"Prince Charles gave me 500 euros to give him a guided tour of the town" he said. "Oh did he?" I replied. "I am a local, I know everything" " I know the bazaar, I can take you there" " I find you parking and the best spot to view the bridge" He opened my door and climbed in to Gabby. He smelled of diesel, of petrol fumes and smelt like a garage mechanic covered in oil . He sat in my seat. "Get out of the way woman, I show you parking". We had already sussed out the parking but it was not easy to locate it on the narrow streets in Gabby. Negotiating the double parked cars and the pedestrians . Not to mention the language barrier. The P for parking was OK but the rest undecipherable. We could see the parking and the barrier and headed that way. We were directed to a corner right out of the way. We had landed in Mostar in Bosnia. He did not get out. He suggested we paid him to take us round the city. I wanted to be rude but the danger of that is you come back to a
damaged van or even a van not where you left it. It is a delicate balance of paying him something to get rid of him and hoping it would be enough. We explained we did not want a tour and offered him some money to go away which he did. Only for him to return after a few minutes asking for kunas or marks and not euros. I tried bargaining . "Give me money back and I give you kuna " He would not so we had to be very rude . He went away to tell his story of Prince Charles to other tourists. I wish the city officials would put a stop to illegal touting for trade. He really did sour our start to the day.
But let's rewind a bit . It is morning and we are feeling intrepid travellers . We pull out our passports . We will need them for border control. Out comes Glenns driving licence, his International Driving Licence , our V5 log book , our insurance and fully comprehensive Green Card for Bosnia. Should not need anything else. At Croatian border control we were asked if we were only carrying personal
items in Gabby and our passports were checked quickly. We were waved on into no mans land and arrived at Bosnian border control. Trying not to look sheepish I handed over the passports. He looked at us, at them and put them through his machine. He asked for the vehicle log book , the insurance and checked those. With a grumble he stamped our passports and waved us through.
Even if you have done nothing wrong and you have everything you should have you feel guilty and hope that your face hides the guilt you feel deep inside that you are doing something wrong. So what were our first thoughts about Bosnia? It looked a bit down at heel compared to its near neighbour Croatia. There were shrines alongside the road . Perhaps war shrines or vehicle accidents. Stalls selling oranges , lemons , tomatoes and cherries. Massive catholic churches cheek by jowl with mosques and minarets. It had the feeling of the Muslim part of Greece. The cemeteries seemed too large to support the local population in the small towns along our route. The motorway from the border to Mostar started off well. We got to the peage
and were asked for marks of which we had none. He would not take euros nor kunas but grunted MasterCard/Visa or American Express. Once through the motorway ended abruptly and we found ourselves on poorer roads . In one town the road was nothing more than a dust track. Welcome to Bosnia.
As we approached out of town Mostar we saw affluence in the form of office blocks and car salesrooms next to bombed out buildings. We were followed by three Ferraris - later we saw one booked for speeding by a policeman hiding behind a hedge. I don't know if he caught us . We shall have to await the fine if it arrives.
Having experienced all of this we found ourselves walking the streets of the place we had wanted to visit for years. Ever since the war and the bombing of Dubrovnik and the retaliation of the bombing of the bridge at Mostar. We walked down the main bazaar - a hive of activity with cafes and restuarants doing a roaring trade. Small one room shops selling tat or the copper and iron ware Mostar is famous for. One lone beggar sat on the street
with her baby in her arms. We sat in a café eating pancakes and that sticky sweet baklava which contrasts with the bitter espresso .
So far what were our feelings? Apart from the guy who tried to rip us off we felt a sense of adventure . A sense of seeing and being somewhere different. We came out at the bridge which opened up at the end of the street. There in front of us surrounded by Ottoman housing was THE BRIDGE. A steep cobbled path led to the top. We were lucky there were very few people on it and none of the divers for which it is famous. The bridge is built over the Neretva river. A river we would come across time and time on our travels across Croatia. It is hard to believe just how built up the city is from this point . Almost 106 thousand people live in the area and we had the place to ourselves. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers the Mostari who in medieval times guarded the Stari Most over the river. It was originally built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and is considered to
be an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans . It is impossible to see its beauty from on the bridge . You need to get away from it to gain a view and we found that viewpoint just below the bridge . Time for the iconic photograph and an obligatory selfie to prove we have been here. It is not everyday you get to see something so photographed and so famous.
Mostar probably wished it was not so famous. In 1992 Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia and the town was besieged by the Yugoslav Peoples Army . Clashes started and the Croats organized into the Croatian Defence League They were joined by Bosniaks and some shelling of the area began. By June the Croatian army launched an offensive which the object of relieving Mostar and breaking the siege of Dubrovnik . Many of Mostars buildings but not the bridge were destroyed at that time. Throughout 1992 tensions between the Croats and Bosniaks increased. and by the following year all out war had escalated . Mostar became a divided city. Much fighting broke out and the town divided along ethnic lines. Mostar came under increasing fire and a stalemate was called . Sadly by this time Dubrovnik had been largely destroyed and the bridge was damaged beyond repair.
After the conflict ended and the Dayton Agreement signed in 1995 the idea was mooted to rebuild the bridge as it was and to try to get tourism back into a broken city. It seemed a case of if we build it they will come. The bridge became a symbol and yes the tourists came back . Mostar is now a lively city with much to offer the tourist if they can be bothered to find their way there. All they have to do now is make it easier to cross the border and get rid of the local guides .
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