Mostar, Mostar, Sarajevo, No clue, Train from Belgrade to Nis.




Current location: Brasov, Romania

Song currently stuck in my head: Futureworld (Trans AM), obviously

Price of a beer in a bar: US$1.60 for 500ml of domestic strong dark ale, bottled, that I would order again.

Not to get all Christopher Nolan on you, but I’m going to warp the time line(s) on this project. I have about two months of posts already written and scheduled, like the one that posted yesterday, which was written months ago. I’m going to try adding in posts on Tuesdays that are closer to real time, creating two parallel time lines. Previously I staggered my posts so I could have more flexibility, retrospection and privacy, but the latter is less of a concern as I intend to be moving at a much more brisk pace (catch me if you can, I’ll buy you a beer) and I’m willing to trade the first two in order to experiment with more immediacy ( and perhaps more salience in the aging brain). We’ll see how it goes. In about two months these two time lines will unify, when then meets now, and I’ll be posting close to real time on Mondays again.

I’m in the Transylvania region of Romania and it’s an unexpected treat. I knew I’d love Peles Castle, but I wasn’t expecting the heavy German influence throughout. It’s all bears and forests and dark wooden chalets. The language is a Latin derivative, unlike all of its Slavic neighbors, and I’d actually be able to get by with some fumbly Spanish, like in Italy, if everyone didn’t already speak English.

I toured Peles and Bran Castles, took a free walking tour here in Brasov, hiked one of the local hills (pictured below with ‘BRASOV’ in white letters you can barely see in the first photo, click to enlarge, the second photo is from behind said sign), road the cable car down and have been having a generally great time. The locals here in Brasov (pop ~250,000) are cheerful compared to the more somber but dependably nice locals I’ve been encountering elsewhere and the costs are low, low, low.


Cost of a beer in a bar: they aren’t open yet

Song currently stuck in my head: Midnight (Ice-T)



1:30am: Alarm pulse. Drag right.

2:30am: Depart Airbnb on foot, begin walking 3km to Centar train station, fully packed. I don’t normally carry items for The Girlfriend (trip motto: you bring it, you carry it), but this morning is an exception. I’ve taken on an extra 5 pounds (or something).

~3:15am: Arrive at Centrar train station.

4am: Train departs for Nis, Serbia.


~9:30am:  Arrival, walk along highway looking for food and/or coffee that can be purchased with a MasterCard. Limited success. Hang out in the train station. Remnants of communism are weird.

11:30am: Train departs


2:50pm: Arrival. Rail employees point us to a rustic bit of railway history they haven’t towed away yet. It’s always interesting to see how things used to be, to see if you can mentally fill in the blanks to see how adaptations were arrived at.

Oh, never mind, it’s the train we’re taking to Sophia. It looks like a bus out of Midnight Cowboy.


3:35pm: Scheduled departure, delayed slightly by customs agents observing the local customs. Our passports get stamped with the wrong date, foreshadowing the deformation of time that accompanies the sleep deprivation that’s only beginning to set in. No consequence. We depart and then spend a significant amount of time waiting aboard the train at Bulgarian customs. Customs agent who collects the passports comments that it’s ‘strange’ that The Girlfriend and I aren’t sitting next to each other even though we’re traveling together. We’ve each taken window seats, directly across from each other. The train is near empty. Received our stamps.



~7:10pm, new time zone: Arrival and fumbling attempts to arrange further transport. Up until now we’ve been on one ticket, Belgrade to Sofia. Now we need to get a ticket to Plovdiv, preferably by train. Recharge our phones, knowing we’ll need juice to find our rental once we arrive in Plovdiv close to midnight. Damn good Bulgarian espresso spikes resolve and competency, if only briefly. Third energy drink purchased. Sleep deprivation is taking hold in earnest after only a few hours sleep the night before and a generally rough few days working our way from Mostar. The Girlfriend will later begin hallucinating on an ominous, kind-of-but-not-quite empty Bulgarian street with furtive movement hiding in the dark, but that hasn’t happened yet. Time warps ahead of and behind us, moves inconsistently, in fits and starts.

