Picture It = long form Instawalks when there are more than just Instagram shots
i had originally planned to rent a car and head up to the abandoned ski jumps around Sarajevo but when i showed up at the car rental place with everyone looking puzzled, i knew that wasn’t going to work out. (protip: if you make a reservation with Kapitals and they don’t send you a confirmation — NOT the automated one from the website — you do NOT have a reservation.)
so i walked down to the bus station and went to Mostar for the day! easy enough to do. the Sarajevo bus station (and neighboring rail station) are on the west side of the city center, about 2 miles from the Old Town, but since i was already halfway there trying to get my car, i just walked instead of taking the tram or a cab. (i did end up walking all the way back, too, quite pleasant, especially since you pass my favorite bridge.)
the bus ride to mostar
if you walk down Sarajevo’s main boulevard to the station, which i learned was nicknamed Sniper Alley during the Siege due to the clear line of sight to Serbian sniper positions in the hills, you will pass the bright yellow Holiday Inn on the right and the Parliament building across the street on the left. the former was the iconic home of journalists during the war (that linked BBC article is well worth reading), the latter made front page newspapers around the world after it was shelled.
buy a ticket in the room to the left once you enter the bus station — 17 KM (about $11.60 US) each way, only one-way tickets sold at these windows. i decided on a bus even though i heard the train ride is more scenic because the train only goes twice a day, once around 7 AM and once around 7 at night. buses run about hourly.
the bus will pull in to the platform; just get on — you don’t need to show your ticket (=receipt) to the driver; he/she or someone else will come around to collect the bottom stub. if you’re lucky your bus will have strong air conditioning. if you’re not lucky, well, be prepared to be uncomfortable. it took about 2.5 hours on the way out and 3 hours coming back (we made a stop by some convenience stores about halfway through).
i’m not sure if someone had a hotspot with them on the way to Mostar or if the bus was equipped with one, but it worked well, although we only had service while passing through the larger towns.
the trip was incredibly scenic, though, rounding mountain curves into valleys, passing by rivers and lakes — a wonderful glimpse into rural life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. the lakes in particular were amazing — the forests reached all the way down to the water line — nature, pristine and completely uninterrupted.
mostar: the old bridge and more
of course everyone who goes to Mostar primarily goes to see the Old Bridge (Stari Most) and i was no exception. the easiest way to get there from the bus station is to make a left (facing the street) and just walk all the way down to the Old City, about a 20-minute walk. the old city is really reminiscent of a medina and can easily get clogged with tourists.
the bridge itself is unfortunately not the original one which was destroyed during the Bosnian War, but the reconstruction did it justice, if i don’t say so myself. just be careful walking on it because the arch is quite steep.
while there are many mosques still left in the city, and the bridge and its design date back to Ottoman times, the ethnic cleansing of the war has taken its toll. what once was a majority-Bosniak (traditionally Muslim) city is now majority Croat (traditionally Catholic).
some additional photos from Mostar:
the aftermath of the war — abandoned buildings
as many of you may know, i have a special fondness for abandoned sites, but the abandoned buildings in Mostar are different. they were destroyed in a war, which changes things completely. instead of being places filled with awe and intrigue, they are filled with sadness and shame. from a distance, they may look like any other abandoned building, but as you approach you notice bullet holes in the facade.
so many bullet holes.
the majority of these can be found along the main boulevard (called, umm, Bulevar) which was a front line of the fighting.
Me, taking picture of destroyed building. Passer-by: "before war, this was very nice hotel" :(( pic.twitter.com/PbCxGg6UfB
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) August 11, 2014
the old Hotel Neretva lies at the bank of the river, now a literal shell of its former self (that page has lots of before and after photos — amazing).
this was the Razvitak department store — you can see a picture of when it was still in use here.
another literally war-torn building:
the staklena banka building
the one place that caught my eye, though, not only because of its architecture, was this old bank (i think?). unfortunately for me, they cemented up the entrances so i had to shoot over the walls, but the reclamation of the ground floor’s exterior and interior as a street art gallery (there was a street art festival at one point, when many of these were painted) is something i wholeheartedly approve of.
i went to Mostar for the bridge. after seeing the bridge and then all these war ruins, i came back with sadness. a twitter friend rhetorically asked me about humans and war and destruction and as much as i consider myself a humanist and want to believe in the good of man, seeing these ruins and given current events (and by “current events” i mean how it seems like war is omnipresent, time after time), i’m just not sure. the one thing that gives me hope, though, is the resiliency of the locals — twenty years after a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor and left a country divided and scarred, life goes on and from what i’ve seen in the past couple days, they’re handling it much better than i think i could.