Dear Long-Neglected Travel Blog…

I’m going to Ghana in TWO DAYS! And thus, you shall be resurrected.

A.

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The Bridge

Mostar is a divided city. It’s divided by a river – the Neretva – but also by post-war nationalism. The West side of the river is the Croat side – which flies Croatian flags, sells only Croatian beer, and has renamed all its streets after Croatian places. The East is the Muslim side.

The city is united by a bridge – Stari Most, ‘The Old Bridge’.  Construction on the original started in 1557 and finished nine years later. The man who designed it, Mimar Hajruddin, is renowned for being a genius; The Bridge defies physics, and yet the single tenelija arch over the Neretva stood solid for 427 years.

It took intense shelling from the Bosnian-Croat army to bring it down in 1993. No matter how many times I see footage of that moment, it never fails to break my heart.

‘Stari’ means ‘Old’, says Bata, but in a grandfatherly way. Everyone in Mostar lost their grandfather the day the bridge fell into the river.

Reconstruction of the bridge started in 2001, finished in 2004. Because it was a UNESCO world heritage site, the architects had to recreate it exactly – using the same materials and with precisely the same dimensions. The mortar that holds the bridge together had to be of the same consistency. Hajruddin had no computers to design the arch – at that time the biggest in existence – only intuition. As the modern builders recreated the Old Bridge, they had to recreate the designer’s mistakes – they were what made the bridge what it was.

Now, as they did for hundreds of years before the destruction of the original, men flock to the arch to fling themselves off the bridge into the water 22 metres below. There is a jumping-off-the-bridge competition at the end of July each year, but every day you can see members of the Mostar diving club, or just random tourists, plunging into the Neretva.

Several times this week I’ve missed calls from Majda on my mobile, and each time I call her back she says ‘Please, Aasa, I thought you’d jumped off the bridge’, or ‘Please, Aasa, get out of the river’.

For Bata, the reconstruction of Stari Most is representative of the Bosnian spirit. To the people who destroyed the bridge, Bosnians say ‘Ha ha! We rebuilt it! And this one will be even OLDER!’.

Up on a hill on the Muslim side of Mostar is a white outline of the Old Bridge, and the words ‘BiH, Volimo Te’ or ‘Bosnia and Hercegovina, We Love You’. Bata describes this as a message to Bosnia’s ‘enemies’, or to those who seek to provoke conflict: “You hate us? Oh yeah? Well we love you. Take THAT.”

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365

Photo posts here from now on.

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What I did today.

I needed a haircut. The last person to cut my hair was Andrea, the last time I was in Berlin. That was…November. It really was horrendous.

I asked Majda where she gets her hair cut, and asked if she could make me an appointment. She said I didn’t need to book in advance, there’s a lady with a salon attached to her house, she’d just call right before I headed over to tell her I was coming. I asked if she could tell her I need a trim and if she could colour my hair also – I’d heard it was cheap here.

Just go to DM and pick up a box, Majda said. The Lady would do it for me. Alright then.

Majda drew me a map to get to The Lady’s house, and wrote down what I wanted done to my hair on another slip of paper. (The Lady doesn’t speak English). I headed there this morning, after stopping to by pharmacy hair dye.

The salon is a small room with creamsicle-coloured accents. The Lady’s hair matches the motif. When I arrived, she and her older, slightly-toothless friend, were chatting, smoking. I handed her the instructions, hoping Majda hadn’t decided to play a prank on me by writing ‘Shave her head’ in Bosnian. The Lady nodded at the note, and again when I handed her the box of dye.

She put the dye in for me, scrubbed it out vigorously 10 minutes later. She gave me the quickest haircut ever – I’m unconvinced she could have gotten it all – while constantly chatting to her smoking friend. I thought I caught a few words I could understand, became convinced  they were talking about eating potatoes.  My hair, from what I could see, was much darker than ‘Caramel Brown’; in fact it looked a bit…purple. Dark purple.

The Lady spent much longer drying, smoothing, twirling, braiding and unbraiding my hair than she had cutting it. Dry, it looked a little less purplely; and in all, ended up being exactly what I wanted. I smiled and nodded at her, got up to leave, asked the price. 20 KM, or €10.

Dobro, dobro. Hvala, hvala.

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A post for JJ

Dear J;

THIS IS AN ICE CREAM SHOP. Yes.

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My most recent vice

I may drink too much Bosnian coffee.

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The Reward

There’s only one thing that can warm you up after jumping into the pool beneath the Kravice waterfalls, and it’s rakija.

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