Monthly Archives: November 2017

Mostar and Sarajevo Part I

Croatia is divided into 2 parts separated by 20 miles of coastline that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This means that we drove north from Dubrovnik, following the coast line and enjoying the views of the many islands off the coast. We then passed through immigration at the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina where we presented our passports to an officer to leave Croatia and then drove 50 feet and presented them again to enter Bosnia-Herzegovina. After traveling 20 miles, we again presented passports to both countries to reenter Croatia. We were fortunate that there were only a couple of tour buses ahead of us. Our guide informed us that at times, it can take up to three hours to get through these check points. But then, because we were headed for Sarajevo, by way of a certain highway, and Saravejo is in Bosina –Herzegovina, we had to go through still another checkpoint where we presented our passports to officials from both countries.

Because of the delays and problems this routine creates, Croatia will be linking both parts of its country by building a bridge from the west portion of its country to the east part by joining a highway via a peninsula located parallel to the coast. This way the road will by-pass the 20 miles belonging to Bosnia – Herzegovina. Funding is coming from the European Union since Croatia is a member and the Union wants all of its territories linked. This solution is controversial because Bosnia – Herzegovina claims that the bridge will block their access to the sea, even though the water is too shallow along their 20 miles of coast for a port. Construction of the bridge begins this November.

(Orange was our route and blue were the immigration check points.  Red is the new bridge.)

Today Bosnia is actually two federations that were combined after WWII as “Bosnia and Herzegovina” in the consolidation of the federations of Yugoslavia. The two federations chose to remain together after Yugoslavia dissolved.

Our first stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina was Mostar,  known for its magnificent arched bridge. The 16th century bridge has been restored after its destruction in 1993 during their most recent war. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Young men jump from the bridge into the emerald water below for the pleasure of tourists and the tips they earn from them.

Here is a Youtube video of a jump!

As we continued on to Sarajevo, we passed through spectacular mountain-scapes!

As we approached Sarajevo, our guide reviewed with us the long history of the Balkans and the 20th century events and  circumstances that led up to the 1990’s war in the area.  We learned how complex the long history of the area is and how territories were juggled around from one rule to another.  We also learned how Tito wanted to unify the area because he felt a united country offered a better life for all but we also learned how ruthless he was.  Today there are still problems in the area that the Dayton Agreement, which ended the recent war, did not address. The aftermath of the war was still visible in Sarajevo even though it has been largely rebuilt.

Over the centuries, Sarajevo has been a meeting of the east and the west. First settled in the 15th century by the Ottoman Turks, it was taken over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. Evidence of the Austro-Hungarian rule of country from 1878 – 1918 can be observed in the grand style of the architecture of much of Sarajevo. Neo-Baroque, Art Nouveau, and other turn-of-the-century decorative details adorned a lot of the buildings.  On the other hand, many of the buildings, although restored after the war, appear grungy.  A good coat of paint would do wonders throughout the city!

Unfortunately, graffiti is rampant in Sarajevo.  Many of the exquisite buildings are marked up.

We also saw lots of bullet marks and patched surfaces.

During the Communist area under Tito, lots of plain blocky buildings were erected that look pretty shabby today.

Perhaps the most impressive building in Sarajevo is the City Hall.  It was built in the late 19th century in a Neo-Morrish style and became a library that housed 1.5 million volumes and over 155,000 rare books, manuscripts and documents related to Balkan history.  In 1992 during the Siege of Sarajevo, the building was bombed and almost all of the holdings were lost.  The magnificent building has since been restored and is used for events, meetings, and concerts.

When it was destroyed.

The atrium restored.

During some free time, Charlotte and I sought out the Academy of Fine Arts where we were graciously given a tour of the print studios ( where they still use toxic supplies and processes.)  The building dates from Tito’s era, but the new bridge was designed by art students.

There is more of Sarajevo to come….

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Montenegro

On a day trip from Dubrovnik we ventured south along the coast of the Adriatic to visit the small country of Montenegro (pop. 600,000.) We spent the day in the area of the Bay of Kotor, which penetrates deep into the coastline. We traveled by bus (red) to Perast, then took a boat (pink dots) to the town of Kotor where we hopped back on our bus. A short ferry ride brought us back to the highway to Dubrovnik.

The water in the bay was still and the water exceptionally clear and the views quite scenic.

Since Montenegro is very mountainous, towns and villages are located on slopes. At Perast (above) we boarded a small boat to visit a church on a small man-made island, the Lady of the Rock. Legend has it that a painting of the Madonna was discovered on a rock in the middle of the lake, so the locals brought more rocks to create an island on which they built a church.

Then we continued by boat to the medieval town of Kotor – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like Dubrovnik, the Venetians walled the city in the 1500’s to protect it from the Ottoman Turks. The streets were very narrow and steps led to various levels. It was charming place and fun to explore the maze, but packed with tourists and souvenir shops.

The country is totally dependent on tourism and it is drawing visitors from around the world. We encountered a lot of them including huge cruise ships that accommodate up to 5000 tourists.

 

 

Dubrovnik

Charlotte, my travel buddy, and I toured the old city of Dubrovnik with our tour group. The city has a very old history and became important during the Ottoman Empire as a trade connection with the West. The land around the city is not suited for agriculture, but with a fine port, the city expanded with merchants, shippers, and bankers. It also had soldiers to defend the city along the 1.2 mile medieval walls that encircle the city. We walked the top of the walls and lower streets, and alleys.

The old city is a National World Heritage Site and the buildings and walls are made of light colored sandstone and roofs are red clay tiles. In 1991 the Yugoslav People’s Army, made up primarily of Serbs, attacked the city and much damage was done, which has since been restored. 80% of the red tiles had to replaced and today you can see the difference in the roofs of old and new tiles.

The red arrow shows where we began our walk of the ramparts.

Dubrovnik has become a thriving tourist destination and our guide told us that there were masses of tourists, especially from cruise ships, visiting the city in July. Today there were still a lot of tourists in the old city along with lots of restaurants, museums, gift shops, and apartments for rent. Only 800 live there today because the rents are so high.

Countries of the Adriatic

I’ve just returned from a two week tour Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia and my head is spinning with memories of glorious sites, experiences, and people.

After arriving in Munich, I had an emergency false medical issue at the airport.  The pain in my leg turned out not to be thrombosis and I am very grateful to the attentive medical staff at the airport and a local hospital for the attention and care they gave me so that I could continue on my way to Dubrovnik.  Here I am being transported to the hospital.

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This is Dr. Hana who conducted tests and determined that I was “fit to fly.”  I needed a letter from her so that Lufthansa would let me board my connecting flight. Everyone I encountered was wonderful and along the way I learned a bit about the German system of universal health coverage that dates back to the 1883.

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Here is map of the route the tour followed beginning with Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Throughout our travels, the terrain and landscapes varied; all quite beautiful.  Along the Adriatic coast we encountered gray rocky mountains descending to the water with many islands off shore. Many of the walled forts were built by the Venetians in the 15th century to protect their claim over the Adriatic against the Ottoman Turks invading from the east.

As we traveled inland, we passed through villages and farmland located in valleys surrounded by mountains.  Buildings are consistently light colored stone with red clay tile roofs.  Vineyards were everywhere.

The area of Croatia that borders Hungary is rich, flat farmland where a variety of crops are grown.

We also viewed snow covered mountains, lakes, and walled cities atop high hills.

More to come….