Unusual Obituaries

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notice2Mostar: As we walked along Brace Fejica, the main street from Masala Square to the start of Old Town, we noticed small paper notices with photos of people and a date tacked on to a wall in several places. Later, Alma (the lovely tour guide) told us they are obituary announcements that list the bios and funeral times for locals who died recently. She said they are usually tacked on to the outside walls of a small mosque.

That’s certainly a cultural difference for us, but quite logical really.

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A Turkish House in Mostar

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Garden—note the high wall

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One of the lovely carpets in the house

We took a guided walking tour of Old Town Mostar with Alma. She explained many things about the city and its history, took us to the New Muslim Cemetery, the Old Bridge, the Tanners Mosque, and a Turkish house.

Mostar has three traditional Turkish-style houses open to the public, but this one—the Muslibegovic House—is the one she likes to recommend. And we had fun learning about this style of living.

It’s a Bosnian National Monument, and is now a luxury hotel and a museum. The museum section was opened to the public in April 2006. The pamphlet tells us that the complex is one of the most representative monuments of the Ottoman residential architecture in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The house was built in the 17th century, but the main residential quarter was reconstructed in 1871.

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Bower in enclosed garden

It consisted of two main areas; a quarter for the family (haremluk) and a quarter for business (selamluk).

The Musilbegovics represented a noble lineage in many parts of Herzegovina, where its members were governors for many centuries. They established themselves in Mostar at the end of the 17th century after the fall of Herzegovina to the Venetians.

We entered through a gate into the family seatoutgarden, surrounded by a high wall. This was for protection from the sun, from thieves, and from prying eyes, so that women could take off the veil that they had to wear in public. The garden also has a pretty bower, with trellised roof of green leafy plants, and white curtains—a nice place for the family to sit outdoors.

After buying entrance tickets (4 KM/adult, less than US$2), we removed our shoes to enter the house.

It is furnished with items and documents that provide an insight into the life of a wealthy bey family from the Ottoman period. Downstairs is a reception room, with gorgeous carpets and woodwork (and two mannequins representing the owner of the house and his wife).

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Reception room

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Living room

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Typical ceiling

Upstairs is a living room (divanhan), with more lovely woodwork (arches and open slats that serve as a room divider), a decorated ceiling, beautiful carpets on the floor, and cushioned benches along the wall and at the windows. Alma shows us examples of a traditional costume for a man and a woman.

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Nath and Sonya in the living room

 

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Alma demonstrates a female ethnic dress

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And the male costume

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Bedroom—note stove and the baby crib

We also saw a typical bedroom of the time, with a mattress on the floor, a stove for heating, and more benches along the windows. What was really interesting here was one whole wall of built-in cupboards with wooden doors. Amazingly, one of the wooden doors opens into the bathroom.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the bedroom, Alma shows a wall of cupboards….

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…one of which opens into the bathroom

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Declaration of faith

In another room we see examples of the writing of Ottoman calligraphers, and manuscripts and letters from the Ottoman period. Of note: First, The declaration of faith, one of the pillars of Islam, done in outstanding calligraphy; Second, the Temesuk (permission) from 1569 for the citizens of village Pribinovici, Kadiluk of Mostar, for pasture of cattle around Mostarsko Blato. Name of places and borders are detailed and named. The original is in Turkish language; Third, a tapija for property from 1890. A tapija is the rights to till land, often given to deserving military commaders (information taken from the English translation on the information boards).

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Temesuk (permission)

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Tapija

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Kur’an

It is open mid-April to mid-October, 10am-6pm. Closed in the off-season.

The hotel consists of 10 luxury bedrooms and 2 suites. All are a blend of past and resent, fully furnished in Ottoman style with a decorated ceiling, but also offering modern amenities, such as air conditioning, internet connection, and cable TV. It’s on a quiet residential lane a couple of blocks uphill from the Old Town and the main pedestrian street. The hotel is closed Nov-Feb.

