region that lies in the south of Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH). Historically, the country was known simply as ‘Bosnia’. Calling it Bosnia & Herzegovina is akin to saying ‘Germany and Bavaria’, in reference to Germany.
Coming to BiH, it’s hard to ignore the vestiges of the Bosnian war, which happened roughly 20-years ago. The country has yet to recover, its people yet to forget.
I had more or less 24 hours in this region: I decided to stop here rather than going directly to Dubrovnik in Croatia, my final destination. It proved to be a smart choice.
Feeling peckish, I decided to stop by this ‘pekara’ (bakery) to grab something to eat.
From the train station I walked to my hostel, 10 minutes away. I stayed at Hostel Majdas Mostar, one of the best backpacker places I’ve stayed at. The kindly proprietor, Majda, prepared a homemade breakfast for me: homemade bread, jam, eggs, ajvar (roasted eggplant and red bell pepper relish, popular in the Balkans), black tea and yogurt. It’s hard to recall the last time I had a homemade meal at a hostel, and a delicious one at that. It was a feast.
After breakfast, I joined Bata’s famous tour to see the best of Herzegovina. We started with a short tour of Mostar. Completely skipping Stari Most, which we could see by ourselves at another time, said Bata, we headed to ‘modern’ Mostar (as opposed to the Ottoman part of town), at the Bosniak side of the city. There, we saw plenty of buildings such as the one shown below– bullet-ridden, shelled out, many abandoned.
Later, we headed to the Croat side of town, which was obviously more affluent.
When the Croats sieged Mostar during the 1990s Bosnian war, they built this huge cross as a big f*** you to the Bosniak Muslims, according to our guide Bata.
The photo below shows one of the 50 segragated high schools in BiH. Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian-Croats (who are Catholic) attend the same school but are taught different curricula in different languages (Bosnian to the Bosniaks and Croatian to the Croats, although both languages are said to be 80% identical).
The country, it appears, is still divided, even two decades after the war has ended.
It was time for lunch. We were treated to a demonstration of Borek making. Borek is savory pastry made of phyllo dough and cheese/meat/spinach stuffing. (Note from my friend from BiH: “Hmmm, in Bosnia we actually call it burek and burek is only pie with meat. For the one pie (pita) with cheese we say “sirnica” and the one filled with spinach, “zeljanica”. Saying burek for all the three is rather customary in Serbia. And we always argue with them who is right, and completely objectively speaking, we are right *grin*.”)
Time to witness Herzegovina’s natural beauty. We left Mostar and headed 40km down south, close to the Croatian border… to see the nearly deserted but oh-so-beautiful Kravice Falls!
How refreshing to see a place such as this devoid of mass tourism. We headed down to witness up close the stunning Turquoise waters. The waters of Herzegovina are all in this shade of blue-green (like the waters in the famous Plitvice lakes in Croatia), thanks to the limestone floorings.
Had a glass of cold, delicious Croatian beer and just drank in the scenery. Life is good!
Afterwards, we drove an hour or so to Pocitelj, a medieval town set on a hill that was built during the Ottoman era. The view from above was *absolutely* breathtaking.
Our guide Bata told us about Pocitelj’s history. My group–all young backpackers from around the globe—was an interesting bunch. Most of them on their third, fourth, or fifth trip to Europe. It makes sense, as BiH isn’t exactly included in most first timers’ itinerary.
Time to trek down the fortess, but not before having one last glimpse of the river Neretva and its surroundings.
Bata took us to the home of a local grandma, who fed us some tasty treats: fresh cherries from her backyard, figs, homemade cake, rose juice, etc. We all left with our bellies full.
We made our way back to Bata’s minivan, where listened to Turbofolk (Balkan-style music) blasting on the stereo, all of us dancing at the back of the van, the van sometimes jumping with us (it was a lot of fun–thanks Bata!), and headed north to Blagaj, a serene, gem of a place, with limestone cliffs, gushing water, a dervish house, the works. It was so much more beautiful in person. Neolithic remains were said to have been found inside the caves.
It was nighttime. We went inside the dervish house. The dervish complex included tombs, rooms for prayers, a guest room, a kitchen and a hamam or Turkish-style bath.
The evening ended with drinks. I tried their local beer, Sarajevsko, but I prefered the beer I had earlier that day at Kravice Falls.
The next day, I set out to explore more of Mostar. Streets were practically empty. I liked that it was not very touristy.
Most of the tourists were in Old Town, referring to the old city build during the Ottoman era in the 15th century. We made our way to the jewel of Mostar: Stari Most (literally: Old Bridge).
This bridge was destroyed by the Croats during the Bosnian War. The locals rebuilt it using materials used to make the original one. Amazing.
I didn’t tell you about one of my favorite parts about Mostar: interacting with the people. They are a resilient bunch, but very warm and kind. And honest. Many spoke English very well. I felt comfortable during my stay.
Such a beautiful place, Herzegovina. I wish I could stay more than 24 hours next time…
…and that there would be a next time.