Had I written this entry this time yesterday, it would have read thus:
FUCK OFF WHY THE FUCK IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO PUT STREET SIGNS ON STREETS ESPECIALLY NEAR THE FUCKING BUS AND TRAIN STATION WHERE Y’KNOW TOURISTS MIGHT BE LOOKING FOR THEIR ACCOMMODATION AND NOT HAVE A MAP OR PHONE SIGNAL FUCK OFF FUCK OFF FUCK OFF FUCK YOU MOSTAR TOWN PLANNERS I HATE MOSTAR [page becomes illegible from tears of frustration, heat and luggage weight]
However, I did not, and can confirm – having found my hostel more through luck than judgement, chilled out, and removed my backpack – that my love affair with Bosnia is back on track.
The hostel was actually only 5 minutes away from the bus station, but even with Google Maps’ instructions it took 40 minutes to find thanks to aforementioned lack of street signs. Arriving in The Worst Mood Ever (TM) I was not in the mood to take my shoes off at the door and draw a creative nametag while two twitchy-eyed Swedish girls watched me warily. However, on being presented with a slice of cream roulade and some iced tea, and chatting to some other solo female travellers (yesss!!! They do exist!!!) called Mika [German], Lou [Australian] and Valentina [Chilean], my mood vastly improved.
Hamid, one of the hostel employees, told us there would be coffee at 5, where we would be taught how to drink it in the traditional Bosnian manner. Despite disliking coffee, I was intrigued and hung around, meeting more hostellees when our merry band of girls was joined by Shane, an American with a face like John Travolta, and two Brits called Keaton [Manchester] and Matt [Plymouth]. The latter bore a striking resemblance to Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, a likeness I pointed out to his delight, as apparently some guys in Budapest had said the same and Keaton had dismissed it. What I did not mention to him is that I am mildly* attracted to/slightly* obsessed with Courtois, and as a result was swooning a tiny bit* over his doppelganger all evening. (*understatement)
The traditional manner of drinking Bosnian tea apparently involves:
1. Scooping the creamy froth off the top of the jug and into the cup;
2. Pouring the coffee over it;
3. Dipping the corner of a sugar cube into the coffee;
4. Biting into it;
5. Drinking the coffee.
It was exceptionally strong coffee and I struggled not to wince with every sip, but managed to finish it in between chatting to the others, during which time it was agreed that we (sans Shane Travolta) would break into the abandoned sniper tower, climb to the top, and drink beer while watching the sunset.
Which is exactly what we did. It took a mad rush around the streets to find somewhere that sold beer (we opted for Sarajevsko beer, at the princely sum of 1 mark – 40p – per beer, which was still too expensive for something that tasted like it was probably fermented cat piss), and a slower but no less lengthy effort for me to successfully climb the wall and get into the tower. This process involved climbing on some fallen bricks, clinging to the top of the wall, hoisting ourselves onto the tiny extruding metal plate in the wall and use it as a foothold, scrambling to the top of the wall, descending onto a slightly thicker brick foothold the other side, and jumping down onto an upturned paint bucket. Having short legs and negligible upper body strength, I needed the boys to help lift me onto the metal foothold, but was able to complete the rest by myself.
At long last we were in, stumbling over assorted building debris and broken glass, climbing the many flights of stairs, and occasionally pointing out something that looked like blood. On several floors we freaked ourselves out by peering down the eerie freefalls that had once housed elevators.
Eventually we made it to the top, where a stunning view awaited us. There were parks, fun fairs, countless churches and mosques, a looming crucifix at the top of a hill, and – happily – an entirely unexplainable tiny gold statue of Bruce Lee in the main park. After every angle had been photographed, we drank the fermented cat piss/beer, chatted and watched the city become illuminated by lights as the sun went down. By the time we thought to take group photos, it was pitch black.
This seemed like a good time to get out of there, so using torches and phones to guide us (thank God we had them, seeing as we completely forgot only half the stairwell immediately featured stairs…) we descended, lugging our empty bottles with us to reclaim a discount from the shop.