Address: Osmana Dikica br 41, Mostar.

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Learning About Bosnian Coffee

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Entrance to Cafe de Alma

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Ermin, Alma and Jaz Elezovic

Café de Alma

Bosnian coffee is very similar to Turkish coffee, but the Bosnians proudly say theirs is a little different and better.

After our morning guided walking tour of some of Old Mostar with Alma Elezovic, she took us to the coffee shop run by their son, Jaz Elezovic. It’s on the same side of the river as Sadrvan and is close to the old Tanners Mosque, very plain but interesting inside.

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Bags of coffee for sale

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Alma and the distinctive yellow coffee roaster 

Café de Alma (named after Jaz’s mother Alma) is a great place to know about, as Jaz really wants people to learn about Bosnian coffee, how it’s prepared, what the customs are, and so on. Drinking coffee in Bosnia is as much a social ritual as it is just having coffee. It’s about relaxing and being with people.

Jaz has a huge yellow coffee roaster (that Alma and Ermin had bought before the war in the 90s when they thought they would open a coffee shop) and he worked out his own “recipe” for roasting beans. He also designed his own label for the coffee bags that are for sale.

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AlmapoursHe grinds coffee beans on the spot when customers come in, and measures some into the dzezva, a copper-plated pot with a long straight handle. He then boils water and pours it into the pot. If some of the coffee grounds come to the top, he puts the pot back onto the fire to bring it gently to the boil again. He then pours the coffee gently into small cups to sip and savor. If you wait a while the thick coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the cup and you don’t get the thick coffee-mud feeling in your mouth. Alma very kindly demonstrated all this for us.

The setting is warm and friendly and Jaz and his parents both speak pretty good English so they can explain the procedure and answer any questions you may have. You can sit inside or outside, where there are tables and lovely woven rugs, but we opted for inside.

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Notice the beautiful woven rugs

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Alma explains the coffee ritual to us. 

Nath couldn’t drink coffee on this trip, so she and Sonya tried the special rose juice/syrup that Alma made herself and pronounced it delicious. Rod and I had the coffee and were very happy. Everyone got a glass of water and a Turkish Delight sweet too. You can buy bags of Bosnian coffee there, plus coffee pots and cups (we did).

This is a great place and we will happily return if we are ever in Mostar again.

The actual address is on Rade Bitange, open 9:30am-6pm

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Mostar: Dinner at Sadrvan

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Entrance

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The fountain

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Rod at our table

Dinner at Restoran Sadrvan (which means “fountain”)

Jusovina 11, open daily 10am-12am

This is in the Old Town on the other side of the river from the Coppersmiths Street, over the Old Bridge. Eddie, our Guest House host in Dubrovnik, recommended a place to eat in Mostar and we went looking for it. It’s close to Sadrvan, which looked much nicer so we chose this instead. Although it is rather touristy, it was a great place and we’d definitely return if we are ever back in Mostar.

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Sonya at our table

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VRThey have a pleasant garden-type setting with a tree near the fountain, a leafy green trellis “wall”, very good service and good food. Servers are in traditional costume, which makes for a nice touch in that setting. Prices are reasonable too, main dishes for under 20 KM (around US$12) usually.

 

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A big plate

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Delicious!

We shared two of the special “big plates”. These are sort of like a Balkan “mixed grill” with various typical grilled meats. It’s served with a pita-like grilled bread, called Lepinje, rice, and stuffed cabbage. Traditionally this platter also comes with diced raw onions, ajvar and kajmak, and we had those too. Ajvar is a very popular side dish in the Balkan countries: made from red bell peppers and eggplant, it is delicious. Kajmak is a soft spreadable cheese.

We enjoyed the whole meal a lot.

 

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A small menu blooper: Snowplakes salad!

