Wondering what Tom got up to after he spend some time in Albania? Well… he headed on up through Montenegro to Croatia and into Bosnia. After spending some time soaking in the beautiful harbour and old town of Split, Tom took a trip to Mostar. Here’s what happened…
It took a full day of travelling to reach Split, Croatia where – fittingly – Josh and I were set to part ways. He had a new job to get back to, and the price of late summer airfares were leading him to regret not booking a return flight. I was due to take a trip to Mostar and explore parts of Bosnia. I hadn’t planned to spend much time on the Dalmatian Coast – funds were limited and it would push me back into the world of 30 Euro-a-night accommodation – but Euroventure apparently wanted some research done there.
Well, I’m glad I did. It’s glorious: both Split itself, and the hundreds of kilometres you pass on the approach by bus. We didn’t even stop in Dubrovnik – a kind of wonderland for connoisseurs of old towns – or any of the dozens of enticing islands you can see from the coastal road. Split entrances you almost from the moment you arrive. The seafront was developed into a huge medieval fortress, based around the Roman Diocletian’s Palace. Walking around the city centre feels like being in an open-air museum, except one where you get to spend all day tanning yourself and eating nice food, instead of pretending to take an interest in old stuff.
Being there does give the impression of being fired straight back into Western Europe, although I guess this is more a reflection of mass tourism than the cultural identity of Croatia. Almost everyone in Split at this time of year is a visitor, but you feel it’s just about enough of a proper city to manage them all. Also, they seem at the gentle end of the tourist spectrum. Based on extensive research – two days of sitting in cafes, working on my laptop and talking to almost nobody – I’d say this is the kind of place where couples who like culture, and hen parties who are trying not to embarrass their nation, go on holiday.
No doubt there is a rowdier side to Split. My dorm in Adriatic Hostel had the following unique notice printed on the door: ‘Feel like vomiting? Please use the toilets. If you vomit on your bed, we will charge you for the damage. Thanks :)”
Erm, pardon? No one intends to vomit on their bed. And, by the way, just adding a smiling emoji and a picture of Stevie from Family Guy doesn’t make the notice fun and friendly…
It was a hostel that offered little to write home about in general, but don’t worry because Euroventure won’t send you there anyway. That said, I cannot speak for the vomit policies of the hostels Euroventure does send backpackers to. Perhaps its best to avoid any vomit related scenarios in general…
In hostels, you get the occasional person who is not there out of love for travelling, but of bleak necessity. The best example I can remember of this came in a rather dead hostel in Canberra, where I shared a dorm with an Australian. A man of few words, he had the air of being a permanent fixture there. He rarely left the room, and spent most of the time lying on his bed glaring at the ceiling. When pressed on whether he lived in the hostel, he finally grunted: ‘Nah, I’m just visiting for Christmas.’..
I was woken on my last morning in Split by one of these characters. ‘Ah so, I left Croatia thirty years ago, but – you know – I left my soul here. I just belong here. I’ve got a daughter and a granddaughter back home, but I don’t miss them at all.’ I recognised this voice as belonging to an Australian woman whose age meant that she qualified for another category of classic hostel resident – the 50+ solo traveller.
‘I inherited some land up north, but it’s all tied up – my cousins are refusing to release it onto the market. People can be so difficult, can’t they? That’s what I’ve really learned on this trip. People really change, don’t they? Family can be so very difficult. In the end, I just said sod it, I’d rather be in a hostel. And that’s why I’m here, rather than up there with them.’ I had the strong impression that she’d been waiting for days to find a willing recipient on whom to unload this metaphorical baggage.
It continued in this vein for much longer. Occasionally, she’d pause for long enough for the young Welsh couple on the receiving end to make sympathetic noises, and then on she’d march through her account of her relatives’ inadequacies. It was all a bit much for 8.30 in the morning, and I decided it was time to embark on my trip to Mostar.
Bosnia is a divided country – more so than the rest of the Balkans. 20 years after the end of the war a power-sharing agreement holds, but the three communities live in a state of continued segregation. Even in the cases where Bosniak, Croat and Serb children attend the same schools, they are separated into different classes, despite all speaking an extremely similar language. Although some business interaction takes place across communities, there remain inefficiencies – for example towns having separate postal services for each ethnic group.
It would be impossible for any traveller the overlook the war scars in Mostar, which saw some of the worst fighting of the 1990s. The front line ran right down the middle of the city, and many buildings are still riddled with bullet-marks. Hundreds of graves lie in prominently placed cemeteries. The old town, though, is a gem of astonishing medieval beauty. Cobbled alleyways line either side of the river, connected by the magnificent stone Old Bridge. Local men have been upholding tradition by diving into the water from its lofty hights since anyone can remember. Unfortunately one or two tourist legs (or worse) get broken every year in attempts to emulate them, so we wouldn’t advise following their footsteps…
Take a trip to Mostar and you’ll see it’s as picturesque as (if not more than) anywhere in Europe. However, it isn’t quite real: the historical parts, including even the bridge, were gutted by gunfire in the war and have since been slavishly rebuilt in their original form. In any case, Mostar is a superb place to spend two or three nights. The hostels are generally small and have a personal touch. My hostel was the kind of place where the staff are mostly backpackers who’ve got lost, working in exchange for free board and the chance to take travellers clubbing several nights a week. After meeting a lot of fairly reserved French and Germans throughout my trip, Mostar was packed with Australians, English and Irish – and a 20-strong crew of Brazilian exchange students who swarmed through for one night. By the time I had recovered from the chaos inflicted by these rowdiest of nationalities, it was almost the end of my travels… But I was glad to have found my trip to Mostar such a memorable one.
Fancy taking a trip to Mostar yourself? Why not make the most of the stunning surrounding regions with our Balkan Trail route. One of Europe’s best value locations with incredible scenery, the Balkans should definitely be added to your travel bucket list. Want to find out more about this region? Check out the rest of Tom’s Blogs for more.