A strange little fairytale town where a charmingly restored old town and beautiful nature landscape meet the sad scars of a war not so far in the past. On one block, tourists swoon over a tiny stone bridge. A few blocks later, an abandoned, bombed out school hosts a warning sign: do not enter.
A few blocks more and another abandoned building is now home to a thousand plants. Creeping vines and strangely large trees. A testament to just how long the scars of war stick around.
There are plenty of guides out there to Mostar. They tell you to go see the old bridge (which you should) and to wander the old town (which you also should). They mention the nearby waterfalls and the proximity to much-larger Sarajevo.
What I couldn’t find online was information about day-to-day life. About how to get to the fresh market or where to find the good hairdresser or what cultural differences to expect when coming from Western Europe.
Which is why I’m writing this post today.
To tell you all the things I wish I’d known before I arrived.
The first: the middle of the day is tourist time. At least this time of year. Tourists bus in from Sarajevo or Dubrovnik (or wherever) in the morning and bus out again in the afternoon. Before 10 a.m., the streets of old town are much quieter. Before 7 a.m. you’ll probably have them to yourself. And after about 5 p.m., they quiet again.
The second: there are no street signs here. When getting directions or writing them down, write down landmarks, not street names. In a whole month here, I’ve seen only a single street sign. That’s not exaggeration. I looked for them and found only one.
The third: for groceries, head to the massive, amazing fresh market out by Mepas Mall. It’s hard to find, but worth the detour. In May, expect sweet black cherries that pop in your mouth, gorgeous Dalmatian oranges, and piles of green onions. For whatever you can’t find there, Konzum is a good place to try. There’s a big one right next to the fresh market and a smaller (though still very much sufficient) one just outside old town right next to Hotel Kapetanovina.
The fourth: the prayer calls are probably earlier (and louder) than you’re expecting if you’ve never been somewhere with them before. If you’re a light sleeper, finding an apartment farther from the mosques is your best bet for getting a good night’s rest. In May, the first call of the day has been somewhere around 5 a.m. The last call is around 10 p.m.
The fifth: movies are in English here with Bosnian subtitles. And they’re dirt cheap. If you need a rainy day activity, expect a ticket to cost about $3 at the cinema in the mall.
The sixth: when you cross the bridge, wear your sturdiest footwear. The bridge is incredibly slick.
The seventh: If you plan to pay by credit card, you need to tell the restaurant before they bring the check. There’s some sort of strange law here that restaurants can’t change payment type once they’ve entered it into the computer. If this does happen to you, keep in mind that the restaurants here usually accept Croatian kunas and Euros as well as Bosnian marks.
The eighth: Bring your own Benadryl. There is no equivalent here (or in nearby Croatia), so if you suffer from allergies or have a dog prone to breaking out in hives, you’ll probably want to have brought some from home.
The ninth: Spend more than one day. Most travelers pass through Mostar in a whirlwind rush. A single day is all they can spare for the little fairytale town. But slow down, there, friends. Mostar is worth an overnight at the very least.
Don’t just see it in the daytime surrounded by the tourist hordes. Stay the night. Stroll the old city in the early morning when the sky is faintly pink and the cobblestone streets are empty. Have dinner on the pretty iron-gated patio of Sadravan, then a drink on the hidden-away terrace overlooking the bridge at Urban Grill. Watch the sun set over the mountains. And wake yourself the next morning with a strong, smooth Turkish coffee.
You don’t need weeks upon weeks to see Mostar, but do give it at least an overnight. The morning and evening are Mostar at its best. It’d be a shame to miss them.
Have you stayed in Mostar? Any tips for those visiting or staying a bit longer?