Author Archives: JWH

Zagreb, Croatia

On the 10th day of our tour we toured Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The city’s history goes back to medieval times when two rival communities on adjacent hilltops battled each other. The area is now known as the Upper City and we visited it by way of the shortest funicular in Europe. We visited a cathedral, an open air market, and watched the “changing of the guard” ceremony where the soldiers were inspected but no guard was changed because they don’t station guards!  It was a colorful event for tourists.

According to Croats, the red scarves worn by the soldiers inspired the contemporary necktie. Apparently the French were inspired by the Croatian uniform and created the cravat, which evolved into the habit of men wearing fabric around their necks. To celebrate the invention of the necktie, many of the statues in Zagreb exhibit red scarves!

The Upper City had lots of charm including a quartet of vocalists.

A highlight of our morning was visiting the Museum of Naive Art where a curator told us about some of the wonderful artwork done by untrained Slavic artists.

We finished our tour of the Upper City by visiting a tunnel that was used during WWII as an air raid shelter.  It is now used as a pedestrian passageway and recently became a site for displaying public art installations and information about the city.

The original medieval city has expanded over the years and the Lower City exhibits magnificent buildings, parks, and wide streets constructed during the Austro-Hungarian period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (The city is kept up much better than Sarajevo.) We also saw Communist area buildings as well as many contemporary buildings.  The city felt modern and thriving.

This is the train station.

This is the National Theater.

The Music Academy on the left and a modern office building on the right.

During our free time, Charlotte and I visited several museums of art and crafts and the botanical garden – all within walking distance of our hotel.

With the tour we visited Mirogoj Cemetery, a huge city cemetery created during the Austro-Hungarian period that includes a chapel, crematorium, extensive arcades, and acres of graveyards where many famous Croats are buried. It is a non-denominational cemetery. (photo from Trip Advisor)

Stay tuned for some villages…

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A farm village in Croatia

We spent a day and an overnight in Karanac, a village in Slavonia, a northern agricultural region of Croatia very close to the border with Hungary. The countryside is fertile, flat farm land.  Since joining the European Union, the farmers of this area now compete in a wider market and at high prices and, as a consequence, they are struggling.  Many have been reduced to subsistence farming.  The village of Karanac is slowing becoming a center for aggro-tourism.  We stayed in traditional rural farmhouses and learned about local farm products.

Our hosts were Goca and Dennis, a delightful couple.

The properties in the village are long and narrow and extend back from the street with the houses made up of joined rooms one after another.  In the back of the property are the barns and sheds.  The cultivated fields are outside of the village.

Dennis and Goca collected and displayed farm implements and traditional decor.

Goca had painted the walls with lively patterns using rollers with relief patterns.

Goca also makes soaps and preserves to sell and a local woman, Lily, demonstrated how she made cheeses to sell in a local market.

Some in our group helped chop dried fruits, vegetables, and herbs for three different cheeses that we then were served for breakfast.

Daniel, a local potter demonstrated making vessels on a wheel and then judged our attempts at making coiled pots.  I won (blue) and Charlotte (red) came in second!

We also visited a local winery operated by two sister where we learned about local wine making.  The sisters are wearing blouses with lovely Hungarian embroidery.  I recognized it immediately because my mother took up the hobby after she retired and I have many examples of it on pillow cases.

For lunch we were served a meat stew in a paprika sauce.  The region is influenced by Hungarian cuisine  (more about the food later on.)

Peppers drying was a common site in the village.

Next we visited Zagreb – next post.

Sarajevo Part 2

Sarajevo is a true meeting of the East and the West. Founded by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, the city attracted people of diverse cultures and religions.  In the late 19th century it was under the rule of  the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Both eastern and western cultures come together in the center of the city.

Behind our hotel was a pedestrian shopping street.

Painted on the street is this sign.

And from this point on, the street becomes an open-air Turkish bazaar.

70% percent of the population of Sarajevo is Muslim and turrets are everywhere.  We visited a mosque known to be one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans.

At a war museum in Sarajevo we learned about the Srebrenica Massacre/Genocide that took place in July 1995 when Serbian soldiers killed 8000 unarmed Muslim men and boys. When news of this atrocity went public, President Clinton stepped in to end the war.   Because the town of Srebrenica was designated as a “safe city” by the UN, no one was allowed weapons.  But the Bosnian Serbs put the women and children in concentration camps.  When the men and boys who were left in the city learned that the soldiers might come after them, they tried to escape into the mountains but were chased down and executed by the solders.  There were 8300 victims. The story is chilling.

Remains of the dead are still being discovered in the mountains.

We learned more about the Bosnian-Serb War and specifically the 3.5 year siege of Sarajevo. We saw buildings in Sarajevo pocked with bullet holes and a few buildings in ruins that were never rebuilt. By the conclusion of the war, 80% of the buildings were uninhabitable. We also learned how dangerous it was for people in the city to get by during the years of the siege. Only a small area near the airport provided a way out, but only through the underground tunnel, The Tunnel of Hope.

The map shows how the city was surrounded and was being fired on daily.  As people tried to carry on with their daily lives, they were fired upon. They lived day to day, hour to hour. The only access to the city was at the airport, but that was under the control of the UN and was neutral.  In 1993 the Bosnian soldiers dug a tunnel under the airport with shovels and pick axes and removed 1200 cubric metres of soil with wheel barrels.  The men worked 24 hours a day in 8 hour shifts between March and June. Tracks were laid so that carts could easily move through the tunnel and pipes were installed to provide Sarajevo with oil, electricity, and telephone lines.

The yellow line is the tunnel.

This is the house that was donated by a family outside of the airport. It is now a small museum where visitors can see the tunnel.

We walked through a short bit of the tunnel.  It was low and narrow!

Carts were used to take out the injured and to bring in food and medical supplies in to the city.

This was a display showing where the tunnel ran under the airport (yellow line.)

On several occasions I saw splashes of red paint on the ground.  These are memorials for people who lost their lives on those spots.  They are known as the Sarajevo Roses.  There were 100 roses painted around the city, but of course that was only symbolic because thousands lost their lives.

As we departed Sarajevo we passed this huge cemetery, just one in the city as a result of the recent war.  The white head stones are Muslim graves and the darker ones are primarily Catholics.  The trees hide the size of the cemetery.

As a result of the Dayton Agreement which ended the war, the country now consists of the federations of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska. Each area has its own President and decisions for the country are made by these leaders, but only if they all agree.  You can imagine the problems this has caused because of the rivalries – nothing gets down.  This is a sad situation that needs a solution.

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….

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….