It’s been a while since I’ve found a place that I’ve truly been captivated by. The story of this little town in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina has fascinated me. Mostar is not all about it’s recent involvement in the war here (see the sniper tower in Mostar) and the locals would hate you to think it was.
The old town is pretty small, with cobbled streets and secret steps and pathways winding around the bazaar shops, countless restaurants, coffee/tea houses and bars. It has a very Ottoman feel about it. Coffee is a big thing here. And I like good coffee. So along with a hardcore coffee fiend I met in the hostel, we hopped around the best cafés in the area.
Café de Alma, which was founded in 1991, a year before the war, explained everything we needed to know about traditional Bosnian Coffee. It’s run by a young guy, Jaz, who always seems to be either wired or sleep deprived, but he is certainly a coffee lover and great company. To many Bosnians, coffee is not utilised as a tool like in modern western society. It is very much a slow and patient process.
Coffee is served from a traditional copper pot, much like in Turkey. With a piece of Turkish delight and sugar. The coffee is not too strong, but is served rather thick. After a long speech on the precise methods of the process and how to pour and drink it (including the art of getting the grains to sink effectively), we were informed in the end that it doesn’t really matter: everyone has their own way. Or as Yaz says, “Do Vat you Vant Viv it.” It’s a testament to the Bosnian’s acceptance of other cultures and of disregard for pretentious traditions. Life is too short to be following a bunch of mundane coffee rules.
But this little hint of openness by the Bosnians in general goes far further than just coffee. I was surprised by how genuinely nice the people are here. Don’t get me wrong, good people are everywhere, but the impression I was left with from Mostar is that they are exceptionally good people. Example: I tried to tip the guy because the coffee was only a Euro, but he refused. Instead, he placed a big bag of freshly ground coffee in my hand and said, “Here, take it. It’s a gift.” I couldn’t believe it. I mean, it’s pretty good coffee too. I sneakily left all the change I had on the counter when he went out to collect some empty cups. I actually felt pretty bad after. Almost ashamed of myself. Such kindness really made me feel like a horrible person, and that I should really try harder to be nice. It would not be the last time the people here would share things with me either, as I would find out over the next few days.
There are many great restaurants here too, and the food compared to the rest of Europe is pretty cheap. I got this dish of fresh fish for a fiver.
Now there is something I should tell you about Bosnia. If you are trying to quit smoking, vegan, vegetarian, or don’t drink, you should probably visit somewhere else.
Bosnia is great for meat-loving, chain-smoking alcoholics. The price of a pack of cigs here is about 2€, a half litre of beer from a bar is around 1.50€ and meat is pretty much the only thing sold ubiquitously, also ridiculously cheap. You can even pay for everything in three currencies in the centre of Mostar: with Bosnian Marks, Croatian Kunas or Euros. It can be troublesome trying to find some good veggie food out. You’ll be confined to the markets or supermarkets I’m afraid. One restaurant I went into didn’t have anything apart from meat, pastry and onions in various forms on the menu. The good thing is that a lot of the fruit and vegetable produce here, especially from the markets, is locally grown, and organic food is easy to find in markets and shops too.
Another interesting thing about Bosnia… In order to satisfy the three ethnic groups here, the warnings on cigarette packets are printed in three languages. Except, essentially, they are all the same language.
The first is Bosnian, the second Croatian (or is it the other way around?), and the third Serbian. But even the third is exactly the same as the first two, just spelt using a different (the Cyrillic) alphabet.
The Stari Most Bridge
The iconic “Stari Most” bridge of Mostar, from which the city takes it’s name, is a source of pride to the people. It was first built in 1566 by the Ottomans as Mostar lay on an important trade route. Sadly, even though it survived the first and second world wars, it did not survive the most recent one. They tried everything to save it, but one morning it crumbled into the sea after heavy shelling, separating the community. Check out this awesome video about the bridge in Mostar…
The new “old bridge” was constructed by hand as a replica of the old from international donations including Croatia and the Netherlands. I’ve never been a fan of replica stuff, but I think you’ll agree that such a beautiful bridge deserves to be remembered again as it once was.
The locals frequently jump of the bridge, and have done so for many years. However recently, apart from at the local annual competition in July, they don’t jump without first collecting some money from the tourists.
For my final days in Mostar, Red Bull held their second diving competition from the bridge. And they decided that 26m is not high enough. So they built another platform on top of the bridge. If you thought the Olympics was entertaining, here’s a video of someone taking the plunge…
Five people have died jumping from the bridge, and many more injured. I think the locals like to tell you five die every year though, to make it seem more exciting. I can assure that peering over the edge at the top produced precisely zero feelings of wanting to jump.
Maybe next time.