 

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Tea and Coffee with a View

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The mosque from the Old Bridge

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Bazaar area and washing area

After Ermin dropped us at our hotel and we settled in, we wandered into Old Town Mostar, looking for lunch. At the edge of Old Town a series of so-so restaurants serve “authentic Bosnian” food. Because we were so new to this country and culture we had no idea or reference so we went into one and had a very ordinary snack lunch.

 

 

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Nath and Sonya at the cleansing area

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Viv, Rod, Sonya in tea garden

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Nat and Sonya in tea garden

A bit disappointed, we walked on. As we entered the cobble-stoned section of Old Town, lined with shops and souvenir stalls, we saw a sign to the Koski Mehmet Pasha Mosque, built 1618, and decided to go and have a look. More shops and stalls, bazaar-style, line a courtyard with a cleansing area in the center. Beyond that is the mosque, which we didn’t actually go into, but it has a pretty little tea garden and we decided this was a perfect place for a tea and Bosnian coffee. The sign advertises that this is the best view of the Old Bridge and we have to admit that it would be hard to get a better view—the low wall of the garden is on the river’s edge and our table looked out directly to the Old Bridge. We sat at low benches around a low table on the gravel under big trees, and it was perfect.

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How’s that for a view!

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Old Bridge and the river from our table

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Coffee and Turkish Delight

A sweet young waitress took our order and we were delighted: the coffee, served in small hammered copper Bosnian coffee pots and cups (that look just the same as Turkish cups to us), came on pretty copper trays and we each got a type of Turkish Delight sweet too. The tea came in rounded glass cups on a flower-like saucer. We sipped and savored the tea (Nath and Sonya) and coffee (Rod and Viv) and reveled in the view, which all made up for the mediocre lunch experience!

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Tea and Turkish Delight

 

 

 

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Mostar Old Town

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Old Bridge at night

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Pedestrian shopping street

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Watch out for those cobblestones!

Mostar Old Town

The name of the city comes from the word “mostari” (“watchers of the bridge”), who were the guards of a suspension bridge over the River Neretva before the Old Bridge was built. The most famous sight in Mostar, and perhaps all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is the Old Bridge (Stari Most), which we headed to first.

We approached the Old Town from Masala Square, with a garden and fountains (near our hotel). The border of the Old Town (Stari Grad) starts at the cobblestone walkways that run roughly parallel to the Neretva River. They look lovely, but be careful as the cobblestones made from smooth river rocks are uneven and a bit slippery, especially if wet, and it’s easy to fall. The narrow streets are also very crowded with day-trippers from the Dalmatian Coast, so there is sometimes some shoving or bumping into people.

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Beautiful copper work

copper2Tightly compact arteries of merging alleyways are packed with shops, souvenir stalls, restaurants, art galleries, and mosques. The Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque (which you can tour) has a small pretty garden where you can stop to have Turkish tea or coffee, with a great view of the Old Bridge and the river. We did (see next post).

 

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Bullet pens

womensSome of the buildings with colorful facades have galleries downstairs and the artists’ living quarters upstairs. Coppersmiths’ Street is a lively strip, and definitely the most touristy in Mostar, but is still fun to wander along. It offers some colorful shopping and genuinely beautiful hammered-copper ware. Mostar’s Old Bridge is depicted in every which way, and we saw many blue and white “evil eyes”, a legacy of the Turkish occupation (they believed the “evil eyes” kept away bad spirits). Some shops sell very unique Yugoslav army “souvenirs”—for example, pens made out of bullets. Many stores sell beautiful women’s clothes, mostly in a Muslim style, but more free and “European” than you’d find in the more conservative Muslim nations.

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Nath and Alma at start of Old Bridge

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Viv and Old Bridge

oldbridgetownJust after this street we reached the Old Bridge. This iconic symbol of Mostar, spanning the Neretva River, is lovingly called “him”, like an old friend, by Bosnians of all faiths. It spanned the river for more than four centuries until it was destroyed in the war, much of it crumbling into the river below on November 9, 1993. Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent commissioned it in 1557 and it was completed in 1566, a marvel of technology for its time, the longest single-span stone arch. It’s a metaphoric symbol of the point where East meets West, and of how the diversity of cultures and religions were able to bridge the gaps that divided them.

