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Report 1912: Spring Time in Croatia

By Letha from California, Spring 2011

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Page 3 of 10: Day Trip to Mostar Bosnia - the Other Side of the Story - Saturday 30th April

photo by Oscar Saldanha

At Mostar with the Stari Most (Old Bridge) rebuilt after the War)

We spent the day on a group tour to Mostar with stops along the way at a Roman ruin and Medjugorje and at Pocitelj, a well preserved Turkish village, now an artists' colony on the return. We were a group of four pairs, the other pairs being from Germany, Malaysia and Japan with our informative guide and wonderful driver Zoran. As far as group tours go, this was a very good tour but I would recommend independent travel and more time in Mostar. We spent so much time at Medjugorje, which was actually of no interest to any of us in the group. We would all have preferred more time in Mostar. The Roman ruins were okay but pales compared to the great ruins in Zadar. Other than Mostar, Pocitelj was the highlight of the tour, and the Turkish coffee worth the trip. Lunch in Mostar, especially the borek (meat filled pastry) was way better than any we had in Croatia.

On the way back, we stopped at a roadside shack near Ston for fresh raw oysters. The last time I had this was at a farmerís market in Provence and I still reserve judgment on this; it is not a favorite of mine. Oscar loved it. Mostar with its rich and sensitive history itself deserves more than a day trip and I would certainly like to go back on a separate trip to Bosnia, the other side of the story (Historical note: The famous bridge in Mostar, built by the Turks in 1566, Stari Most, was blown up by the Croatian army in the war of the 90s, during a siege of Mostar).

And then the skies opened on our way back, and it rained cats and dogs; we got back to the warm B&B and had dinner with borek we had brought back with us from Mostar.

A word on Medjugorje, firstly a disclaimer that I am a non religious person and my view on religion is one of tolerance as far as possible; the tolerance does get stretched in a place like the Balkans where religion has been the core of so much strife. Medjugorje is a place of pilgrimage on account Virgin Mary apparitions ... I believe this one is not yet endorsed by the Catholic church. As a traveler who loves history, including the history of religion, I enjoy churches and religious sites, its architecture, art and even the spirit and energy that devotees emit in some of these places. Medjugorje however left me cold.

It is a one lane village with a church on one side (built in 1969 I believe) and a whole row of vendors selling cheap souvenirs on the other side. If you drive out of the village, I believe you come to a hill that you can hike to the site of the first apparition. Our guide said that tours buses do not include this hike but that if a devotee requested, he has left him/her there and picked them up on the way back. So you are left looking at this very modern church, teeming with tour groups of devotees and the souvenir shops and some small eats. The story we have is that since Croatia is getting its economy into shape to get into the EU, and it sacred cow is tourism, tour groups are obliged to bring people here and build this place up as second only to Fatima and Loudres etc. My take is, unless you are a devotee and/or unless you feel this is a good way to help the economy (and believe me there are many other ways), you can skip it. It is neither historical nor aesthetic compared to churches around the world. The travel agency did tell us when we booked that they would be going there and Zoran was evasive about whether we could have skipped it. In fact it was a joke for the rest of our tour that Zoran had lost his A and was working for an A- on account of Medjugorje as all eight of us were not impressed. Zoran took it as a joke too and kept asking if he was still getting at least and A-.

We heard over and over again from locals that there was a concerted and not necessarily 'honest' effort, especially in touristy areas like Dubrovnik to bleed tourists as much as possible. Like any traveler I am there to spend money and help the local economy as much as possible but I do want value for money. Because the tourist season is only five months, those who livelihood is the tourist trade have to pack it in. Most local families work in tourism, hotels/B&Bs/travel agencies/restaurants ... in fact most mom & pop places do all three (Villa Adriatica does hotel plus travel agency plus private tours plus car hire etc.) So this is a interesting study in a new post war developing economy. Fifteen years after the end of the war, we heard much rumbling and grumbling with some even lamenting how much better the Yugoslavian days were and there is a constant concern that they are building an economy that is not sustainable.

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