The Village of Karanac, Croatia

We had a long drive today, a lot of time to reflect on our time in Sarajevo. I can’t say we had a wonderful time, it was a very difficult visit for me but a necessary one if I am to ever understand how countries and people can turn on one another in such a brutal way after years of living as one. I still don’t completely understand what happened in Yugoslavia and perhaps am even more confused but I do know that tolerance, respect and understanding are the only solutions to people getting along. We cannot all be right in our beliefs and I realize that I cannot change someone else but I can change the way that I react to them and it has to be with respect and tolerance and understanding I have to find a way to keep a dialogue open.

Our drive takes us to Karanac a small village in the northeastern part of Croatia just 20 minutes from the Hungarian and the Serbian borders. We have come here to get out of the cities and to see how a rural family lives and their B&B is charming and complete with chickens, rabbits and dogs. We are greeted by Denis, a very cheerful, outgoing fellow and as he always calls Goga “his beautiful wife”.  Yoga welcomes us with plum brandy and freshly made doughnuts, WHAT!  Yes, still warm doughnuts; I can’t even tell you the last time I ate a doughnut and these were scrumptious.

Goga and Denis

Doughnuts, still warm

Denis tells us a little about his farm that has been in the family for a couple of generations and then shows us to our room. Our room felt so warm and cozy with hand embroidered linens, beautiful old pieces of furniture and a vintage treadle sewing machine. We went back out to the courtyard to find Goga hammering away at fresh walnuts from their tree another tasty morsel. She showed us the house, her tiny kitchen where she cooks up all sorts of delicious treats, the breakfast room with a wood-burning fireplace in the corner to take off the morning chill. Her shelves were filled with colorful homemade jams, jellies, preserved peppers and tomatoes; it made me hungry. Outside, bags of walnuts, ears of corn and heads of garlic were hanging from the eaves to dry.

The farmhouse

Denis took us on a little tour of his garden, peppers of all kinds, a pear tree weighed down with fruit, a plum tree, walnut tree and chestnut tree. We helped him pick walnuts many hands making quick work. While we were busy picking walnuts someone noticed that one of the dogs, Luna, had picked off a chicken! Naughty girl, she’ll be in the doghouse tonight for sure.

 

Goga gathered us all in the breakfast room and introduced her friend Ljiljana who was going to teach us to make cheese, a farmer cheese for breakfast the next morning.  We made two wheels, one was sweet with dried fruits and walnuts and the other savory with spicy peppers and chives.

We had been invited for dinner with a local family and walked the few blocks to their home. Our host was Serbo-Hungarian and lived with her husband, a wheat farmer, and pre-teen aged son who was a great help with the dinner. Before dinner she showed us her greenhouse, filled with beautiful, healthy tomato and pepper plants, so important in the local cuisine. Her English was very good as was her son’s so we had a nice evening, delicious dinner and good conversation. It felt good to walk back to our B&B after a very big meal.

The next morning, still a bit full from dinner, we gathered in the breakfast room, it was toasty warm with a fire in the fireplace warming the room for breakfast. A couple of us helped Goga prepare bread dough, set the tables and get the food on the table. The cheese that we had made yesterday was unmolded and ready to eat, it had a very mild flavor but went nicely with the homemade smoked sausage, fresh eggs and deliciously decadent fried bread and a variety of Goga’s jam, raspberry, quince and plum. Delicious!

Fried Bread

After our breakfast we met another family member, Danijel, a skilled potter. We met him in the crowded pottery shed for a demonstration, he made it look so easy but having tried pottery years ago I know how hard it is to throw a pot. He had clay out on the table for anyone who wanted to try their hand a hand-building a piece and few of the group did. Before leaving he presented us all with a little souvenir cup that he had made, nice memento.

We bid Denis, Goga and Danijel farewell and walked down the street to a family-run winery, Szabo, for a tour. One of the daughters greeted us, talked about her family and the vineyard and we tasted a few wines before going down into the wine cellar for more tasting. It was pretty early in the morning for wine but we had to be polite . . . didn’t we? We made our purchases and then as we prepared to leave she presented the group with 3 bottles of wine to take with us to lunch, what a nice surprise.