 

After the war the city decided to rebuild the bridge. The original stones, dredged from

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Some of the donors who helped rebuild Old Bridge

the river, were unusable. But masons cut new stones from the original quarry and hand-carved each stone. They then assembled the stones using the same technology as used by the Ottomans. Interestingly, it took the modern builders longer to build the bridge than it took the Ottomans 450 years ago! It was an expensive project, funded by international donors and overseen by UNESCO. It is dramatically arched and flanked by two towers. This new Old Bridge is both symbolic and literal, a bridging of east and west, a sign of reconciliation.

We see a plaque that tells us the Old Bridge area of the old city of Mostar was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Durban, South Africa, in July 2005.

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Crooked Bridge

On the other side of the bridge are more small streets with shops and restaurants: we ate at one called Sadrvan—see a later post. We followed a sign to Crooked Bridge, a miniature Old Bridge over a stream flowing into the river. It was supposedly built as a trial-run for the big Old Bridge. The Crooked Bridge wasn’t destroyed during the war, but was swept away by floods a few years later. This is a recent reconstruction.

 

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Beach and Old Bridge

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Looking up to Old Bridge

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A jumper leaps off the bridge

Close by we found a good place to stop for a drink. It overlooked the river, which has a beach at that point, and the Old Bridge. From there, we watched an interesting tradition: young men jumping from the bridge down into the icy Neretva 75 feet below. They do it partly as tradition, partly to impress girls, and partly to make money—they solicit donations from people up on the bridge. Fun.

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Another jumper about to hit the water

 

 

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Introduction to Mostar

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mosque**NOTE: This post has many photos. Please scroll through and enjoy.

We thought Mostar was colorful, flavorful, and packed with a rich history. It’s a captivating city as it has many faiths living together (seemingly at peace nowadays) and the skyline showcases soaring minarets, church steeples, and a huge cross on the hill behind the city. The cross is at the spot where, during the war in the early 1990s, Croat forces shelled the Bosniak side of the river, including the famous Old Bridge.

Muslims (Bosniaks), Catholics (Croats), Orthodox Christians (Serbs), and a pocketful of Jewish families all call Mostar home. This kaleidoscope of exotic cultures and ancient faiths creates an atmosphere similar to the bazaars of Turkey or Morocco, and we could almost forget we were still in Europe. Not surprising really, as the Ottomans controlled this region for 400 years. Even after they left in the late 19th century they left this rich architectural, cultural and religious legacy.

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shoppingstreetOur hotel was a longish walk from the Old Town, but still passing interesting and disturbing sights, the most obvious being bombed-out buildings and walls with huge bullet/shell holes, the scars of war.

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Brightly-painted school

Brief background: Like the rest of the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s history began with Illyrians, then Romans, then Slavs. In the later 15th century, the Ottoman Empire moved in and dominated the country. After the Ottomans left, Bosnia-Herzegovina became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, then part of Yugoslavia after World War 1. During the Tito years of Yugoslavia the Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks lived harmoniously together.

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However, Yugoslavia started unravelling in the early 1990s, and Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence in spring 1992. Mostar became the center of a dreadful three-way war between the three different ethnicities of the country, with a long siege, genocide, and destruction. The city’s special unifying symbol—the Old Bridge—was badly damaged, parts crumbling into the river.

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The Old Bridge

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Nath and Sonya, with Old Bridge

All around town we see stones and placards engraved with “Don’t forget ‘93”, which was the worst year of this awful war period.

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cemeteryThe New Muslim Cemetery is a stark reminder of this war period. It was a park before the war and every tomb is dated 1993, 1994, or 1995. Other cemeteries were unusable as they were not safe from Croat snipers, but this was relatively safe. Locals buried their loved ones here at night. Most were soldiers but some were civilians. Some tombs have photos of war dead (Muslims don’t normally display pictures of people), as they were younger, less traditional Muslims. Some of the tombstones have a fleur-de-lys shape, a symbol for the nation of Bosnia.

