Chapter THREE: mostar, bosnia i hercegovina
I love the above picture, but Mostar is SO much more than the area around its famous bridge.
I’m writing this update from Mostar, and no matter where I live, on the East (Muslim/Bosniak) side, or the West (Croat) side, I feel at home here. Bosnian people are my favorite. All the cliches about how friendly and generous they are are true.
Mostar is a place you have to explore on your own terms. It’s not a “speed dating” kind of place. Give it some time, and its gifts will be revealed to you.
Don’t listen to anyone who sys you can “see” Mostar in a few days. There is so much depth and soul here that most will never know about. Be original and discover it by staying a while.
I’m still not sure how I would explain Mostar. I like being around hills and mountains, for one thing. (As I type this from a flat river town, which I also love!)
Yeah, it has more of an “exotic” flavor that is definitely appealing to me.
Ever since I was a child I appreciated music in a minor key, with a melancholic or slightly exotic or “spooky” feel.
If you hang out on the west side, you may feel as if you never left Croatia. with Oliver Dragojević playing in the background. I feel just as home on the west side.
As a tourist or nomad, being able to easily walk across a bridge and feel like you just entered another country, in a good way, can be quite an experience. If you are a nomad, this could even have personal symbolic meaning, as sometimes one might feel like they belong “everywhere and nowhere” at the same time.
This is the positive perspective. This “line” that you cross to step into another world, also has its downside. (see honesty, below)
Markets: The variety is good and merchants feel like old friends. The prices and the value.. can’t be beat.
Tech: If you own Apple products, you may be better off in Split or Sarajevo. Wifi service is ok. Same or better than Dalmatia.
Clothing: If you know where to look: B+. Just don’t gain too much weight, or you may be totally out of luck, which is a sad reality everywhere here. So far I’m ok, but I feel bad for anyone over a size 14.
Services like haircuts: Not sure.
It’s a small town, it is easy to walk anywhere. The buses may run a little late, but not that much. As with anywhere in this region, schedules are hard to read. Trains.. can run late but the train between Mostar and Sarajevo.. A MUST. Taxis: 1 km = 1km No bullshit.
What it is teaching me:
To really, really pay attention to what is happening beyond the obvious. What it means to belong “everywhere and nowhere.” How to drop excess baggage, both literally and figuratively. How to deal with days when you are dealing with ghosts, both those that inhabit a place long before you got there, and your own personal ghosts or even demons. I had a good cry once, right on the “front line” during a solo walk. It was interesting. Normally I am too busy, tired, or overwhelmed to cry, sleeping (in the literal sense) is my usual way of coping. This cry felt good.
As usual, most of my regrets seem to be about either not getting out enough (which I can resolve by visiting again) or failure to capture moments via photos or video. Once again, phone/camera issues during a live performance at a hostel gathering of some fantastic Bosnian sevdah. All I have is the guitar pic above. I need to find a solution for this.. once those moments are gone, they are gone.
Still, I’m also allowing myself to enjoy moments for the sake of it, not just for photos or videos.
NO Regrets: I dated a Croat guy when I was there the first time. I’m not going to go into it, but I have no regrets about that experience.
SO yeah, Mostar has always been.. kind of a PERSONAL place for me.
Mostar is still a divided city. You may not even feel this as a tourist, unless you pay attention and spend any time on the Boulevar, or front line. It’s still kind of a front line in some ways.
The wine is better on the Croat side. Just sayin. Don’t miss the West side just because all the tourist stuff is on the East side.
War ruins are a part of the daily scenery, but it doesn’t make the landscape depressing. First of all, I’m amazed at how much restoration I’ve seen since I was here last. Having some ruins in place seems to make sense.. it is a reminder of what has happened here.
Having said that.. there is wealth here.. and plenty of beauty. it’s not a slum or a war zone. People here have beautiful properties with fruit trees and terraces. Minus the HOA nightmares of the US. (but not without their own bureaucratic nightmares)
The weather can get extreme: Mostar’s weather can be gorgeous.. but living in Mostar long term is very much different from visiting as a tourist during the tourist season, when the weather may be ideal.
Very few places in Europe have “perfect” weather in winter. Mostar doesn’t experience extreme cold, but it can be VERY rainy, VERY hot, or VERY windy for a period of days which may keep you indoors.
This means that if you want to stay active and avoid cabin fever in the winter, it may be worth it to find an apartment that is VERY close to the things you will need every day, including a gym, a market, and an alternate place to work. which I think is possible.
When the weather is mild again. DO get out and about. Another thing about winter is that because Mostar is situated in a valley, it can get dark VERY early around the winter solstice. If you are prone to seasonal depression or lack of vitamin D, getting out when you can will be absolutely essential.
Beyond the Visual:
Sit down with some burek or čevap. Listen to some Sevdah. Have a glass of red wine at Aldi on the Croat side. Take a LONG walk through this town and listen to your favorite inspirational book.
Have a drink along the Neretva close to the bridge. That river has its own vibe and energy, and is in my opinion, the most beautiful river I’ve ever seen.
Mostar is the perfect place to experience some outdoor adventure: There is plenty of hiking and mountain biking. Note: Stay on the trails in certain areas where there is still landmine cleanup to be done. BiH has done a fantastic job with this, but it is an expensive and time-consuming process. It’s not a huge risk, but I’m from Colorado and always learned about all safety precautions: Lightning, avalanches, etc, so I’m suggesting the same here. If you stay on the trails and are mindful of obvious signs, you will be just fine.
Create your own story here. Don’t just visit the bridge and be done.
All of it.
Digital Nomad Friendliness Rating:
C with potential for an A. It’s easy to find a hostel, but finding housing for a DN is a little more tricky. As in from my own experience, it’s a crapshoot. I’ve been very lucky and have found places within an hour. I’ve looked at what I can only describe as “shitholes” that the owners were asking waay to much for, and a lovely house on the side of Hum Hill with 3 big rooms on the bottom floor for a bargain.
It helps to get help. People in BiH tend to be quite helpful.
Food is cheap. Enjoy!
Mostar feels “right” to me, personally. It may or may not feel the same for you. It’s very cheap to live in. Bosnians are some of the most kind, generous people I’ve ever met, on either side of the Neretva.
For some, including myself, it has a bit of a “melancholic” feel, which isn’t about anything in particular. I could be sensitive to the vibe of a place or its buildings. I tend to just go with it, because I love the diversity and seasonal changes in this entire region. I don’t want endless sunny days on the beach till the end of time.
Sometimes one needs dash of another kind of spice.
I’ll always make room for Mostar, which was one of the first places I’ve also felt at home and able to relax and begin living a “normal” life.
Tip: Autumn and spring are the best times to visit or stay a while.