Bridge Diving in Herzegovina
Herzegovina, such a fun word to say!
And such fun region to explore! This region, the southern most of Bosnia & Herzegovina (aka “BiH“), is named after a Duke who once ruled this region. When Yugoslavia dissolved and new nations and nation-states were formed BiH managed to hold on to a mere 12 miles of coastline along the Adriatic Sea, which is where we entered the country.
The sour weather followed us from Montenegro into BiH and almost managed to sour our mood, but then we arrived in Mostar, a perfectly pleasant city in the middle of the region, and all was once again well in our world. The name “Mostar” comes from an old word, mostari, who were the bridge keepers who guarded the old bridge in medieval times. Which brings us to the bridge…
I did no bridge diving, just to be clear. But the sport, if you can call it that, has been around in Mostar for centuries and the Mostar Diving Club provides a steady stream of brave young men who take their turn diving off the old bridge into the turquoise waters of the river, 21 meters below. This is a town that has been through a lot and residents are proud to point out that the bridge diving tradition has continued throughout the years, even during numerous times of war. The exception being between the years 1993-2004 when there was no bridge, it having been bombed during the Bosnian War. The original Ottoman bridge was built in 1566 and while what stands today is the rebuilt version, it is still lovingly called the Stari Most, Old Bridge.
Charming by Day, Enchanting by Night
The old part of the town is tiny. You could walk it in about 30 minutes, at a leisurely pace. But as anyone from Muddy Waters knows, tiny can mean mighty! 🙂 In this case, the Stari Grad area is perfectly delightful, with several lounge-style bars and restaurants along both the river and connecting stream. Ice cream stands, several small places with outdoor seating to enjoy Bosnian cuisine, and shops full of trinkets and postcards line the old stone walkways. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more charming, it does. Night begins to fall, 95% of the visitors clear out and you find yourself dropped smack into the middle of a quiet, dreamy, fairy tale!
An Intro to Bosnian Flavors
After having been underwhelmed by overpriced tourist food in Montenegro we were thrilled to find that we had entered the land of the beloved čevapčiči, another fun word to say. Made of spiced and minced veal and regular beef, the traditional presentation is in rolled links, like sausage. But also like sausage, can be found in the shape of a patty or as meatballs. However they diced or rolled it, it was delicious and was the staple for our week in BiH! Another favorite was the bosnian kafa, or coffee! Quite similar to the Turkish kind but I think what made it extra fun was the presentation.
As Always, Hiding from the Crowds
The best part of traveling a notch slower than the average Joe, is being able to experience a place during off hours and having the time to observe and be a part of a place a little longer than perhaps is necessary, for lack of a better word. In the case of Mostar, most people come on a day trip tour, from either Sarajevo or the Croatian coastal cities. As I said, you can walk the old town in a half hour so it is perfectly reasonable to only come for a few hours and carry on. But what we loved the most was having the early morning and late afternoon/night basically all to ourselves, and the chance to walk around a bit of the rest of the city as well. We stayed 2 nights, giving us a chance to retreat to our hostel during the hours the day trippers were around and hide from the crowds.
With the Good comes the Bad & the Ugly
While Mostar’s tiny old town is nearly perfect, the rest of the city offers a very stark reminder of the recent war(s) of the 1990’s that devastated this town in the heart of Herzegovina. While Sarajevo gained negative notoriety for being the city held under siege for four years, Mostar was the most heavily bombed city during the war. This becomes obvious after you leave the old town and have a walk about. A lack of funding has left many buildings in their post-war state. The most impactful image is a cemetery in the middle of town that was once a park but because of the high numbers of war casualties had to be repurposed in 1993. A walk through the grounds and what quickly stands out is that the year of death for everyone was 1993. Nearly an entire generation of young men wiped out within a few months, one of the heavy prices Herzegovina paid during the dissolution of Yugoslavia and circular conflict between Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.
Sheesh, that got a little long! A testament to how much I loved Mostar, the little town that remains forever etched in my travel log!