If getting in was hard, getting out was nigh on impossible, especially for someone who is afraid of climbing from heights (the same reason I despise top bunks). It took at least five minutes to pluck up the courage to climb onto the metal foothold, as it really was too thin to entrust my life to. Lou and the boys managed to successfully coax me down onto it, before I slipped, demolishing the brick pile and scraping my hands in the process. Despite an unceremonious ending, the whole thing was stupidly exhilarating and made me feel like a total badass.
We went for a more sedate wander around the Old Town, going to a charming restaurant by the river Neretva which the girls had eaten at the night before. We all indulged in risottos of various flavours, and any Student Union would have been proud of our topics of debate; GM crops, healthcare, immigration, politics, privatisation… before me and the other Brits at the table hijacked a conversation about native dishes to reduce everyone else’s contributions to being essentially British dishes, most successfully with Valentina’s descriptions – a Chilean dish which was a pastry filled with meat, onions and vegetables was just a Cornish pasty, etc. No wonder everyone hates the British.
We went in search of a bar, crossing THAT bridge in order to briefly gawp at Ali Baba’s, a club set in a cave which, for a Saturday evening, was pretty dead. Mika and Lou returned to the hostel at this point, so the four hardy souls remaining went for drinks. The most enjoyable part of this was listening to Matt and Keaton’s experiences while camping in Transylvania. They had helped to set up an old couple’s tent, seeing them argue about it from afar (the wife had apparently been making aggressive hand signals at her husband), and had then been hit on by the woman, involving crotch rubbing of some description, and been force fed and coffeed meanwhile.
As Matt/Courtois returned to the hostel, we bumped into Shane Travolta and two other lone girls from our hostel, Aisha (Turkish/American) and Emeline (Australian), all of whom were seeking a drinking establishment. So we ended up at a quite dire bar from which we all returned stinking like ashtrays, and an adventure too far for me as I nearly fell asleep on the table.
The group had spoken with fear all evening about the hostel matriarch, who I had yet to meet. Described as enforcing “the bossiest hospitality known to man” – which must have been working because the atmosphere at the hostel was great, as evidenced by the fact that half its patrons had ended up on the lash together of their own volition last night – I was finally privy to her intimidating, motherly company this morning when she swept into the dorm, looked at me and said, with a heavy accent, “Jennnnnnifer, are you coming to breakfast?”. I asked what was for breakfast, and in an imperious voice, she responded “It is breakfast – come, and you will find out”, before striding out.
Once I’d bid farewell to the boys, who were leaving for Dubrovnik, I did indeed come to find out, and it involved an interesting sausage, egg, lots of bread, and a tomato (ugh). As I ate, two Scottish boys discussed the referendum before the matriarch unexpectedly attempted a Scottish accent. You probably had to be there to understand how funny it was.
It was finally time to explore the city alone, taking countless selfies among many pictures of ruined buildings and graffiti [COMING SOON]. Obviously, one such selfie was with that entirely unexplainable Bruce Lee statue, while a number of others were taken at the Bridge. Well, why not.
I then perused a local mosque, which apparently turned out to be the central mosque of the Herzegovina region. The guy manning the outside and giving out entrance tickets was in a bad mood with me for looking at a sign on the door without removing my shoes first – ironically, the sign was about the dress code. Once I’d taken off my shoes he warmed to me, giving me a tour and generally being very helpful, with one downside; he was at best very touchy-feely and at worse a bit gropy, never missing an opportunity to touch my arm or rest a hand on my waist. I wondered if he was just being friendly, but there was no contact with the single middle aged woman who came in after me, so I’m inclined to think the worst.
Thankfully, I was unaccompanied climbing the minaret – the tiny, steep stairwell would have provided all sorts of groping opportunities. When I returned, he gave me a chocolate with orange filling (appreciated), and asked me why “pretty young lady” travelled alone (not appreciated). What is it with old men liking me?? Why can’t young men like me for a change?!
Just had some banging lemon ice cream, and am now preparing to repack for tomorrow’s jaunt to Dubrovnik. Surprisingly I’ve not heard great things about it, the main complaints being that it’s busy and expensive – but we’ll see. I’ll miss Bosnia in any case, as it truly is a beautiful country – you can see why tourism levels have been leaping. It will be a relief to go back to my usual levels of detachment and cynicism though.
JENGHIS KHAN, CONQUEROR OF ABANDONED SNIPER TOWERS