Visiting Mostar was absolutely wonderful, even during off-season when a lot of things were closed to visitors. How would that translate to living in Mostar? Let’s find out.
Mostar is a beautiful city with a very complex history and a very complex present. The scars of the war that was less than three decades ago can be seen sprayed on the walls and in the bombed out buildings that people don’t have enough money to renovate. The city is segregated, with Bosnians and Bosnian-Croats who were fighting each other just a few decades ago now living side by side. Despite that, everyone lives in peace. Everyone goes about their day, doing whatever work they can get and enjoying a good bit of coffee throughout the day. When the summer gets going, the city becomes a tourist hotspot. This means overcrowding, and according to a local, it means the city loses a bit of its essence when it’s completely covered by souvenir stands and tour offers.
Conversely, outside of tourist season, the city closes up shop in a lot of ways. Many of the bars and restaurants shutter until they can make a profit when tourists are in town. Since we came in January, that made it hard to experience some of the craft beer pubs, the cafes, and the restaurants with lively outdoor seating. Living in Mostar would mean living in two completely different places at different times of the year.
Hands down, my favorite thing about Mostar has been the people. On the eve before our last day, both our guesthouse host and the man who had given us a free walking tour earlier in the day were contacting everyone they knew to try to find someone who would take us on a tour the next day throughout the Herzegovina region. The people are kind, extremely resilient, and they have a great sense of humor. There’s nothing not to love.
When we were doing our walking tour, I was struck by the fact that our guide knew everyone in town. He waved to the shopkeepers and bar men, fist bumped the guys who run the diving club, and greeted the man whose father documented the collapse of the Old Bridge during the war. It was obvious that Mostar isn’t just a place to live; it’s a community.
Health and Safety
Though the city is quiet and peaceful, I do have one major gripe about it and Bosnia and Herzegovina in general: the smoking. Up to 80% of the people here smoke and they do it indoors. Every bar and restaurant is hazy with smoke which is both irritating and damaging. It’s not something I would want to be around all the time.
Unlike the kind, understanding, and optimistic Bosniaks, I don’t think I’d be able to live in Mostar without wondering if one of our aggressive neighbors could attempt to take over again like they did in the 90s. Then again, maybe I could learn a thing or two about forgivenesses from the locals. As it stands, everyone lives in the city in a separate peace. As long as you don’t go wearing a Bosnia football jersey to a Croat bar.
Food and drink
I have nothing negative to say about the food even though our options were limited. Traditional local dishes include a vast cheese selection, fried dough, meatballs and pita bread, burek, and a lot of coffee. We also had some truly excellent pasta, some of the best I’ve had in some time. Despite being predominantly Muslim, Bosnian Muslims practice the same way most Catholics do, only casually or in label. That means there’s plenty of beer, wine, and people even make their own flavored brandy at home. Mostar is actually surrounded by a vast landscape of wineries so good wine is just around the corner.
Total livability score 3/10
Living somewhere is like being in a relationship. And like a relationship, the smoking is a dealbreaker for me. It’s a shame because it’s such a nice city otherwise, but I can’t live with the sting of smoke in my eyes and throat every time I go out to have a meal. Unless Mostar started getting more regular tourism year-round, the waves of tourism in the summer and the emptiness of the winter months would also be hard for me to cope with as a local. For now, it will have to remain a beautiful place to visit.