A cycling tour of the Balkans: two wheels, three countries, four days

A challenging trip taking in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro

Mostar – Triangular War memorial

If the visitor just sees the area around the Turkish bridge, they would find it difficult to believe there was ever a war in Mostar. To find this evidence the visitor should walk past the Karadozbeg Mosque and the Roznamendi Effendi Mosque to the Musala Bridge and look at the ruins of the Neretva Hotel. 80% of Mostar was destroyed during the Balkans War and the ruined buildings in the area of the hotel bear witness to this devastation. The Bosnian Muslim elements within Mostar and the Croats were allies against the Serbs and when the latter were defeated there was peace in the city for roughly a year, before fighting between Bosnians and Croats began with the front line being the street called Kralja Zvonimira.

Walking along this street, the visitor can see the bullet holes in some of the buildings, but otherwise the only evidence of a battle is the Ljubljanska Banka building on the corner. This monstrosity, with its triangular point jutting towards the river a few hundred yards away, is pockmarked with bullet holes that at least give the building some character and interest, which I hope preserves it for future generations to see and remember what happened here. Most war memorials are small and easily missed, but surely no one could miss this ugly, nine-storey, triangular shaped memorial?

Zlatna Ribica Cafe in Sarajevo, Bosnia

The cafe called Zlatna Ribica is on a small side street called Kaptol just off the main Marsala Tita avenue. Nothing can really prepare the visitor for the inside of this amazing cafe, which looks at first glance like a bric-a-brac shop that has branched out into catering. There is a large mirror on one wall of the outer area of the cafe, which has five smaller tables, with an inner area that has four larger tables. On the walls there are American medals, posters for French films, Spanish fans, saxophones and adverts for Nelson Mandela exhibitions. Lamps hang from the ceiling and are attached to various other surfaces; no two of the lampshades are the same. The music varies from jazz to disco versions of “Je ne regrette rien”. People are allowed to smoke inside so try and sit close to the door. Now, I probably won’t write this next recommendation again in my whole life – you must go to the toilet here and take your camera with you – as this two-part bathroom contains one smaller room for the toilet and another for the washbasin, which has a variety of toiletries on a shelf above it, that would shame some chemist’s shops (see accompanying image). There are toothbrushes, toothpastes, tubs of cream, hand cleaners, razors, and soaps. There are many multi-coloured towels. When you are back in the cafe, don’t forget to order a drink or two as it’s one of those rare places where it’s OK to discuss the variety of paraphernalia on the walls with the people around you.

Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina

The most famous sight in Mostar is the Stari Most, the Turkish Bridge, crossing the River Neretva. Although destroyed in 1993, the bridge was reconstructed as faithfully as possible to the original specifications. Today, this bridge is the main reason most tourists come to Mostar and there is a long debate as to where the best viewing place is. The problem is that the bridge faces due north or south depending on your position and so, during the day,the bridge is best seen from the south side during the late morning and early afternoon, when the sun is at its harshest.

My suggestion for the finest view is whilst having dinner on the terrace of the Urban Grill restaurant. Sit at the table to the extreme right as you enter the terrace and the bridge will gradually start to glow as the sun goes down, due to the tasteful night-time lighting. Sitting at this table aligns you with the exact centre of the bridge and so pictures achieve an almost perfect symmetry with reflections in the water.

An added bonus is the call of the muezzin at sunset. This call echoes from two or three minarets around the city and reverberates around the surrounding hills. When I was there, I also heard the quacking of some ducks who were upset when a diver jumped into the river from the bridge 21 metres above. Sounds travel a long way in this beautiful setting.