The bus arrived in the austere light of an ethereal sky. Darkness was quickly descending, and I could only clearly make out the most severe silhouettes, like the large cross high up on the hillside and the domed roof and minaret of the mosque.
A cluster of old women holding hand painted signs jostled for position and called out with phrases memorised through painstaking repetition to advertise their pension or spare room. We walked out of the coach park and into the streets where we led a small pack of stray dogs around terraces, slipways and side streets.
We eventually found our hostel, locked and in complete darkness, it was with a tentative ring of the bell that we summoned our hosteller. A widow of inconsiderable height but considerable girth, she thrust upon us a box of chocolates and led us through a maze of passages and stairways to our room. We were to share with a couple who were travelling back through Europe to reach a French hospital where they were to be treated for their unspecific but apparently communicable illness. I chose a bed as far away from theirs as possible and tried to breathe as little as I could.
My travel companion and I had been travelling around Croatia for several weeks and were becoming desensitised to architectural beauty, but Mostar took us both by surprise. Winding cobbled streets, vendors minding stalls filled with remnants of the Yugoslav wars, ornate brass jewellery and paraphernalia of indeterminate age and purpose, booming voiced old men selling a spectrum home brewed spirits, bustling bars, and, of course, the Stari Most upon which a lone figure stood watching and waiting, created a city which seemed to us pure and unspoilt.
We spent a few hazy nights drinking our way through the establishments of Mostar and revelled in the raucous atmosphere of Ali Baba’s, the cave bar, and drank in the views of the city from the Sky Lounge Roof Bar.
But, the time to depart was quickly upon us. After spreading pocketfuls of coins on the floor to buy two bus tickets to Dubrovnik, we left Mostar with fond memories and plastic bags stuffed full of crudely distilled spirits.