Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia – Dec 2017

Today was about the journey from Bosnia (Mostar) back to Croatia (Dubrovnik).

I could have completed the journey in a little over 2 hours but I decided to take my time. I checked out the various options on Google and then chose the most time consuming, circuitous route available; the logic being I would see more and perhaps see something different. To start with there were no problems and a very reasonable road took me into historic Stolac…

Looking up at Old Stolac from the road; looking down on “new” Stolac from Old Stolac and; the main gate into Old Stolac

… but then the Van and I went “off piste”.

The roads narrowed, became almost tracks in some parts, and we went over and around various hills with hairpin bends and silly drops to the side and, yes, there were times when I don’t know what I would have done had I met a vehicle coming from the opposite direction but, it was great. It was totally unlike the trip from Krk when the Bora was blowing.

The views were magnificent. I stopped countless times (usually in the middle of the road, there was so little traffic) and just marvelled at the beauty of the countryside. I saw more people than cars; the odd farmer  or forester ambling along the road going from who knows what to who knows where but, women mostly, so many women trying to sell long strings of garlic by the roadside. Who they could sell to I really don’t know. I felt so sorry for them I was tempted to stop and buy a string but, come on, it would take me forever to use them and in the meantime what would the Van smell like?!?

        The road out of Mostar and what amounts to congestion

One of the better “B” roads but just look at the view

The one sad aspect of the journey was the all too frequent reminders of the Croat-Bosniak conflict. Both in Stolac and in the most remote villages there was tangible evidence of the atrocities and; so many plaques by the roadside in remembrance of Christians and Moslems, civilians for the most part, lost and/or murdered in that war. I lived in Aberdeen at the time, consumed with my career and coming to terms with parenthood (and the accompanying financial difficulties) and/but as happy as I ever was. It is scary and sad that I had no real idea or interest regarding Bosnia.

Moving on…

All too soon I had crossed the border into Croatia and was driving the last leg along the Adriatic Coast.

One of the first sights of the Adriatic Sea after Bosnia; the Franjo Tudman Bridge by Dubrovnik

I resisted the urge to stop at every lay by to take photos of the remarkable sea views and in due course the Van was parked up and I was settled into my next hotel (I know that staying in another hotel so soon after Mostar goes against the ethos of what I’m supposed to be doing with this tour but, I got a really good deal – a four star hotel with swimming pool, spa, breakfast and taxes included for just thirty quid a night) … and just take a look at the sunset I enjoyed over my beers:-

More of Dubrovnik tomorrow.

Blagaj, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dec 2017

Weather forecasters got it spot on. It’s bright and sunny and will remain so for a few days.

Took a brief walk around Mostar Old Town immediately after breakfast. It looks nicer in the sunshine and I took a couple of photos but my priority today is to visit Blagaj (pronounced blag eye).

That’s the Stari Most under a lovely blue sky

Blagaj is a village-town some 18 km from Mostar which sits at the Vrelo Bune (i.e. the Spring of the Buna River although to call the Vrelo Bune a spring seems a serious understatement). The Vrelo Bune is one of the strongest karst springs in Europe and it jets enormously large quantities of extremely pure crystal clear cold water up and out through a cave at the foot of a 240 metre cliff wall to form an immediately deep and powerful river that later feeds the Neretna. It is very impressive.

The Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, thought so too as in the early 16th century he commissioned a small Dervish Monastery (the Blagaj Tekke) to be built there.  The monastery is tucked away under the cliff wall overlooking the cave mouth and it is perfectly preserved. I was going to say that the Blagaj Tekke is also impressive but it is more than that. I had it to myself today and it is an almost spiritual place – more to be felt than seen. Reading that back, I perhaps need to slow down on the wine!

The cliff with the Blagaj Tekke sheltered underneath it

The cave mouth giving rise to the Buna River and a close up of Bagaj Tekke

Closer still to the Bagaj Tekke. The number of photos I take through windows, I wonder whether I am developing voyeuristic tendencies. I suppose it is okay as all of mine are photos out of the windows and not in. I like the ceiling.

I took a taxi to Blagaj and although I felt at the time that the cost was not prohibitive (20 euros for a 18 km ride), I’m wondering if I was ripped off. A really good two course dinner last night with wine cost about 8 euros and the bus fare coming back from Blagaj to Mostar was just 1 euro. Bloody cab drivers – same all over the world.

Another reason for taking the bus is that I could sit outside in the sun waiting for it…

There’s the bus stop – that blue and white sign

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dec 2017

Despite the Croat-Bosniak war ending 22+ years ago, war damage is still very much in evidence across the city (several buildings ready to be torn down and many more riddled with small arms fire). Also, there is clearly still tension in the city between the two factions, not helped I suspect by the Croat General Slobodan Praljak committing suicide last Wednesday after his sentence for war crimes (committed mostly in and around Mostar) was upheld. A significant number of Croats want to honour Praljak which is upsetting the local Muslim population. Having said that I am finding the people here, Christian and Muslim alike, as friendly as any I have met during this tour. In less than 24 hours, so many have gone out of their way to help make my stay more enjoyable that this promises to be nothing other than a good visit.

