Sunday, June 30, 2013

SARAJEVO, Part III, Religion

At the beginning the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina had three main religious groups: Muslims (known as "Bosniaks), 44%; Orthodox Serbs, 31%; and Catholic Croats, 17%. There was also a small Jewish community.

An official census has not been taken since the war, but in 2002, according to Wikipedia, it is estimated that about 80% of Sarajevo's citizens were Muslim Bosniaks, 11% were Serbian Orthodox, 7% were Catholic Croats, and 2% were others--Jews, Romas, etc. The war obviously had a great impact on the city's diversity.

Each of the four main religions has a major building within a few blocks of each other in Sarajevo.  All four buildings miraculously survived the war, although the Muslim mosque was severely damaged and required extensive renovation.

The neo-Gothic Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral was built in 1884-1889 during the Austro-Hungarian period and was modeled after Notre Dame in Paris. It was damaged but not destroyed by shelling during the siege, and has been beautifully restored.
Note our terrific guide Neno in lower right corner of photo

Saturday, June 29, 2013


NOTE: Although this is a post about traveling, today it is necessary to include quite a bit of history because one cannot begin to appreciate Sarajevo without a basic understanding of its past.  I'll keep the lecture as short as I can.

Aside from hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics, Sarajevo is probably best known for two things: for being the site where World War I began, and for being at the heart of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the massive Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were assassinated as they drove in an open-topped car near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, fulfilling Otto von Bismarck's prophesy that "One day the great European war will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."

Friday, June 28, 2013

SARAJEVO, Part I, Reading

One of the things I like to do when I travel is deepen my experience through related reading. For any given trip, I can usually find a book about a place, a person, or an event related to one of our destinations.  For example, on our trip last summer that included Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Germany's Rhine River, and Amsterdam, I read these related books:

The Year that Changed the World, which outlines the escalating revolutions all over Europe and key people such as Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Miklos Nemeth in Hungary who helped bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union

The Lady in Gold, a book about Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secession movement

Van Gogh: The Life, an exhaustive biography of the incredibly complex artist

For our most recent trip to the Balkans, three of the books I read were about Sarajevo.

The first, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, is a novel based on actual events.  In 1992 during the siege of the city, a musician named Vedran Smailovic, a cellist in the national orchestra, often played his instrument in the ruins and rubble left by the bombing as a way to commemorate and honor the dead.  He also played at funerals, even though they were often the target of snipers.

Galloway created a character based on Smailovic who positions himself in the middle of a town square where he saw many of his friends killed by a mortar attack while they were waiting in line to buy bread. In the direct line of sniper fire, he plays at the same time and in the same place for 22 days to honor the 22 dead.  The story is told through the eyes of three people who watch him intently every day--a young woman sniper trying to protect the cellist, a man attempting to find water for his family, and a man working in a bakery and trying to understand the brutality around him.

While the story is fiction, it draws its images from actual landmarks and events, and I was moved by the courage the characters showed in the midst of horrible conditions.  I did learn that Smailovic was upset that a western writer had "stolen" his story as the basis for this novel.  I can't really blame him for that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


After a quick breakfast (couldn't pass that up), we started out for Sarajevo at 8:00. On our way out of Zagreb, we passed a long, colorful wall covered in street art. Unfortunately, we had 250 miles to go, and since Google maps estimated it would take us 4 hours and 45 minutes to get there and we had no time to stop, I had to get these images from the internet:
It reminded me of the painted sections of the Berlin Wall. When I got home, I discovered that there are a few hundred meters of wall covered with art, and that Zagreb city officials actually encourage local artists to update the art every few years. If I ever get back to Zagreb, I plan to spend some time at this wall on Branimirova Street.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Ljubljana (loob-lee-AH-nuh) is the capital city of Slovenia, has a population of only 272,000, and has a very walkable old town.

Preseren Square lies at the center of the city. When we were there, a rock concert was just getting underway in front of the main building of the University of Ljubljana, which faces the Square:
Preseren Square, Ljubljana, Slovenia / Souvenir Chronicles

Saturday, June 22, 2013


The northwest corner of Slovenia might be the most beautiful place I have ever been. The Julian Alps (named for Julius Caesar) are spectacular.

Roofed Slovenian hayracks are recognized as part of the national heritage and are now preserved.
The advertising on the hayrack below makes it just a little less quaint, don't you think?

Friday, June 21, 2013


We left for the Balkans on Tuesday, May 21st, just a few hours after I finished grading my finals and submitting final grades.  When we checked our bags at LAX, the British Airways guy at the counter, who actually was British, asked, "What country is Zagreb in?"  That was our first indication that we were heading off on a somewhat unusual adventure.

After twenty-one stressful hours of travel from home to LAX to London to Frankfurt to Zagreb that required some running on both of the connections, we arrived in Croatia at 10:20 p.m.  We had arranged a late pick-up for our car, which we rented from Oryx, a Croatian car rental agency.  Bob had also rented a GPS unit, without which we figured we would be doomed.  Everything was ready and waiting for us.

Then the real fun began.

For whatever reason, the GPS took us down a series of dark, narrow residential streets.  We wandered aimlessly for almost an hour, while Sophia, which is what we named the disembodied GPS voice, insisted that we had arrived.  Finally, we got the GPS to work properly, and with only a few more dead ends, we made it to our hotel, the Best Western Premiere Astoria, at around 12:30 a.m.  We learned that the street names that showed up on the Garmin GPS Navigator almost never agreed with the posted street names. That should have been our first clue that trouble lay ahead, but we were too tired to think about it.

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the buffet breakfast that came with our room.  It was phenomenal, one of the best we have ever had in any hotel, and it was a terrific start to our first full day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Last fall Bob started ruminating over a trip for 2013. When he came up with the Balkans, I have to confess that my first reaction was, "Where is that?"  It helped when he mentioned the former Yugoslavia, but I still couldn't create anywhere close to a complete list of the countries involved without help.

Bob started looking into tours, but the choices were few and the cost was prohibitive, so he started making notes about where the tours went and mapping out his own itinerary. He made a few inquiries into transportation and hotels, and suddenly he had a schedule and had found a car rental agency that would let us drive ourselves to seven of the eight countries he wanted to visit.

"Are you crazy?" I asked him. "Those countries were at war in the not too distant past. They don't like each other. It isn't safe. No way."

I don't want to say that Bob is pig-headed, but he can be pretty stubborn, unyielding, and obstinate, not to mention persuasive, and before long he had me reluctantly on board. His plan was to fly into Zagreb, Croatia, pick up a car, spend a day in Slovenia, and then return to Zagreb before embarking on a generally circular trip around the Balkans--Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo (the one place we couldn't take the rental car), Albania (the one non-Yugoslavian country), Montenegro, and then north up the Croatian coast, finishing back in Zagreb.  (En route we did end up throwing in an unscheduled second entry into the Herzegovina region of Bosnia to visit Mostar.)
It looks like a pretty intense itinerary, doesn't it?  I must admit, I was nervous.