Thursday, June 20, 2013

BALKANS: WINDOWS AND DOORS

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.

For the most part, however, I came to realize that my fears were unfounded.  What we discovered was a region of the world that had indeed been torn apart by war, but that has unbelievable natural beauty, is full of interesting historical sites both ancient and modern, and is populated by friendly, helpful, generous people who are anxious to share their world with foreigners in general and Americans in particular.

Travel is one of the greatest forms of education.  It is one thing to read about a country in a book and quite another thing to drive its roads, stand in its fields and cities, and talk with its people. Travel has a way of erasing assumptions. This trip definitely did that for Bob and me.  Perhaps more than any other trip we have taken, this one caused a great shift in our perception of a region of the world and our stereotypes of the people who live in it.

In her book The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, Paula Huntley notes, "I am thinking about the isolation, the ignorance of Americans. We are, by the world's standards, wealthy, and we have virtually unlimited access to news and books and magazines. We can travel, we can learn. But we are an island, cut off from the rest of the world not so much by geography as by complacency, by a lack of curiosity, by arrogance, perhaps. We are worldly, but we know little of the world."

I appreciate my husband's curiosity. It has led us off the "island" more than once, and we have had some wonderful adventures. We have looked through thousands of windows and stepped through many doors together. The windows and doorways of the Balkans symbolize for me the richness of our experience on this trip. By no means did we become experts on the Balkans. It would take years of study and travel to even begin to understand the complexities of what has happened there. However, we have had a peak into a world almost completely unknown to us, and we feel just a bit wiser than we were.

Here is my photo tribute to the windows and doors of the Balkans. I have included over a hundred photos, but there is minimal text. The pictures speak for themselves and for the vast variety that is the Balkans.

Lake Bled, Slovenia:





Vrsic Pass, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia:


 Shop windows in Ljubljana, Slovenia (left) and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (right)


 Sarajevo above, and Belgrade, Serbia on right







Prizren, Kosovo


Dubrovnik, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia


Ljubljana, Slovenia:




 Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina





Bullet and shrapnel damage, Sarajevo:



Bomb damage, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina


 Bomb damage, Belgrade, Serbia

Bomb damage, Prizren, Kosovo

Bomb damage, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sarajevo, Eastern Orthodox Church


  
Sarajevo, Muslim mosque (prayer rugs stacked in window on right), on the outside looking in . . .


. . . and on the inside looking out. 

Tunnels are everywhere all over the Balkans, both for driving and for walking:


. . . and so are cats.
Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
 Split, Croatia

 Mostar mosque, with a copy of the Quran on the window sill in the bottom picture:


Novi Sad, Serbia





 Belgrade, capital of Serbia 





















Skopje, capital of Macedonia



Mother Teresa memorial (Skopje was her hometown)

Ohrid, Macedonia







Prizren, Kosovo 



Somewhere in Albania, view through the front window
 Berat, Albania










 Berat, "City of a Thousand Windows"

Kotor, Montenegro









Dubrovnik, Croatia







Split, Croatia


















Zagreb, Croatia

















How does one define a region of the world with such diversity? Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Signs of war and signs of rebuilding. Tremendous wealth and heart-breaking poverty. Self-sufficient, hard-working people and up to 40% unemployment. Five different currencies and who knows how many languages. First-rate antiquities and modern cities. Western Europeans, Slavs, and Albanians. West and East coming together, sometimes clashing, sometimes blending, and sometimes co-existing.

How wrong I was in all my preconceptions.

Aldous Huxley wrote, "There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception." I hope we can keep opening those doors and looking through the windows.

For another blog that includes wonderful information about travel in the Balkans, see A Travelogue by Brock and Tanj, written by a couple who contacted us for information after we made our trip, and who have since completed their own driving trip of the beautiful Balkans.

4 comments:

  1. A striking first post; I can't wait for more!!!

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  2. It is very fun to see a focus on doors and windows: the variety, the beauty. In the context of doors and windows, some of the photos take on added meaning and depth. Love the post. Love the learning that comes from exploration and added understanding. Nice to have a great exploration companion.

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  3. Love this idea and all these photos! It makes me just want to travel there to see some of these places--well done, excellent. I'm struck by the variety of the materials (stone to wood etc) and the locales surrounding the windows/doors. And fun to see you in a couple of the shots!

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  4. I would love to get to this part of the world. That photo of Berat still gives me goose bumps!

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