The restaurant for lunch was a short walk. The Baranjska Kuca was part restaurant part open-air museum. We were greeted with a welcome drink, plum brandy and then left to roam the property. In back of the restaurant was a collection of old buildings, traditional houses, sheds and implements from Karanac’s past. When it was time for lunch we went back in and the men were put to work chopping onions for the stew, a traditional red paprika and beef stew. The lunch and wines were delicious but with full bellies and more than enough alcohol most of us napped on the drive into Zagreb.

Stew Pots

The visit to Karanac was my favorite part of this trip and such a nice change from the heartbreak of Sarajevo.  Denis, Goga, Ljiljana and Daniel could not have been nicer, they made us feel right at home, like part of the family.  For a very small village it has a lot to offer.

We arrived in Zagreb at dusk, our hotel was located across the street from a park and it was bustling with activity.  After getting settled into our room we went out for an evening stroll through the park, it was a “Burger Festival”.  Many booths were set up and grilling burgers, everyone trying to outdo each other. Hamburgers and beer, did not expect to see that.  We continued through the old city center just to get oriented for tomorrow.

Burger Festival

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More on Sarajevo

We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning.

Emperor’s Mosque across the river

One of Sarajevo’s most visceral remnants of the 1990’s war, the Tunnel of Life a.k.a. the Tunnel of Hope is our destination this morning. During the 4-year siege of Sarajevo, when Serb forces surrounded the city, the tunnel, which ran under the airport, was the only link to the outside world. During this time Sarajevo was without electricity and water with the exception of one natural spring. The airport area was secured by UN troops and therefore was neutral ground thus offering the only hope of escape and the only avenue to bring in arms, food and other supplies, however crossing it would have been suicidal. The solution was to build a 2,700-foot tunnel beneath the runway that was eventually equipped with rails and this served as a means of transportation of food and arms into the besieged city.  This was enough to keep Sarajevo supplied during the four years of the siege.  There is a good story about the tunnel and the man responsible for it in the following link above.

Very near the airport we arrived at a pockmarked farmhouse, the airport visible across a large field; this was the house that hid the tunnel entrance.

 

Before entering the house and the tunnel our guide gave us some background about the tunnel, how it was built and then about her own life during the war; she was just 7 years old at the time. She lived in an apartment in Sarajevo with her mother, aunt and cousin; her father was in the army and away fighting. The extended family was confined to the hallway and bathroom of the apartment, the only areas without windows and therefore safe from snipers but not from the shelling. Her aunt and cousin were killed when the apartment took a direct hit; she and her mother were both wounded from the shrapnel. I was near tears as I listened to her talk about her experiences. Acting as a guide and retelling her story has provided therapy for her recovery. The empathy of strangers is reassuring and comforting. Today she has a young son and for his sake has chosen to forgive the Serbs hoping that her son will grow up without resentments and hatred, feeling that forgiveness is the only way to move forward. Could I do that after what she suffered? I honestly don’t know I would hope so. She has not only the physical scars but also deep emotional scars from the war, PTSD made worse with loud noises like fireworks and, sadly but understandably, not being able to trust anyone.

We went inside to walk a short section of the tunnel that has been restored. As I crouched down to walk through I imagined being in there in the dark and the cold with the tunnel walls vibrating from the constant explosions above. The whole experience left me shaken. I remember that war and wonder now where was the rest of the world, how could we let this to go on for 4 years and why is it still happening in other countries today, where is our humanity that we can allow these atrocities to take place and rather than react with outrage, rather than offer compassion, aid and empathy we worry that refugees fleeing for their lives, who have lost everything, might come into our country and overwhelm our education system or we worry they will take our jobs. That is how callous has our society has become; instead of taking them into our hearts and our homes to help them rebuild their lives, we push them away. Wake up people this can happen ANYWHERE! I guess it shouldn’t surprise me; when we don’t even come to the aid our own people who need a helping hand.

Sorry I didn’t want to go on a rant but the visit to Sarajevo really did shake me to the core. I am just sorry it came 25 years too late.

We returned to Sarajevo with the afternoon free to explore and that was good, I appreciated the time alone to walk through the neighborhood and along the river but couldn’t erase the images of the constant shelling that rained down on this city for so long.

We spent the evening in the home of a local woman.  Her daughter spoke very good English and acted as translator.  The daughter who is divorced along with her 2 sons, ages 5 and 8, share the home of her parents, a 550 sq ft apartment in a typical drab soviet-era looking apartment building that still shows scars from the war.  The dark entryway was uninviting but the elevator was terrifying.  The apartment, however, was bright and cheerful and our dinner was delicious.