The weather forecast was not good today but is excellent for the remainder of the week and I therefore decided this would be a chill day and I would limit my activities to a long walk around the city and to finding a good restaurant for this evening.

    Mostar sits on the Neretva River and it’s most famous landmark is a 16th century Ottoman bridge known as the Stari Most which spans the river in the Old Town. The bridge was totally destroyed during the war but rebuilt in 2004. In the summer months the locals dive from its high point of 79 feet.

    I spent a couple of hours wandering around looking for the best spot to photograph the bridge even ‘though the weather was not really conducive to good photographs. If nothing else the search allowed me to see all there is of the Old Town.

    Two views of the Stari Most from the south and …

    …two views of the Stari Most from the north. The latter two photos were taken from the minaret on the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque

    The Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque is the only mosque I have come across that allows visitors access both into the prayer area and to the top of it’s minaret. The attendant there (to my shame I have forgotten his name) was so very informative, telling me amongst other things that this 17th century mosque was also totally destroyed in the war but was reconstructed in 2001 with financial support from Turkey.

    First photo is of the KM-P from the Stari Most; the second is a closer view of the minaret I ascended and; the third is of the inside of the mosque showing both the Mihrab (the apse in the wall which as well as facing Mecca is designed to reflect the Imam’s voice back to the people praying behind him) and the Minber (like a pulpit and used to deliver sermons on congregational prayer days such as the two Eids)

    A close up of the Stari Most

    I’ve gone on a little too much about the Stari Most and the KM-P. I’ll try and take some night time photos when I go for dinner. In the meantime here’s a few other photos of the Old Town which you’ll notice is all cobbled streets:-

    I like the first photo. It is the kind of place that Hobbits(es) would stay at if they were to ever visit Mostar

    postscript: Would you believe it? The “Hobbits Place” is actually a restaurant, the Konoba Taurus, that was recommended to me as a place to go for dinner (and I did)…

    That’s the Konoba Taurus with the windows all lit up. There’s also a night picture of the Stari Most…

    … and, finally, the “Don’t Forget Stone” that stands on the Stari Most as a reminder to all and sundry about the war.

    Stobrec, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dec 2017

    I really like Split. Indeed, up until half way through breakfast this morning I was undecided as to whether to move on or stay another day. The other options were a 140 mile drive down to Dubrovnik (mostly motorway and could be done in a little over 2 hours) or, a ferry across to Ancona in the Marche Region of Italy (I have to get real and start looking for a house sometime) or, a hop across the border into Bosnia. Bosnia won. I’d like to see Sarajevo but if there’s too much snow in the mountains I’ll settle for Mostar and Blagaj, weather permitting.

    Before I left Croatia there was time for both a last stroll around the bay at Stobrec and an hour or two up at Klis (pronounced Cleese, as in John Cleese) which is only a 25 minute drive from Split.

    Last night’s view of Stobrec from the campsite bar. Upon leaving the bar I met a Mrs Yun from South Korea who with her husband are taking their 3 children on an extended caravan tour of Europe via Russia. They started last May with ferries from South Korea to Japan and then Russia but have since driven across Russia and all around Europe (with the Isle of Skye being their favourite). Good for them. Pil sung!

    The visit to Klis was all about a trip to the hillside fortress of Klis which holds a spectacular position high up in the rock face overlooking Split and much of the Dalmatian Coast. The fortress is steeped in history and dates back to at least the 7th Century, changing hands countless times in numerous wars but it is now probably best known as having been the setting for Mereen, one of the three great city states captured by Daenerys Targaryen (she who is “Queen of Mereen, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, etc”) in the TV series of “Game of Thrones”.

    I believe the views in the first two photos figured prominently in Game of Thrones.

    I seem to have developed a thing about taking photos through windows. Some of the views (drops) were amazing

    In the second photo, Split can be seen in the distance

    Crossing the border into Bosnia was a straight forward affair although once again the Croatian authorities (and those in Bosnia too) was very thorough in terms of checking passports. At the crossing I had to buy additional motor insurance (it seems British insurance companies rarely extend their cover to Bosnia) but it took no more than 5 minutes and cost just 20 euros. I had been told previously that it’s best not to enquire about the extent of the insurance cover; so I didn’t. At least I remain legal.

    Bosnian roads do not look that good (and feel even worse) and the motorway to Mostar that I joined at the border crossing petered out quite literally in less time than it took me to pay the toll money. It was hardly worth joining the motorway but this is a poor country that never received the investment that Croatia once did from the West. I’m looking forward to this part of the tour but I suspect it will be very different from all of the other places visited so far.

    More about Bosnia over the next couple of days. Right now I am checking into Mostar’s second finest hotel (the best hotel cannot accommodate the Van) with a view to spoiling myself again. Bath, pool, sauna, massage…