Note: No pictures until we reach a location with good internet upload speeds.
Given our 4 night stay in Dubrovnik we decided to do a day trip to either Montenegro or Bosnia. Both countries have good options (Bay of Kotor in Montenegro and Mostar in Bosnia) and we decided on Mostar for two primary reasons: 1) Mostar would give an opportunity to expose Walter to mosques and Islam, 2) It would be very different than what we had been experiencing in Croatia, as opposed to Bay of Kotor which would be similar (spectacular rocky cliffs on the Adriatic).
So, on our second full day in Dubrovnik we got up early, ate breakfast with the early risers at 7a, and then waited. And then I called the guy who was supposed to drop our rental car at the hotel and I'm pretty sure I woke him up. So with a minor delay we were on our way to Mostar. We decided to take the road less travelled to Mostar, hopefully avoiding congestion at the border given the large number of day tour busses that run from Dubrovnik to Mostar. We crossed the border into Bosnia at a very ominous looking checkpoint where three guards simply stood in the middle of the road waiting for cars. As we waited for the guard to check our documents and insurance on the car we were stared down by an elderly woman on the side of the road about 50 yards ahead. It was...disconcerting. Regardless, the drive into Bosnia from this route south of Dubrovnik was really pretty and honestly not that much different from most of the land we'd driven through in Croatia.
In many parts of the Croatian countryside it's difficult to tell what abandoned houses are a result of the war and what are simply abandoned houses you might find anywhere in the world where people are moving from the country to the city (ie, everywhere). As we entered Mostar it was no longer difficult to tell the difference. The damage from mortars and machine guns was obvious and everywhere. While we did not go to Mostar to see the impact of war, I think that was absolutely the lasting impression. Throughout our travels we've been able to expose Walter to a great deal of history, much of it relating to World War 2 and the ensuing Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. However, it usually felt like something that happened long ago, and rarely could you see tangible evidence of the horrors of war (remember, we elected not to go to the concentration camps). In Mostar, though, it was all around you, and surprisingly that was the most rewarding part of the excursion. Further, Walter had already seen the photos of the damage to Dubrovnik and I think had mentally taken Croatia's side in the Bosnian War. He clearly struggled to internalize that the Croatians bore significantly responsibility (culpability?) for the carnage in Mostar. And we were all moved when we visited the cemetery where every tombstone dated from the early 1990's with many of the birthdates from the early 1970's.
Overall we had a good time in Mostar, where we visited a couple of mosques, a Turkish house dating from when the area was part of the Ottoman Empire, and of course the great bridge itself, Stari Most. I have to say, though, that aside from the bridge the headline sights were unimpressive given what we saw in Istanbul when we were there in 2009. That by itself wouldn't be disappointing, after all Istanbul is one of the great cities of the world, but the crush of tourists really killed the atmosphere and made it hard to enjoy any of the sights, including the bridge. But considered as a whole it was a great day trip, very emblematic of the good (new cultures, eyeopening experiences) and bad (tour group after tour group) of travel.