Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Eastern Europe chapter Bosnia has to say about Mostar:
“Mostar’s world-famous 16th-century stone bridge is the centrepiece of its alluring, extensively restored Old Town where, at dusk, the lights of numerous mill-house restaurants twinkle across gushing streamlets.
Further from the centre a scattering of shattered building shells remain as a moving testament to the terrible 1990s conflict that divided the city. The surrounding sun-drenched Herzegovinian countryside produces excellent wines and offers a series of tempting day-trip attractions.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance still affect 2.3% of Bosnia and ??Herzegovina’s?? area. Stick to asphalt/concrete surfaces or well-worn paths and avoid exploring war-wrecked buildings.
Essential Food and Drink
• Burek – Bosnian burek are cylindrical or spiral lengths of filo pastry filled with minced meat. Sirnica are filled with cheese, krompiruša are filled with potato and zeljanica are filled with spinach. Collectively these pies are called pita.
• Ćevapi (Čevapčići) - Minced meat formed into cylindrical pellets and served with fresh bread with melting kajmak.
• Kajmak – Thick semi-soured cream
• Sarma – Steamed dolma-parcels of rice and minced meat wrapped in cabbage or other green leaves.”
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Anil, as usual, woke earlier in the morning than me. He noticed that there was a message from his older brother Arun, sent to inform us that the wife of their younger brother Ajay, had died suddenly at home. At first we could not take in this shocking news. Neeta had been having some health issues in the last few years, but none of us felt that any were life-threatening. She was the youngest of the ‘Gang of Eight’, the Kapoor siblings and their spouses.
The news came at a very awkward time as we were due to leave Sarajevo for Mostar that very morning and we were unsure as to how we should proceed. We had already booked a small hotel for two nights in Mostar and an AirBnB for six nights in Split, Croatia. We knew we wanted to change course and head to India, but how and when needed to be considered, worked out and then booked. Both Sarajevo and Split have airports, but not Mostar, so if we stuck with our plans to continue to Mostar, it would mean we’d have to travel on to Split in order to fly out to India.
Anil managed to speak to both of his brothers and Ajay was very adamant that we not change our plans. We had long-standing plans for many of the family members to gather in India in early February 2020 to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Arun and Neena, Anil’s older brother and his wife. It seemed that Ajay felt that it was enough that we were coming in February, and it was too much to ask for us to come sooner.
Despite the fact that no one expected us to drop everything and rush to Delhi, we felt that because we were so much closer that we would have been had we been at home in Canada, we wanted to be with Ajay and his children and grandchildren at such a difficult time. We knew we would not be able to reach them before the cremation was done, or even the rituals that are held on the fourth day following a death, but we could certainly there for the last rites that are performed on the twelfth day.
We had a little time before we needed to set off for the bus station, so I got on the Aeroplan website to see if I could find flights home, using points, from Delhi or Mumbai instead of the ones we had booked almost a year earlier, out of Istanbul. I didn’t have much hope of finding anything, but to our astonishment, there were two seats available all the way home from Mumbai and on the same day we had planned to leave from Istanbul. Someone was watching out for us, for sure. We took it as a sign that we were meant to head to India.
We left our Sarajevo AirBnB apartment with heavy hearts and travelled by long-distance bus to Mostar. We sank into the comfortable seats and had two full hours to contemplate how we would proceed with changing our plans. The first thing we did after checking into our Mostar hotel, was to get on the phone with Aeroplan to see about changing our flights home. I explained that we had just learned of a death in the immediate family and the woman on the line said she would search for possible flights for us. She was quite surprised that I had already found the flights that suited us best, and it wasn’t long before all the changes were made.
Now we had to do some research to figure out how we would get to Delhi, and make some decisions as to when to go. We would have to travel to Split, two hours away by road in order to reach an airport. From there we would have to fly to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and then on to Delhi. Of course there are no direct flights between Croatia and India, so we had several options. In the end, we made the decision not to try to rush to India and land up in the middle of the time between the two main religious ceremonies.
Ajay and other male family members left Delhi with Neeta’s ashes after the fourth day rites were performed, in order to spread her ashes in the holy Ganges River at Haridwar. Anil would not have reached India in time to accompany his brothers and Ajay and Neeta’s son, so it seemed to make sense for us to carry on with our plans to stay in Croatia at the AirBnB apartment in Split we had pre-booked, and then set off for India. It meant that the men would be back from Haridwar when we arrived, and also that we wouldn’t have to pay the exorbitant fees the airlines were charging for last minute tickets.
By late afternoon we had everything arranged online; we would travel to Split, spend six nights there, fly to Zagreb and spend a night in a hotel near the airport and then set off for India with flights to Dubai and then Delhi. We would arrive on Nov 4th in the morning just before 9:00am and have a week with family in Delhi. Leaving for home from Mumbai would give us a chance to see the most senior members of our extended family, and some of the youngest as well.
We were mentally exhausted, and of course, very, very sad, but it was good to have something to take us our of our hotel room and give us an excuse to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. Our hotel was located about a kilometer downstream, along the Neretva River, from the famous Mostar bridge. We discovered a more modern bridge just a few blocks from our hotel, and decided to cross it to get our first glimpse of the reconstructed ancient bridge.
The sun was low in the sky, it was a beautiful warm evening, and the setting and the fresh air helped to clear our minds. We continued across the river, up the right bank all the way to the old bridge and then crossed it for the first time. Coming late in the day had the added advantage of finding fewer people on the bridge. We headed to a traditional restaurant that the receptionist at our hotel recommended, and had a hearty, delicious meal.
We chose a platter that came loaded with a variety of grilled meats and vegetables, along with the ever-present French fries. We had hardly eaten all day, what with the shocking news, moving from one city to another, changing all our travel plans and missing lunch as well. We were happy to have lengthy walk back to the hotel, so we wouldn’t fall into bed with such full stomachs.
We chose a route that took us down a series of steps to the riverbank where I could take some photos of the bridge from the river’s edge. By then it was dark and the bridge was nicely lit from below. There were a few others enjoying the night air by the river, but they appeared to be reveling in happiness while we were there with heavy hearts.
Anil had been in touch with his brothers using WhatsApp when we first arrived in Mostar, but now it was too late to speak with them again because India is in a time zone about four hours ahead of Croatia. We fell into bed, completely exhausted, but knew that we could convey our plans to Ajay and Arun in the morning after breakfast.
We had one full day to explore Mostar before we needed to travel by road to Split. We learned that the bus can take up to four to five hours because of delays in crossing the border between Bosnia and Croatia, so we made arrangements to hire a car and driver who would get us there in comfort in about two hours.