A Game of Bridge

Sunday, April 29, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Day 35:  Sarajevo, Bosnia, to Mostar, Bosnia.  As we were driving out of Sarajevo this morning, our little Renault Clio flashed a warning to check its tire pressure.  Since the car had sat all yesterday in an underground garage, we considered that the issue might be related to the ambient temperature.  We've experienced similar temperature-related false alarms in the past, but we were about to leave the city where we rented the car and drive through several countries over two weeks.  This was no time for assumptions.  Back we drove to the Sarajevo airport, where we connected with our friendly Sixt Car Rental agent Eldin, who examined the car, reset the warning sign and assured us that all was fine.
As the crow flies, the distance between Sarajevo and Mostar, our destination for the day, was 47 miles.  But we had to drive through the Dinaric Alps, covered by thick forests.  The A-1 dual carriageway out of Sarajevo soon gave way to a well-maintained, two-lane winding, curving ribbon of road known as the E-73.  Punctuated with numerous tunnels, the highway offered up one scenic view after another.
Jablanica Lake
Once we passed the town of Konjic, the Neretva River, which had been our constant companion alongside the road, expanded to fill a wide valley, forming Jablanica Lake, a reservoir and popular vacation destination for Bosnians.

By the time we arrived in Mostar, our trip had taken more than 80 miles and three hours.  It was no surprise to see dozens of Sunday afternoon motorcyclists honing their riding skills on the challenging road.
Stari Most
The attraction that brings most visitors to Mostar is its picturesque Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva River.  Commissioned by none other than Suleiman the Magnificent when this area was part of the Ottoman Empire, the bridge was built to replace an older wooden suspension bridge connecting two parts of the town on opposite banks of the river.  Construction began in 1557 and was not completed until nine years later.  One of Bosnia's most recognizable landmarks, Stari Most quickly earned a reputation as an engineering marvel of its time.  A 17th century travel writer described it:  "The bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. ...I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge."
Stari Most
For as long as anyone can remember, young men of the area have felt the need to prove their courage by diving 64 feet off the bridge into the icy water of the Neretva River.  The bridge was jammed with tourists today, and a couple of local guys, decked out in their Speedos, were passing a hat to collect enough money to entice them to dive off.  We didn't wait to see whether they hit their target amount.

By the way, this is not the original bridge.  After standing for more than 400 years, that one was destroyed in 1993 by Croat shelling during the Bosnian War.  Finally in 2004, with funding from UNESCO and many other agencies and foreign governments and NGOs, the bridge was rebuilt using the original specifications and methods.  Much of the original building materials that fell into the river were recovered by divers and reused.
Old Town shops
Surrounding the bridge is an area called Old Town, filled with numerous small souvenir shops and cafes, many of which offer a view of the bridge.  This area, too, had to be rebuilt after the war.  With all the visitors who had come to see the bridge, they were doing a brisk business.
Partisans Cemetery
Only one other place in Mostar was on our list to see, so we planned just one night in the city.  Built in 1965, the Partisans' Cemetery and memorial holds the remains of 560 Yugoslav soldiers killed in World War II.  Arranged in tiers and decorated with abstract concrete sculptures, the cemetery features headstones shaped like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Sadly the cemetery fell into disrepair by the 1990s with graffiti covering most walls and trash littering  every corner.  After a restoration in 2005 cleaned up and repaired much of the damage, the will to maintain it was not sufficient to keep it from again becoming victim of neo-Nazi graffiti and other vandalism.  Behind a wall at the top of the cemetery we found a dozen empty paint thinner cans that had been cut in half, their contents presumably burned.

Though it is featured on a tourism brochure as a place for visitors to check out, even finding the place meant to honor military heroes was a challenge as there was no signage whatsoever.  We asked two different people before finally locating it.  Two security guards sat in chairs at the bottom, and we asked if repairs and clean up were planned.  "No," we were told.  Apparently they were there to prevent further damage.

Tomorrow we'll leave Bosnia and drive to Dubrovnik on the coast of Croatia.

SUNDAY, 29 APRIL, 2018
    •  Started in:  Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    •  Ended in:  Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    •  Miles driven: 106
    •  Miles walked:  5.36
    •  Weather:  60° to 88°, sunny and too hot
    •  Curves in the road:  208
    •  Motorcycles on the road:  153
    •  Tunnels along our route:  34
    •  Fish farms along the river:  23
    •  Bridge gawkers:  5,276
    •  Bridge divers:  3

Loved:  The friendliness of the Bosnian people.  As we searched for the cemetery, the people we asked, one of whom spoke English, the other only Croatian, clearly wanted to help us find what we sought.  A local elderly woman we met as we were leaving the cemetery was eager to engage us in conversation, even though she also spoke only Croatian.  Funny how we spoke one language, she another, and yet we all felt that we communicated.

Lacking:  Consistent care for the cemetery honoring those who gave their lives in defense of their country.

Learned:  Like Sarajevo, Mostar endured a siege during two phases of the 1990s internecine wars.  For three months in 1992, Bosniaks and Croats were under siege by Serbian forces.  Later when alliances changed, the Bosnian Croats and Bosniak Muslims began fighting each other, and the eastern Bosniak part of the city was besieged by the Croats for ten months in 1993 and 1994.  That's when the old bridge was destroyed, along with numerous mosques and most of Old Town.

More Photos from Today
Neretva River in the town of Jablanica
Our Renault Clio
Love the way these sycamores in Mostar have been given free rein to grow, even into the street.
Saw this lovely compound with manicured grounds when looking for the cemetery.
Translation of the sign is below. 
View of the Neretva River from the Old Bridge
Onlookers take photos of bridge and wait to see divers. 
View from our hotel room in Mostar
View from our hotel room in Sarajevo