Friday, September 11, 2015

When do the saints go marching in?

The route via a bit of Croatia
As we left Belgrade, we made an early start and headed towards the Croatia border to avoid (all together now...) the crowds. We'd be on Croat roads for a short while as we headed towards Bosnia. As soon as we entered Bosnia, The scene drastically. I don't quite know how to describe it. yes, this were greener, as if man hadn't quite exerted his influence on the place, but what really left us with an uneasy feeling were the abandoned, run-down houses. You could see these ghost houses-  for that's were they were, ghosts of once living, breathing active houses which were now mere shells of their former selves - every 200 meters or so for a good 50- 60 kilometres into the country.

A bit further in, nature completely closed in, leaving only the roads and greenery (which was beautiful) on either side before slowly, a bit further in, one could spot the odd restaurants, houses and petrol stations once more. The journey (If you ignored the ghost houses) felt like travelling through the Western Ghats in the monsoons. The Sava river merrily gurgled along with us and clouds rolled in through the hills.

We stopped along the highway at a motel for lunch. Great view, friendly staff and not a word of English between the lot of them. Led to a lot of hand gesturing and finger-pointing and sheepish grinning, but we ended up with a pretty decent meal of buttered rice, mushrooms, clear soups and fresh bread.

We entered Sarajevo by early evening - it was tucked away in the plains, surrounded by the lovely  hills. Our apartment was an interesting mix of the modern and the not-quite-making-it-there... The washing machine was a model of the sorts I'd last seen in the 80s and the the German microwave made frightening noises as it ran, but the Telly was a massive LED flat screen. We also didn't know quite what to make of the heavily reinforced and Padded front door or what looked like a bomb bunker with steel doors near the car park.
The Eternal flame memorial for those who lost their lives in WWII
The evening was pleasant enough for a walk and the rain had settled down to a more sedate British drizzle. As we walk down, I'm struck once again by the beauty of the older sections of the cities - Starigrad. Like many European towns, the central areas are strictly pedestrian and restaurants and cafes abound. As we walked along, we spotted a poster, and follwed the signs to an exhibition about the tragedy of Srebrenica. The exhibition showed not just photographs and first hand accounts but also played a couple of documentaries including 'Miss Sarajevo'. The images were pretty moving for us, but I'm afraid it was all a bit too much for young Pickwick. He ended u feeling sick and squeamish and we had to exit the place a bit abruptly. I feel rather sorry for the little chap, but I'm glad we made that journey - it was important for him to realise the price of war, the futility of violence, whatever the reasons, whatever the provocations.

The Sarajevo that greeted us the next morning was a Sarajevo that was eager to show us the famous Sarajevan resilience. After a brief history of the Bosnian-Serbian conflict, our guide walked us through various historical places, including the Latin Bridge - The spot of the assassination of Prince Ferdinand (the alleged trigger to WW I), the oldest orthodox church, Roman Catholic church and Mosque in Sarajevo (despite Bosnia having an overwhelmingly Muslim Population) and a unique shrine (of the 7 brothers) where apparently wishes are granted. :)
The Latin Bridge (in the far distance)
The Orthodox church and the statue of the naked man. Spot the real pigeons from the ones that are part of the sculpture...

The afternoon in our schedule was reserved for the 'Tunnel of Hope' - an 800 m secret tunnel that connect free BiH with Sarajevo during the siege of Sarajevo.
What's left of the tunnel
The house cat sitting on a (disarmed) landmine just behind the house
Not only did we see the entrance (n a nondescript house just meters from the airstrip which was controlled by the UN), we met Abid- One of the men who transported equipment and ammunition across the Tunnel. Abid, like most of the Sarajevans we'd met loved life, loved jokes (I guess a sense of humour is a vital characteristic if you needed survive four years of living in tunnels and being shelled by mortars or shot at by snipers every time your tried to cross the road) and loved to recount his adventures to those willing to listen.
The baa-lamb with Abid

From the tunnels we headed further on towards the outskirts of the city to Vrelo Bosna, a freshwater spring close to Sarajevo. What a beautiful, serene place (well, it was serene until our kids invaded it. After that it was all excited squeals and delighted giggles and disgruntled swans). Definitely a must see for anyone deciding to visit Sarajevo.
The water was so clear cold, you could see right to the bottom

More of Vrelo Bosna. We wish we could have stayed longer
Its amazing how much beauty this war torn country holds. As we made our way back to Sarajevo, We continued to spot shrapnel -pitted structures that seem to wear them like a proud badge of honour as it continued to house its inhabitants. Life, like they said, went on as normal.

The Sarajevsko brewery. During the siege, this was a vital source of water for the citizens of Sarajevo as a spring runs right under it. 
Our evening ended earlier than expected though, as the main street was packed with loyal BiH basketball fans that were throwing a hero's welcome to its young under- 16 basketball team that had narrowly beaten Lithuania to lift the European Cup the previous night.
Night Life in Sarajevo. The main streets are completely taken over by the tents and DJ consoles

A lovely, quiet Cafe bar near Starigrad - Zaltna Ribica. This was the entrance porch

Inside Zlatna Ribica or the Goldfish Cafe
Basketball and chess still seem to be a national obsession here (what a relief from the same cricket and football obsessed talk).
Some fast-paced street chess in action, with bystanders calling out 'helpful' moves
Tomorrow we mean to drive to Mostar in Herzegovina before arriving in Croatia. I hope all out hosts are as cheerful as the Sarajevans. This trip will then be a breeze!

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