On the evening preceding our only full day in Mostar we checked in to our accommodation, Hostel Miran, and met its proprietor and namesake. Miran immediately struck us as a special guy. He grew up in Mostar and lived through the breakup of Yugoslavia, more specifically the Bosnian War, before being drafted to fight in the Kosovo War. He’s got a colorful and sometimes tragic history that he has turned around into a prosperous life for himself and his family. Miran was one of the first people to open a hostel in Mostar in the war’s aftermath and has gained international attention for his unique story. He was proud to show us that a google search for “crazy bosnian guy” would reveal images of none-other but our new friend standing right in front of us. He exuberantly convinced us to take his all-day tour which would cover some of the area’s most popular attractions before returning to downtown Mostar and recounting his experience during the war and the city’s siege. The tour was pretty cool; we visited some of the must see sites around the Mostar area including Kravica waterfalls, Blagaj Tekija monestary and the quaint Pocitelj village. However, it quickly became clear that the true value of the tour was all-day access to Miran himself. The educational value of a conversation with someone who lived through such important historical events cannot be overstated. Additionally, Miran is a true history buff and ended up being a wealth of knowledge regarding the geopolitical landscape of this part of the world and the events that shaped it in the past. We finished the tour with a much deeper understanding of Yugoslavia, its dissolution, and the subsequent conflicts that resulted.
We ended the day with a visit to an abandoned building that played an important role in the siege of Mostar. Once an 8-story bank building, the structure took on new meaning during the Bosnian War when it became a nest for Croat snipers taking aim for the Bosniak-controlled streets of Eastern Mostar. Now widely known as 'Sniper Tower', the imposing, bullet-ridden facade serves as a grim reminder of how recently this city and country was enveloped in violent conflict. Joined by a new American friend Jake who took Miran’s tour with us, we made much more pleasant use of the building by soaking in some amazing views of the city from its roof while enjoying the best, cheap local beer Bosnian marks can buy. Local artists have reclaimed the once terror-inspiring structure by decorating its interior and exterior with colorful, politically-charged graffiti. We always love experiencing situations in which art has served as a meaningful tool in the collective healing process of a city.