Part 3 of the Balkan Journey landed us in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovnia. The apartment was near the Old Town with a phenomenal view of the Old Bridge right from the balcony. I highly recommend this little Apartment on AirBnB – our host, Dino, was fantastic to work with, and came with restaurant endorsement, to include personal contacts working at the establishments. The area was a stark contrast from the city “centar” that we had spent wandering for much of the morning. Old Town has your typical Eastern European city, buildings on top of one another with alleyways meandering between the structures. The Neretva River runs through it with multiple bridges connecting both sides. I was warned by a friend to wear appropriate footwear while climbing up and over the bridge… even dry that bridge is slippery as an eel, and the sidewalks and streets are paved with more of the slick stones. A darling bazaar snakes through Old Town, lined with unique shops and watering holes. Well, I take that back… as with most bazaars, you have the touristy ones selling all of the same things. Then you have the pricier ones with one-of-a-kind baubles and trinkets. We focused more on the latter.
The busy city centre is more westernized – there are taller buildings (still not skyscrapers, but taller than 3-4 stories). A multi-level shopping mall was packed with people. Roads were quite bustling, pedestrians intermixed with speedily moving vehicular devices. The centre was not what I would call memorable, it’s your common densely-populated city. However, even while roaming a lively municipality, many of the towns folk do not speak the greatest English, and I certainly don’t speak any of their three national languages. At times, it made bartering a challenge. Random side note related to the mall: Given that Hubs and I are not fluent in either Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, we found ourselves in a pickle when attempting to exit a parking garage. Since we were dealing with languages that are extremely dissimilar to the romance vernaculars, we could not even begin to read the instructions on the parking ticket. After driving in a couple of circles in the garage, we finally discovered the prepaid machine just inside the mall. We felt sheepish.
Many restaurants were closed early or just plain not open yet. However, at the direction of our stupendously helpful host, he steered us towards Taurus. Ever the friendly host, Dino immediately let me know when he discovered the dive was not open. Too bad since we’d already researched it, and a friend of his was the waitress. Second recommendation: Restoran Šadrvan, conveniently a short walk from our apartment. Which turned out to be clutch, since it was raining when we headed to dine there. The waiter did not speak the greatest of English, but suggested we get the shared National Plate that included a variety of different foods and dishes of traditional Bosnian fare. Once it was deposited on our table, we had no clue what we were actually shoveling in our mouths half the time, but it was a all delicious. I can only describe the grub as heavy, comfort food consisting of a lot of pork, rice, sausage, roasted vegetables and potatoes. Ten new pounds on my petite frame in one sitting!
Sixt Rental Car debacle number 8493… Since the idiot employees gave us a vehicle that was set to expire in less than a week, we had to exchange rentals in Mostar before we crossed the border into Montenegro. They knew we were crossing multiple borders, and still handed us the keys to the car that would likely leave us stranded at the border of a different unknown country. This many months later, I’m still angry about how incompetent those dimwitted fools were. Anyway, the employee wasted half of our day while we waited for him to arrive at our location. While the driver was a generally pleasant human, he spoke very little English and made us talk to Eldin, the worst of them all. Yes, I still remember his name after two months. Eldin was upset that the vehicle was on a half tank, as we had filled the tank shortly after we departed Kulen Vakuf at 0400. He demanded we fill up the gas tank. This was even after he was advised by a VERY angry Hubs that he had violated our rental car agreement, and therefore, the agreement was rendered null and void. He could take his half a tank and shove it up his ass. After several separate exchanges, and us hanging up on Eldin several times, he finally relented and told his driver to just take the car. Boy how I wish we could have just kept the first one. The driver was a chain smoker, evident during the 45 minutes of time he wasted with us arguing with his boss. He had made the hour-ish drive from Sarajevo while chain smoking in the new grey Opel the entire way. The car reeked of cigarettes. We found ourselves driving in -2 degree temperatures the remainder of the journey with the windows down and heat blasting.
I’m now off my soapbox, so please enjoy some photos of the Old Town Bazaar!
During our multiple country expedition, we encountered an abundance of law enforcement officers scouting out the passing cars from a vantage point on the side of the road. If we were one of a line of cars cruising by, we were generally ignored. However, once you transition into the rural towns and villages, there are only so many cars to keep you hidden in the mix. As a means of pulling us over, the daring officer stepped in front of our rental with a small, circular sign and directed us to the shoulder. Here goes nothing! I shall bundle our three stops into a summary:
At two of the checkpoints, officers became distracted by other vehicles they had stopped directly after us, and ultimately sent us along after recognizing we were traveling wayfarers. The third stop involved one asking where we were headed, and upon realizing the American tourists he was chatting with were NOT up to no good, they laughed and sent us packing. At most border crossings, no one looked inside the car. On a single crossing out of six, a guard that I assume was in charge of checking vehicles, instructed me to pop the boot, which could only be done from the trunk itself. I advised him of this, but he failed to understand. Annoyed, he gave up in a huff, leaving the trunk un-searched. Not my problem!
Moral of the Story: AMERICAN TOURIST is the perfect disguise if you want to smuggle illegal shit across borders in the Balkans!
With regards to the Apartment we stayed while traipsing around Mostar, it was a delightful little spot I found on AirBnB! We cooked, but it’s also insanely walkable for all of Old Town. The space and view were unbelievable…
Next stop on the tour… Montenegro! And Збогом…??? I don’t have the foggiest clue where to even start with that pronunciation of this Serbian goodbye.