9:00pm: Depart. These trains are so old they have these manual door cranks that passengers are having trouble opening. Interior is 80s, probably a refresh; newer than the underlying hardware. Starting to run out of podcasts that I care about. Beginning to have uncharacteristically violent feelings toward Ira Glass, but if I’m honest those have been developing slowly for years, ever since his dismissive comments about listeners who object to the excessive vocal fry in the show’s on air talent.


~11:15pm: Arrival. Navigation in unfamiliar station in unfamiliar city; underground tunnel(s). The Girlfriend is spooked, but other travelers are moving in the same direction so I’m reassured. Walk with more confidence, not less; overcompensate. Long walk, another 3km or so, before we find a building that we have no idea how to enter. No cell service, host is supposed to be present but no indication. Hate to just start knocking on doors at midnight. Don’t speak the language (hold some currency). The Girlfriend is falling apart but corralling the pieces; soldiering impressively; keeping a tenuous hold. Double back to a bar/cafe that’s recently closed but they let me connect to their wifi, cheerfully even, happy I’m not demanding drink service. Messages, clarification, asynchronous telemiscommunication. Steps retraced, ingress, positive impressions formed. Solid rental.







More food


A nice sit down dinner for 52 local currency units (plus a 10% tip) that included these plates (shrimp and chicken), a cucumber salad, beers, a brandy and a desert. With tip it translated to ~US$35.

Next we have a picture of Doner Kabob from Zek’s, which I ate about 20 times during my month in Mostar. It’s hearty, tasty, reasonably balanced and cheap at ~US$2.44.

Next is cevapi, which is the name of the local sausage and the sandwich filled with it. This one is from Diner G-N and cost ~US$3.65. You usually order them based on how much sausage you want, but at Diner G-N they only offered one size and it’s significant.

Around Mostar



The courtyard-ish area of our second rental in Mostar and a picture of the gym we’re using.


The short of it: Meaty, smoky and ethnically diverse, this unofficial capital of the Herzegovina Region was a mixed bag of Eastern Bloc gloom, (very) old world charm and metropolitan offerings.

The Pros: Wine country, low cost of living in sometimes vibrant surroundings, typical European cafe culture is fully evident, undeniable ambiance of The Old Town, local music (including radio) is better than most.

The Cons: Indoor public smoking is ubiquitous, hulking and poorly maintained communist construction reaches for the sky, litter abounds.

Distortions: Renting via Airbnb saved us from having to arrange for utilities and complete other potentially bureaucracy heavy tasks. We lived near the city center, somewhat removed from The Old Town. We visited during the month of January, 2018.

Overall: Mostar is a small, navigable city of around 100,000 people packed with apartments, cafes, restaurants, shops and historical significance both distant and modern. Dreary communist era apartment towers often dominate the landscape; their paintless gray plaster visibly crumbling and liberally perforated by high caliber bullets that were fired decades ago. If you’re indoors and in public, you’re breathing smoke. Litter is an issue. And yet the whole thing was somehow far less miserable than it should have been. Crime wasn’t a concern, food was terrific, costs were very low and the standard of service was relatively high.

Food and entertainment: I should mention at the onset that I ate Doner just about every day. For US$2.44, Zek’s sold me a delicious, filling sandwich full of meat, vegetables and topped with sauce. This forms the baseline of my culinary exploration in Mostar, where we did some cooking but a lot of carrying away. A bakery chain named Suncokret had us covered with spinach or chard filled pastries, sandwiches, pizza and various what-have-you. They had a big square sandwich filled with cubes of a soft local cheese, almost like creme cheese, and marinated red peppers that was amazing, especially when I topped it off with a couple of fried eggs. The bakery sandwiches were generally under US$2 and most items were less than US$1.

I read somewhere that a typical breakfast in Mostar is espresso and a cigarette, but those meals on the go seem to often be bolstered by a stop at the bakery. The streets would fill with another procession of plain white bakery bags in the mid afternoon, which seemed to be some kind of snack hour.

When people weren’t on the street they seemed to be in cafes all day, every day. There was seldom an hour that the smoke filled cafes weren’t doing a brisk business. I know it’s cliche to point out, but even more than in other parts I’ve Europe I’ve seen, cafe sitting is the local pastime.