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Next post— to Old Town.

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Selfie of us four

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Note the cross high up on the hill

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Tower of Old Bridge

 

 

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Getting to Mostar

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Along the way

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Ermin at the cafe along the way

From Dubrovnik we wanted to get to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We decided to use a driver recommended by Rick Steves, and it was a great decision. His name is Ermin Elezovic, who is a very friendly English-speaking resident of Mostar.

He arrived promptly in his van and was a fount of information along the way about his country and its history. We were so happy that we asked him to take us to Sarajevo the next day too. In addition, his wife Alma Elezovic is a local guide in Mostar and she gave us a wonderful walking guided tour of the important sights of the city. We paid them in euros, as that is what they wanted, but for all other items in Bosnia-Herzegovina we used the local currency, KM (Convertible Mark). At the time US$1 was around KM 1.78.

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Us at the wayside cafe

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cafe along the way

The drive from Dubrovnik to Mostar took about 3 hours, with a stop along the way. Ermin knew a wayside café, where we could get a drink and a snack, use the bathroom etc. Sonya was happy to try a new beer here—I think a local one. We sat on the verandah, which has a few tables and an interesting collection of old kitchen utensils and a Pfaff sewing machine. It was a fascinating drive, with very varied scenery: from very dry, to lakes, to more wooded, to green mountains. It seems to be at times poorly developed, for example, a lack of equipment for fertile valleys so farming is not that productive. Some of the time we drove along the Neretva River valley, with many dams.

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Old sewing machine and household utensils

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Beer at the cafe

Ermin gave us a pretty good introduction to the divisions in the country. This small country has three faiths (Muslims, Catholics, and Orthox Christians), three languages (Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian), and two alphabets (Roman and Cyrillic). Anyone who lives in the country is called a Bosnian; those who practice Islam are called Bosniaks (about half the population); about a third of the population are Orthodox Serbs; and about fifteen percent are Catholic Croats. As part of the Dayton Peace Accord that ended the conflict here in 1995, the country is divided into three regions: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (shared by Bosniaks and Croats, roughly in the west and central parts of the country); the Republika Srpska (mainly dominated by Serbs, roughly in the north and east); and the Brcko District (a small corner of the country with a mix of ethnicities). Along the drive we saw places flying 3 flags and a couple of times we passed in and then out of sections that were called the Serbian Republic.

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Most bottles of water have nice sayings on them

So, the drive with Ermin was a great introduction to Mostar and to the country generally.

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What to Buy in Dubrovnik (before leaving)

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Beautiful hand-made embroidered cloths. We bought one very similar to this

GameofOur time in Dubrovnik came to an end as we headed to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see next post). But, before we do that here are a few photos of different items for sale in Dubrovnik—just for fun, and because I want to use the pictures!

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Sonya was very tempted to buy a cute baby outfit!

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The Christmas shop is open all year

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candy

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Fun on the Stradun

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Sonya greets a busker

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Sonya tries to get up on the stone face…

As I wrote in the previous post, one way to enter the Old Town in Dubrovnik is through the Pile Gate, which leads to a small square and the start of the Stradun.  In the square is Onofrio’s Big Fountain, a large rounded structure. During the Middle Ages the city had an aqueduct system that brought water from the mountains many miles away. The water ended up here as it was the biggest fountain and then was routed through the rest of the city. This water supply was one of the reasons that Dubrovnik could resist sieges a number of times through history.

On the edge of this square you’ll see many buskers, and there’s also a fun activity that visitors like to try: On the outside wall of the Monastery is a protruding stone face with a flat head. People try to climb onto it and stay balanced, a feat harder than it looks! Sonya tried and succeeded, with a bit of help from Rod!

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…she manages!

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And with a bit of help from Rod….

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