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The Hostel Life for me – a retrospective

It’s been a month since my last blog post and it really is about time I posted again. Not being able to think of something to write about, I found this old unpublished post in the vault, whilst doing a routine clean-up of PDAs, phones, and memory cards. I’d written this just after I left Mostar, Bosnia, and started on into Montenegro. It has been tirelessly restored by a dedicated team, and is reproduced in its full form, here for you.

Excluding the quick 10-15 minute power naps on the bus this morning, it’s now hour number 33 since sleep was my nearest and dearest friend.

After the tour pretty much wiped out any energy I might once have owned, we left the hostel en masse for the nearest alcohol we could find… Small twinges of bad ideas probably began around to be realised around that 30 minute argument between the police and the bar owners over whether they should close the bar, since it was well past last orders.

Or perhaps it all started before that, when Aaron convinced me that the 7am bus to Budva, Montenegro was a really good idea. Riches lie there. Milk, honey, that sort of thing. The alternative was a stop at Dubrovnik, which I was a little opposed to having already spent a couple of nights there back in 2004.

Although, the point it all started spiralling into the pit of really bad ideas, actually, if I’m completely honest with myself – was probably around the time we all decided that ending the evening by visiting Mostar’s only nightclub was a really good idea..

This is a weird travel-circuit – there are very few hostels, and there are very few directions in which interesting things lie. Split, Sarajevo, Mostar, Dubrovnik, Budva. The only choice most travellers in this area have is whether they’re going North or South. Both Montenegro and Albania only have 2 “real” hostels in the whole country, I’m assured. The others are clearly mere pretenders. Not hostels at all. 5* hotels masquerading as traveller meeting points, with golden bunk-beds stuffed with goose feathers from paradise, I would assume.

Most people I’ve spoken to about my holidays have asked me if I wouldn’t prefer travelling with other people instead of on my own. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel or you enjoy the opportunity to meet with large groups of complete strangers with very different backgrounds. Now’s the time to try.

What I’m trying to say is… It probably all went wrong, when I went clubbing.

I’m not much of a dancer. The best places to drink only really serve beer, they have warm fires, a pet cat, a quiet jukebox lightly humming any number of rock classics, they’re often found on the back of a mill. They most certainly don’t have bubble machines. See, there are two types of people in this world. People who love clubbing, and the people like me. Fortunately I wasn’t the only person like me in our group, as quickly became apparent after a few beers. “What the fuck are we doing here?” asked Welsh Alun. “You’re right, I hate clubbing”, I replied. Our separatist group quickly grew in numbers, as we all stubbornly stood near the bar enjoying ourselves clubbing only through the act of collectively hating it. Still not leaving, of course.

And so it turned out to be quite a memorable night. We got back to the hostel in the very early hours. Others helped me to stay awake so I could catch my bus at 6am, including a trip into Mostar so I could actually see the place “by day”. Before it becomes hour 34, and the hallucinations get stronger – I think I should probably go and find my golden bunk bed, and catch a little sleep.

Mostar – The Old Bridge

The first of my catch-up posts written way back, but just now ready for public consumption (I have a stringent post approval process, as I’m sure you can tell). At least I can add pictures 😉

The (New) Old Bridge

I’m now in Mostar, one of the front lines in the Bosnian/Serbian war of the 90s, and one of the worst hit architecturally.

It was attacked by Serbian and Montenegrin forces in 1992 with an onslaught of heavy bombardment lasting 6 months. In May 1993 (just over 15 years ago, remember) – Bosnian Croat forces within the city attacked the Muslims living there. They were taken from their homes, moved to detention camps, dividing the once united city into two distinct halves.

There is a strong emphasis in Bosnia to never forget, through leaving some destroyed buildings as a monument, to simple plaques alongside rebuilt areas. “Forgive, yes … But never forget” says Bata. It seems a healthy way to be, but undoubtedly a lot easier said than done.

Don't Forget '93

The Old Bridge in Mostar once stood for 500 years, and was visited by people from all over the world throughout its lifetime. It’s the symbol of Mostar, and regular diving traditionally takes place from the highest 21m point into the freezing river below. Everything seems to be built around that single central point which draws the focus of the town.

Once it was gone, everything the bridge had stood for in the city went with it. Christians, Muslims and Jews became divided. After the war, it was replaced with a wooden bridge before being rebuilt to be identical to the old bridge and reopened in 2004. This meant using stone from the same quarry, as well as using the old methods with no modern technology. It’s said that the original Turkish architect fled to the nearby Dervish monastery after it was completed the first time, through fear that it would collapse once the scaffolding was removed. I like to think the same tradition was held to this time around, and if you stay real quiet, and watch very closely – you can still find that man hiding out amongst the pigeons in the caves below.

Sarajevo – don’t mention the war

Sarajevo is not one of the worlds most beautiful cities. It is a far cry from the coastal towns along the Adriatic, but it is one of the only places in the world that you would find the nearby Holiday Inn to be one of the local tourist attractions.

It was once known as the world’s Jerusalem, there the worlds three main religions sent their prayers upwards in harmony. It’s since seen its fair share of trouble though, and they may have been a little premature. From 1992-1997, Sarajevo suffered a siege which saw over 10,000 civilians killed, and left the city without food, or water as well as constant fear of attack from Serbian troops in the surrounding hills. What makes this especially thought provoking is that the war happpened in perfectly memorable times, for me. And whilst I was sitting at home watching the news of terrors in far away lands, other men and women my age were fighting for their lives and survival. 2,000 children were killed during the siege, enough to fill two of the schools that I was attending at the time. Everybody has a war just like that, this is mine, and I suspect many of yours..

On the few occassions the “don’t mention the war mantra falls apart, I have still had to do a double-take when people talk of it not as, “they travelled through here”, or even “we travelled through here”, but “I travelled through here”.

Anyway, as they say in Bosnia, “enough about the war already”, and amen.

The weather is stunning, the sun is beating down on my pasty white arms, and I think I’m building up a pretty good t-shirt tan, all in all. The people are amongst the most friendly, and welcoming you’ll find anywhere in the world. With a growing tourism industry, I get to take advantage of the fact that not everybody hates tourists, yet. A sad fact that has been in existence in London for some 700 years.

I realise from the lack of Rough Guides, and that the BA direct route only opened up last year, that this is not yet on this years hot list. Whilst the guide books suggestion of watching the locals chess game might not be everyones cup of tea. But I challenge you not to tense up and get sucked in by the enthusiasm of 20 people screaming at said player not to make the move that will end his fight.
We’ve also got more mosques than you can shake a stick at (120 in Old Town), a beautiful rich green valley to explore (not off the beaten track though, mine clearance is still underway), graffiti from Space Invader (well I saw one, anyway), Red Bull flavoured ice cream, churches, great food, cheap food, great cheap food, and a whole lot of bars that aren’t yet filled with the typical British Male Tour Gangs. You know who you are.

Last but not least, not one single fat person. Except the tourists. And the ones I haven’t seen.

Why would you not want to come here?

So with that, I’m leaving tomorrow for Mostar. I have a vague plan of where I am heading now. At least before the sun sets, the idea is Mostar, into Montenegro, Kotor, Bar, through Albania to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, before heading back north to Skopje and my eventual flight home. Public transport permitting, of course. I might even stop off in Dubrovnik again, if the buses demand it.