Miran, who is Miran?
Miran is a man from Mostar, a man who has seen worse things than I dare imagine, who has suffered loses I cannot comprehend, a man with a beautiful family and a home that doubles as an award winning hostel, where with open arms he both welcomes and educates backpackers such as you and I.
Miran is a mans man, strong in both body and mind, someone who within minute of meeting I was looking up to, someone who has lived through a period of time and seen things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but also someone who was willing to share all of it with me in a brutally honest and mind blowing city tour of Mostar. His tour was my highlight of my short time spent in Mostar, but owing to the nature of the subject, I’m not really sure I can say it was 100% enjoyable.
It started with a slightly manic drive to a nearby lookout point. Manic because we were behind schedule, manic because Miran had earlier been at the bedside of a sick relative, but had still somehow found time to show Julian (my dorm mate) and I his city as he had promised the evening before. This tells you everything you need to know about the man. Fiercely dedicated to his family, friends and also those he invites to stay with him in his home. Whilst I would have been disappointed at not experiencing his tour, a family matter is something that takes president over all, I could never have held it against him had he cancelled, but he didn’t, he somehow found time indulge us in his and his city’s past.
Standing before Miran and looking out over the city, it was clear how passionate my host felt about his city, former country and present country. He explained that he was happy living in the former country know as Yugoslavia, that forces outside of that country are what broke it up and that those counties that now exist as the former Yugoslavia are worse for it. Communism saw happy people living a good life he explained, democracy see’s the people of Mostar and no doubt the rest of Bosnia living a very different life, one where the rich only get richer.
We spent a good hour talking atop of that view point, Miran educating us and telling tales of a world so alien to me. Miran explained the two sides of the river, easy and west Mostar, the Bosnian and Croat sides, how they fought both together and against one another during the war, and that while now the city is peaceful again, there is still an evident divide and extremists who cannot accept that the city is shared. Radical graffiti and a Bosnian war monument blown in two with dynamite only last year pays testament to this theory. We saw both of these as we eventually made our way back down into the city and started the walking section of the tour.
On foot we wandered our way to and into a mix of concentration camps, bombed civilian buildings, bunkers and a sniper nest. All terribly frightening truth be told, the civilian buildings especially, where despite certain floors being bullet riddled, still full on military leftovers and basically in a state of complete disappear, rooms on the floors above are still called home by some.
Truth be told I had visited the snipers nest, what used to be a bank, the evening before my tour with Miran. It was squeaky bum time as I climbed to the 8th floor of the graffiti/art covered (some of it showing positive signs) shell of a building. I was in and out in a flash that evening, not hanging around for fear or the dark, heights and other visitors/locals who use the building for alternative activities. With Miran it seemed a damn site more safe, but obviously still not that safe. Wading through the rubble, broken glass and god knows what else he suddenly flicks cartridge cases in our direction, then a piece of shrapnel. We do not really need to be told where the snipers who occupied the best were aiming, the front line is clearly evident, even today.
When in a separate building minutes later Miran points out a window towards his own home, then he points out of opposite side of the same building towards another and explains that we were now stood in line with the shot taken by a sniper and which killed Miran’s grandfather. As you can imagine my stomach dropped like a lead balloon at this point and I felt very much like being sick. I don’t know where to look, or what to say. A horrible silence hangs in the air, all I can think about is how hard it must be to go over and over that moment for the sake of educating a few people, you’ve only know a day or two. I am grateful for Miran going into such detail, but feel like I have intruded on something incredibly personal. Now I didn’t know either of my grandfathers, but I was very close to my nans brother (great uncle?) and kinda of considered him a surrogate grandfather. As we stood there with that horrible silence hanging over us, I couldn’t help but imagine my grand uncle being in Miran’s grandfathers position. It makes me feel a bit queazy even writing about it now so I have no idea how he has the strength to point that window out over and over to different tour groups and relive that devastating memory time and again.
It’s all a bit mental, my head is spinning at this point, and not just from the height of that snipers nest. So much destruction, so much loss, and all within the last 20 years or so. Whilst aesthetic scars in the city are still evident, they are the type of scars that can be healed, others will remain for ever within the individuals that fought bravely for their city and at a cost, lost loved ones.
The modern day beauty of Mostar
The above must make fairly grim reading, and probably doesn’t paint the greatest picture of Mostar, but let it not be said that Mostar is also an incredibly beautiful city in the modern day. Yes I have detailed a few horrors above, but there is so much more to Mostar than its war torn past, and that is a testament to those who have worked and helped rebuild the city and its reputation – people like Miran.
The obvious one to start with is its UNESCO site, the old bridge aka Stari Most. Destroyed during the conflict in the early 90’s, the bridge was later rebuilt (2004), connecting the two sides of the river Neretva once more. An incredible piece of architecture, should you visit in the summer months now 10 years since the rebuild, it is not unlikely that you’ll witness fearless locals diving from the bridge into the river. I read somewhere that as a tourist you can also pay to jump … but rather you than me, I’ll settle for simply walking over the bride, from one side of the river to the other.
Surrounding the old bridge is the old town, naturally. Cobbled streets lined with food, drink and souvenirs. Granted the souvenirs won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the food and drink on the other hand is wonderful … so long as you eat meat and carbs. Ćevapi was a personal fave, especially when coated in kaymak (cheesy goodness). At 7Km (£2 ish), an evenings meal won’t break the bank in any way. Good food at low prices, a backpackers dream.
Like in Sarajevo, coffee is also everywhere in Mostar, its not my thing, but if you’re into your lattes or cappuccinos, you won’t have to look too far for your next cup. Personally I was more keen on the guest ales I found being served in a tiny little tavern overlooking the river. Whilst they were fairly strong though, a statue of Bruce Lee was not something I conjured up in my intoxicated mind, he’s real and sits in the city park, symbolising the bridging of cultures.
Interested in a War Tour of your own?
Check out Miran’s tour page here –> https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mirams-Mostar-War-Tour
More on Mostar
If you wish to know a little bit more about the troubles in Mostar, here is a BBC documentary. Its very informative, but also pretty graphic.
Viewer discretion advised.
With regards to Miran’s tour. I was not comp’d, I just really really ‘enjoyed’ (as much as one could, given the subject) the tour and so wax lyrical about it.