When a place lends itself to the leisure of other people it generally becomes a haven for the lewd and the superficial. I am now in the fifteenth month of a backpacking journey that has taken me to some of the less contemporary parts of the world. In speaking with people and seeing their ways, I have found that culture is what makes a country endearing, and that a culture exploited is something lamentable. A place that panders to tourism is simply a place without a soul.
I have recently been traveling with an old friend from the States through the less visited regions of Eastern Europe. Having started in Slovenia, making our way down along the Adriatic Coast, we were disheartened by the droves of vacationers there. Croatia we found to be beautiful, yet overcrowded and overpriced. To escape the masses we decided on heading east into the somewhat stigmatized countryside of Bosnia-Herzegovina. From Dubrovnik we took two separate buses that would bring us to Mostar, where we spent the afternoon walking and exploring the town before hopping a later train to Sarejevo.
I find that small, suburban towns are where I come to understand the true nature of a country's people. These are where western influences and popular culture are always last to appear. Mostar, for the most part, is a quiet such little town (now of approximately 94 thousand people), spanning the banks of the Neretva River. Though the city is scarred by its recent history (having been the scene of the front lines of the Bosnian war), it is still regarded as the most picturesque setting in the region.
Mostar is beautiful, quaint, and war-torn. While facades of buildings remain peppered by bullet holes, streets are lined with the empty shells of bombed-out structures that have not been restored since the war. Photographs of the once demolished town hang solemnly on mosques and church doors, describing the atrocities that occurred, the casualties suffered, and the determination it took to restore the town to its present distinction. Passing the dozens of graveyards throughout the town, one cannot help to wonder what brutality the people had suffered here.
The town is centered around the Old Bridge (1556), which was destroyed in 1993 and later rebuilt during the country's reconstruction. Some say it is representative of the unity to come between Muslims and Croats. Surrounding it are the narrow cobblestone lanes, outdoor cafes and shops that compose the heart of the old town.
Today, locals stroll easily through the streets, relax by the river, or sit with a beer outside of a cafe. By the casual atmosphere one would not imagine that anything tragic had ever occurred here. With the vibrant murmur that pervades the streets, the museums and artisan shops that seem to have sprung up in anticipation of something, it is apparent that a tourism industry is budding. It won’t be long, I imagine, before the city has its place among Budapest and Prague as one of the more renowned destinations of Eastern Europe.