What a surprise you were! Like most people, I assume, I’ve heard so many negative/scary comments about the country that it was never on my radar of places to visit. However, after traveling, the city called Mostar, was brought to our attention on more than one occasion. Most notably, because of one very important landmark, The Old Bridge.
History – Heartbreaking, yet inspiring.
Mostar is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.
Stari Most is a reconstruction of a 16th-century Ottoman bridge in the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina that crosses the river Neretva and connects two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by Croat forces during the Croat–Bosniak War. Subsequently, a project was set in motion to reconstruct it, and the rebuilt bridge opened on 23 July 2004. It has a hump-backed, and is 4 metres (13 ft 1 in) wide and 30 metres (98 ft 5 in) long, and dominates the river from a height of 24 m (78 ft 9 in).
A traditional annual diving competition is organized every year in mid summer (end of July). It has been done 477 times as of 2013. It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva. As the Neretva is very cold, this is a very risky feat and only the most skilled and best trained divers will attempt it. The practice dates back to the time the bridge was built, but the first recorded instance of someone diving off the bridge is from 1664.
This was the biggest draw for us to visit the ancient city. Naturally, Michael had to jump.
How to Jump.
I can’t stress this enough, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO JUMP IF YOU’VE NEVER CLIFF JUMPED BEFORE. This is not a joke. People have died doing this. However, if you are confident and want to jump, here’s how:
The dive shop is conveniently located on the bridge. You will see men walking around in speedos trying to get the crowd to donate money to the divers to jump off the 75ft bridge. Talk to them, let them know you’re interested and they’ll explain the process. Note: No liability releases are signed. You train with a professional diver for 25 EURO. There are two platforms set up further down the river where you will take practice jumps until they feel you are ready to move onto the bridge. The water is very cold and wet suits are provided so be sure to take advantage of those.
Michael had three practice jumps and then his pro diver, Johnny, gave him the OK to move to the bridge.
As you can imagine, I was incredibly nervous for him, but he was cool as a cucumber. After standing on top of the bridge and waiting for the crowd to fill in, he finally climbed up, took a couple breaths and stepped off the edge without any hesitation. A perfect jump from 75 feet in the air. What a relief!
Once he was out of the water, all of the pro divers were congratulating him and passing out high-fives. Johnny even said, “You are my friend forever.” Now Michael has a ‘lifetime membership’ and can jump the bridge whenever he wants (but my guess is that will be the first and last time he does). An instant local celebrity.
I had thoughts about jumping myself before we arrived in Mostar, as I’m the kind of person that will do anything (or get peer-pressured into it), because I don’t want to regret not doing it later. But this is one thing I won’t regret doing. The rewards didn’t outweigh the risk in my mind. However, I was very proud of Michael for being so brave and strong.
Blagaj Tekija Monastery.
If you want to get out of the city for an hour or so, be sure to check out the Blagaj Tekija Monastery. It’s a 20 minute cab ride from Mostar and 20 EURO split between the passengers. It only takes approximately 20 minutes to walk around the Monastery so you don’t need too much time on site. Tip: The best views are from the opposite side of the river, but we didn’t have time to take the raft over. If you do, be sure to!
End your night back in Mostar with a walk down by the river to watch the Old Bridge light up at dusk. With the church bells ringing, the Muslim call to prayer, and the thunder rolling in the background, you are sure to have a magical experience.
Bosnia, you’re stunning. But my favorite part about this country is your people. The nicest I’ve ever met. They want to talk to you, get to know you, help you, etc. They are completely genuine and selfless. A gorgeous place to spend a few days immersed in a loving culture. I’ll be back…
- Jump the Old Bridge
- Visit the Monastery
- Try a traditional sausage and bread meal – Very good!
- Visit the Kravice Waterfalls
- The steps along the Old Bridge are precarious and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are be very slick so wear proper footwear.
- If you’ve never jumped before, I would NEVER recommend doing this. My max jump is 50ft and this is 20+ higher than that. Too high for me.
- For the best view of the bridge, go inside the Mosque on the south side of the bridge, and have a Turkish tea or coffee and enjoy the view. Otherwise, you have to pay 5 EURO just to go inside and take a picture.
- The best views of the Monastery are from the opposite side of the river, but we didn’t have time to take the raft over. If you do, be sure to!
- Take a walk through the old cemeteries. They’re everywhere. And very beautiful. You’ll notice the majority of the dates are 1993. It becomes very evident how hard this town was hit by the war.
- Tip 5-10% in restaurants.
- Don’t bring a suitcase here. You’ll struggle getting it over the precarious steps and everyone will star at you.
- When buying something from a street vendor, it’s OK to negotiate. And quite easy too. But be respectful. They’re very friendly and accommodating.
- Only 15 women have ever jumped the bridge.
- Only 1,869 people have jumped as of October 7th, 2015, the day that Michael jumped.
- The pro divers that jump have been doing this for over 20 years. The typically jump multiple times a day for the crowd to raise money to help maintain the Old Bridge.
- Vanessa is the “Mama Bear” of the group and married to a world-jumping champion.
- You don’t sign a liability to jump. Your name only goes in the book after you successfully complete your jump.
- The servers at Stari Grad restaurant look like Aladdin 🙂
- Cats in every restaurant
- Tags on each dog’s ear means they have all their shots
- You can still see bullet holes in the building. Ruins and abandoned buildings still line the streets.
- We stayed in an AirBnb called The Crooked House. It is the perfect location, right inside the main walking streets. Highly recommend if you don’t mind not having much privacy.
- The roofs of the buildings/houses are all made of cement sleet and look like The Flintstones from Bedrock.
- Bus from Split, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia:
- Cheap 125 kuna ($22 USD), 4 hours, old bus. Have to pay to put your luggage underneath. Overhead storage is uselessly small. Bathroom break each hour, but no English spoken so just ask people on the bus what’s going on. And you have to switch buses to continue onto Mostar. But again, ask people to translate; they’re helpful.