We had mixed emotions as we packed to leave today….sorry to be leaving this beautiful bay but excited to continue on our adventure.
We picked up our rental car….making sure to ask if it had the proper paperwork for our sojourn to Bosnia-Herzegovina….and headed out of town, stopping to take one last picture of this charming city. It was a good day to leave…there were four cruise ships anchored off Dubrovnik and four more mega-ships in Port Gruz.
As we wound our way through Croatia, we were surprised at how very lush the countryside was…..we passed fertile farmlands and prolific gardens….but it made sense, this is where the Neretva River flows into the Adriatic Sea….this is as rich a delta as Sacramento’s.
At the border crossing, Craig rolled down the window and said, “Hello.” The border guard asked for our Green Card. Craig handed him our passports. “No,” he said…. “I need to see your Green Card.” As Craig was preparing to explain that Americans don’t have Green Cards, I reached into the paperwork that came with the car and pulled out the requisite insurance card….it was, indeed, green. Craig showed it to the guard….who smiled and waved us into a country we had some apprehension about visiting.
As we continued our journey, we began to see memorials along the road….stone markers with pictures of young men and women who died too young in a war that I’m still trying to understand.
As we neared Mostar, we reviewed the directions we had printed….it seemed pretty straightforward, we should easily find our hotel. We were wrong. I’m not sure where we went astray, but we wandered, we circled, we backtracked….we were hopelessly lost when providence smiled on us…..right in front of us was a TI! Craig quickly parked, walked over to an open-air stand and returned with a map and concise directions.
Our hotel was nearby but we never would have found it without help. We parked and walked down a path, over a little bridge, down another path, through a gate, down another path and around a corner. But it was charming….a restored limestone building next to a creek. Adi, the personable manager, welcomed us with a glass of juice and escorted us to our room….a small room with a sloping roof…up two flights of outdoor stairs. Adi warned us to be careful….that due to heritage laws, exteriors must remain as they were so the room had low contours to match the roof line. Despite this caution, within minutes, we had both hit our heads on the low-slung ceiling….but it was perfect nonetheless….close to the old city and the Stari Most bridge.
It was almost 3:00 p.m. and we hadn’t yet eaten. It looked like the hotel’s restaurant was closed, but we asked Adi if we could order lunch and he cheerfully obliged. We sat outdoors with a picturesque view of the creek, the Kriva Cuprija (a small bridge resembling the Stari Most bridge) and minaret spires (shortly after we sat down, we heard the melodic Muslim Call to Prayer sounding from the minarets).
We started with a plate of local lunchmeats and cheeses followed by Herzegovinian donuts and a bottle of local white wine produced by the monks at the nearby Franciscan monastery. Everything was delectable….the meats were mild, yet savory; the cheeses, smooth and creamy; the donuts were light and beignet-like; the wine was clean and crisp. The only downside was that we wouldn’t be hungry enough for dinner.
After lunch, we walked to Stari Most (“Old Bridge”). When it was originally completed in 1567 (24 years before the Rialto Bridge in Venice), it was the longest man-made arch in the world and one of the greatest architectural works of its time. It endured for centuries….. but couldn’t survive the war that pitted Mostar’s Bosnians, Serbs and Croats against each other. The bridge was destroyed in 1993.
When the war was finally over, the bridge was rebuilt using using the same methodology and materials as the original bridge….with hand-carved stones quarried from the same location. The new Stari Most was completed in 2004….a hopeful sign that this community could live and work in peace again.
As we walked across, the bridge looked and felt “old” but it was missing something. The soul and character that come with age were lacking…..intangibles that only time can add.
At the other end of the bridge was a long market street. Trinkets and other goods spilled out of open doorways under the shade of umbrellas and canopies…..walking through this narrow street, with it’s Middle East bazaar feel, I expected to meet Ali Baba or Indiana Jones at any minute.
We continued walking until we came to a courtyard that houses the Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque. Small shops lined one side of the courtyard, in the center of the courtyard was a fountain that worshippers use to wash before entering the mosque. For a small fee, we were allowed to enter the mosque.
At first, I was struck by how small and sparse it was….with only rugs covering the floor…..but, as I scanned the interior, it’s richness was soon apparent….with brilliant stained glass windows and vivid frescoes adorning the walls. One carpet, more elaborate than the others, cascaded to the floor from the wall….a small plaque explained why….this carpet was given to the mosque by Franz Joseph I when Bosnia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A wooden stairway led up to the balcony where the women, still segregated, worship. We felt like strangers in a strange land in this very foreign house of worship….no candles to light, no music to hear, no paintings to see….do these distractions diminish reverence….or do they enhance spirituality?
The day was hot and we were tired….touring could wait ’til tomorrow. We returned to our little room on the second floor and listened to the laughter of the happy diners below us.
“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” ~ Kahil Gibran