So an early start to departing Lapad saw us heading along the narrow coast road to the airport. Last night was very much an early morning affair for the Croatians. They’d crept past the Russians in the Quarter Final of the World Cup on penalties. Celebrations continued well after we turned in. I’d like to think that as repayment for the music, cheering and flares that the coastal mosquitoes dined royally on the revellers. Lord knows Anna and I had been a very tasty starter.The airport chucked up a wondrous hire car – a new Opel Astra Estate with all the accessories you’d want. So after leaving the airport I pulled over and we programmed the Sat Nav and connected my mobile/cell to play my large music collection on the iPhone. The south of Bosnia Herzegovina is the Herzegovina part and is quite arid and mountainous. I was thrilled to get into some wide open spaces and was more thrilled to see some cycle tourers battling the terrain and heat as we trundled along the single lane road. Sunday traffic was light and apart from a few buses there were no large trucks delaying progress.Towns were few and far between as we drove the 80 miles to Mostar. Interestingly there were minarets as well as churches dotted around. At one petrol station we stopped for a coffee to discover that unsurprisingly they didn’t seem comfortable taking Croatian Kuna rather than their own Bosnian Marks. Anna, however, persisted and did obtain two expresso coffees for some Kuna, the change was in Bosnian Marks! The reality was that we had no idea whether we’d got a bargain or been ripped off.After some fabulous scenery we got to a very small busy city. Our hotel was in the old town yet as the Sat Nav guided us there there was a man walking in the middle of the road directing us into some car park he was controlling. As I didn’t slow down he lost the game of ‘chicken’ and we got to the centre and a nearer car park.The Hotel Kriva Cuprija was service itself. We were sat down with a cold drink and our bags put in the room. (Now remember our bags included a heavy suitcase with my camping gear in it!) At this point we were told that the hotel didn’t take credit or debit cards but only cash and not even Kuna. Joy. This was an introduction to a lesser economy and emerging nation.However we were soon out and about on the famous ‘Stari Most’ bridge and perambulating along the narrow streets with their endless tourists trinkets, restaurants and numerous sightseers. Mostar is the capital of the south of the country: the Herzegovina bit. (The Bosnia part has Sarajevo as its capital as well as the country itself). The ‘old town’ is the tourist trap and the rest is an attractive re-built city with six bridges across the River Neretva that splits it. The Ottoman Empire occupied the area for four centuries before the Austrian Hapsburg’s acquired it in 1878. (Hence the introduction of Islam in the Balkans). At this point the Austrians built a further five bridges – up until this point then the ‘Stari Most ‘bridge was the only way to cross the bridge after paying a toll. It has subsequent become a protected UNESCO World Heritage Centre site. Sadly this didn’t stop the Croatians bombing and destroying it in late 1993. Those pesky Croatians eh?The town has a large Muslim population and this seemed to attract international Muslim tourists. You obviously know this by the women wearing hajibs or burkas. In fact there is a large Saudi Arabian Consulate in the town. Our Walking Tour Guide the next day pointed out that Marriott were building a large hotel near the old town to cater for Arab tourism. It seems that the numerous lodging scattered around the town are not plush enough for Middle Eastern tourists.So we wandered about, took photos and returned to the hotel for dinner. The setting was blissful.
After dinner we had another walk and by this time the old town was a sea of lights and restaurants doing excellent business. Being in the old town meant that we had a loud concert playing badly amplified Balkan Electronica (not a genre I recommend) until midnight. This seemed strange to have it punctuated by the ‘call to prayer’ from the local mosques. After 12 am we were allowed to sleep by revellers and worshippers.Next day after sorting out the local currency cash demands of the hotel we met the Walking Tour at The Spanish Square. So named and funded by the Spanish in memory of the 23 Spanish UN soldiers who died in the war. In the party were Americans, Australians, Danes, Pakistanis and us Yorkshire folk.The recent history was that Bosnia declared independence like other former Yugoslav countries in 1992. The Serbs within Bosnia rejected this event as they felt more allied to the neighbouring country (Serbia) rather than the Bosniaks (Muslims) and Bosnian Croats. War developed and the Serbs were repelled. The Bosniaks and Croats then fell out and another war took place. All this left thousands dead and the city badly destroyed. I do marvel that despite all this that life and integration takes places today. I suspect there is still considerable tension but as they say the past is a ‘different country’.Many nations have subsequently contributed to the town’s rebuilding. There are still several bombed out buildings to this day. The guide advised that many nations contributed €11m to rebuild the old bridge but the British didn’t. He did wryly wonder why, therefore, Prince Charles re-opened it! The ambience of the city is a little looser than an organised European city and by being outside of the EU it doesn’t suffer all the rules. People rode motor scooters without helmets and H&S isn’t a concept worrying road construction workers yet. On the streets there were some child beggars being managed by, I presume, Romany adults. On our walking tour a very precocious child joined the group and worked her way unproductively around the group with her hand out. It really wasn’t a disincentive to visit the city but it is worth noting that it is an industry happening on the margins.Needless to say this small nation of less than 4 million people aspires to join the European Union with its various credit lines and cash. Not least for the young is the opportunity to move within the zone. I’m sure it is only a matter of time.
Reluctantly we steered the Opel south. I will come back and regretted that we had had too little time in the country. I was intrigued.