Our best meal was at Sadravan, a traditional restaurant in The Old Town near the famous Stari Most and something of a fixation for some travel foodie youtubers we enjoy. We spent a little under US$30 total for two people including drinks and almost couldn’t finish the food, which was predominately delicious meats. We tried other restaurants in The Old Town with similar offerings and we were never disappointed. Bosnian cuisine is dependably fantastic. The town is dotted with casual sit down or takeout places specializing in pizza, sausage sandwiches and other regional fare and the highly palatable pizza is usually a steal at ~US$6 for a large or jumbo; big enough that people tried to talk us out of it when we ordered it for two.

We sampled craft drafts nearby at The Black Dog Pub, which pours several local and regional beers in a couple of cosy stone rooms with a beautiful riverside patio. Less grand and more boisterous was nearby Marshall, a tiny two story bar with an emphasis on their jukebox.

‘Herzegovina’ translates into something close to ‘King of The Wines’, so you can tell we’re in wine country. Good domestic bottles (and boxes!) sell for cheap at the local grocery stores, with several labels coming in under US$3/750ml. Restaurants often serve house wines that are made by the owner; we had a carafe of a delicious dry red with our pizza on our first night in town.

We joined Fitness Centar Fit4Life and paid ~US$34/pp/month for unlimited use of their facility. Its located in a large building that houses City Hotel, apartments, a bakery, restaurants, a bus station, one or two cafe/bars and probably something more or something less by now. I was completely satisfied with the equipment and the room. Crowds were kind of unpredictable, probably because it was January and all indications are that resolutioners are an international phenomenon. God bless ’em, as long as they let me work in.

We didn’t spend many of our evenings out in Mostar, so I can’t speak to the night life with any authority. Pink Panther, also in the City Hotel building, was mentioned as THE nightlife destination, but everything about it screamed that it was going to be a crowd of 19 year olds so I took a pass. Maybe I was wrong, maybe The Euro Crowd does it differently, but either way it was going to be a deafening throb of mediocre (or worse) techno’d out pop tunes and it wasn’t going to start until after my bed time. How do I know? I could hear it from our apartment sometimes, just enough to make out some of the tunes.

What I should have done was track down some live music. Black Dog Pub had a stage and every time we heard local rock on the radio I was pleasantly surprised. It was generally energetic, layered and cleanly produced without being sterile. Songs would immediately evoke familiar bands without sounding overly derivative; Hey, it’s Bosnian ‘The Tubes’, Hey, it’s Bosnian ‘U2’, Hey, it’s Bosnian ‘Golden Earing’.

Our place: We had two rentals in Mostar, but I’ll concentrate on the first. Everything about the place says it was built as private apartments for college students attending a nearby university. It seems like the furniture was part of the original design, it’s laid out with an assumption of the presence of room mates and the need for desk space. It all fits together very neatly and conceals a tremendous amount of storage. I loved it immediately. We had an efficient kitchenette and our host was nice enough to drop off a toaster oven since we’d inquired about an oven back when we booked. The bathroom was roomy, the euro-ubiquitous exterior window shades worked perfectly (for once), the beds were comfortable and the layout was intuitive. As I mentioned, our building included a good Italian restaurant, a cafe, a bar, a nightclub, a bus station, a bakery and our gym. Having units on all sides and a front door that opened to an interior hallway helped keep the temperature nice and consistent. What can I say, I was a fan of the place. We paid US$563 for 30 nights, including Airbnb fees and all utilities. This ignores a discount the host gave us because he had to adjust our reservation. Perhaps there’s a time of year that it’s obnoxious to live here; that all you hear are amplified voices reciting annoying college tropes. Maybe that’s not the case. When we lived there, the place seemed near abandoned. The doors and halls were decorated, but we seldom passed others in the hall. Perhaps they observe an exceptionally long winter break.

Infrastructure: The city is pockmarked with bullet holes and littered with destroyed buildings, but otherwise the infrastructure presented as solid. We experienced no outages and internet flowed swiftly in both directions, except at our first apartment where we relied on some mystery router that was just a little too far away and shared with other apartments, the bakery downstairs, it’s patrons and anyone else looking for open wifi.

The Numbers: We brought out month in Mostar in at US$1,042.54. That covers 2 people and all the normal costs of day to day life. Follow the link, play with the math. I’ve excluded some periodic healthcare costs like dental cleanings and checkups since these would not be recurring monthly expenses. Mostar was affordable. And while it was seldom cheerful it definitely deserves a look in sunnier months.