Upon crossing the border from Croatia into Bosnia, I realized that the GPS maps I’d loaded onto my cellphone didn’t go quite as far as I’d expected: in fact, with the exception of Romania, they provided little more than major roads and highways for any of the remaining countries I planned to visit (until flying to Scandinavia nearly a month later). If I wanted continued access to convenient turn-by-turn instructions – to bus stations, supermarkets, and most importantly, lodging – I’d need to come up with an alternative…and fast.
So after spending a warm evening chatting with the Croatian travelers I met on the balcony of my little Mostar villa, I committed the bulk of the following morning – technically my birthday, though I’ve never been one who cares much about specific dates and holidays – just lazing around the room Googling for as many third-party options as I could find.
If anyone’s interested, my final solution consisted of the following:
• Bosnia & Herzegovina: AdriaROUTE NT
• Serbia: SCG Route
• Ukraine: CarteBlanche
• Moldova: A free map I found here; not sure where it came from, but it appears to be the most complete map out there…
• Romania: Included in Garmin City Navigator Europe NT
I also spent a few hours on Skype with Dell’s international warranty support. Sometime in the last week my laptop battery mysteriously lost its ability to gain and retain a charge: no matter how long I leave it plugged in it never rises above 65%, and since it now discharges at more than 1% per minute (even while idling), it looks like those long bus and train rides are about to get quite a bit less productive… 😐
By the time I made it out of the room the day was more than half over – but I was alright with it. When you travel continuously for months on end, sometimes you just have to kick back and spend a lazy day away from all the sightseeing, running around, and of course, partying.
The last few hours of daylight I spent roaming through Mostar’s main downtown area, outside of the more-visited and touristy old town district.
My previous evening’s impressions only continued to strengthen.
Mostar is definitely a place that should be added to any Eastern European itinerary – even more worthwhile in my mind that Dubrovnik. Because despite Dubrovnik’s (well-deserved) reputation as one of the most beautiful destinations on the Adriatic, I found its appeal to wear off rather quickly – a brisk stroll through the Old City and an outing or two on the water, and Dubrovnik quickly felt devoid of things to see and do. But Mostar is different. Aside from its interesting old quarter, it offers a glimpse at a part of humanity that I’d never experienced up close and personal, anywhere, in all of my travels. A society scarred by war.
Walking along the old frontline, a main boulevard right through the center of town, was one of the most sobering experiences I can remember – because although I’ve visited countless war museums and memorials and monuments over the years, everything here is truly real.
Abandoned buildings with shattered windows and walls riddled with bullets, left standing as if the war had ended only yesterday. One of the first things I was warned upon my arrival was that I should never wander off the beaten path – there are still loads of unexploded landmines scattered throughout the fields and groves just outside of town.
Though I didn’t get a chance to meet her myself, some travelers I met at the hostel told me about a native of Mostar they’d spoken with a day or two earlier. She described vivid memories of her experiences during the war, when she was still just a child: Serbian troops descending the mountains from the East, Croatians descending from the West, the knowledge that thousands of Muslims were hiding in underground bunkers below, and the sound of hundreds of rockets soaring above. Explosive pressure waves ripped through the air as millions of bullets zipped by in every direction. Just imagine what that must feel like, to stand on your balcony and watch two armies closing in on your little hometown, nestled precariously in a valley between mortal enemies. You never know if your next trip to the supermarket would be your last. What would you do? What can you do?
Apparently that girl was the only one in her family to make it out of Mostar alive; everyone else perished. She didn’t return until after the war was over, her hometown left a pile of smoldering rubble.
War truly is Hell. And nearly two decades later, Mostar is a living testament to that fact. A fully functioning city – just regular day-to-day life for thousands of people – yet it’s all overshadowed by the crumbling wreckage from countless gruesome battles that ended nearly twenty years ago.