Typical apartment building

We spent the evening in the home of a local family.  The daughter spoke very good English and acted as translator.  The daughter, divorced, along with her 2 sons, ages 5 and 8, share the home of her parents, a 550 sq ft apartment in a drab soviet-era looking apartment building that still shows scars of war.  The dark entryway was uninviting but the elevator was terrifying while the apartment itself was bright, cheerful and our dinner was delicious.

Our Hosts

Over dinner the mother talked of the hardships she faced during the war and like our guide this morning, she and her two young children, a 9-year-old boy and the daughter who was then just a few months old, lived in the hallway of their apartment during the siege.  The father was in the Army and away fighting. The mother would have to leave the children home alone at night and walk about 4 miles to the brewery in Sarajevo the only water source. The trip could take hours; she would have to avoid snipers along the way and on arriving at the brewery would wait her turn in line to get fresh water. She carried large canteens strapped to her body, fill them with water and then carry them home again trying to avoid the snipers and then walk up the 7 flights of stairs, in the dark, remember no electricity. Hurrying back home sometimes she would notice her load feeling lighter and when she got home would find bullet holes in one of the canteens. The trip had to be repeated every 2-3 days. I can’t begin to imagine what that life must have been like, not just the hardships of getting water and food and staying warm in the winter, (the windows in all of Sarajevo had all been blown out by the constant shelling) and then there was noise of the constant gunfire and shelling. Medical care was available but in makeshift clinics and sometimes a long distance away; being outside during the daylight hours one always ran the risk of being shot by a sniper. There was really no place to hide – 4 years of this life – unimaginable.

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

It was a long drive from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo even with a couple of stops along the way and we arrived in Sarajevo at dusk, checked into our hotel room, turned around and took an evening stroll through the narrow streets of Baščaršija, the ancient city center, before going to dinner in a local restaurant. The dinner was traditional Bosnian fare, starting with a delicious soup and then a local specialty, cevapicci, delish!  Cevapicci is a grilled dish of minced meat, a type of skinless sausage, and served with a white bread, minced red pepper, salt and onions.

From the window of our hotel room we watched the early morning the fog roll down from the hills creating an eerie light on the buildings across the river.  After breakfast we met a local guide, Neira, for an orientation walk through the old city where we visited the large indoor farmers market and the beautiful Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque.

Early Morning Fog

The 16th century Mosque is Ottoman in style with a pleasant courtyard and an outdoor ablution. During the siege of Sarajevo Serb forces purposely targeted many centers of the city’s culture, including mosques and this was an obvious target. The mosque suffered a significant amount of destruction but with foreign aid was rebuilt in 1996 and a new interior designed, it is beautiful.  Non-Muslim visitors are welcome during non-prayer times, shoes must be removed and women must cover their hair.

Prayer Beads

Prayer Rugs

We went into a small Bosnian fast food restaurant for lunch and were introduced to böreks, a meat pie made with filo dough and stuffed with a mixture of ground meats or with spinach and cheeses and they are delicious. There were just a couple of tables in the small restaurant, but a steady stream of people ordering and taking their lunch out with them.

Böreks

After lunch we were set us loose to explore Sarajevo on our own and wandered through the old town, checking out some of the shops and looking for photo ops.   A brass shop and specifically a display of pepper grinders caught my attention and as I was looking at the wide array of grinders, the shop owner invited us in and began to give us a lesson on how we could discern the quality of the grinders and determine whether they were factory produced or made locally by artisans.

While we were talking to the proprietor a woman stopped and stood at the door, she didn’t say anything and did not enter the shop but when the shop owner spotted her he took some money out of the till, excused himself and went over to greet the woman and hand her some change. She was known to him and apparently stopped by from time to time when she needed a little help. He was a very nice man and seemed genuinely happy to help her. I was touched by his kindness and that may have played a part in my purchase of a grinder, who knows.

Charity is a trait we witnessed over and over in Morocco and were told the Muslims believe they have an obligation to take care of their neighbors as well as their family and they are generous even with strangers on the street.

On another side street was (Saray) the only preserved Ottoman Inn in Sarajevo. This used to be a hotel/inn in the 18th century with rooms upstairs and space for the animals in the courtyard. Now, there is a restaurant, a Turkish carpet shop on the first floor and some old hotel rooms, and the large courtyard with lush trees in the middle.

Late in the afternoon we walked a couple of blocks from our hotel to the former National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now, the Vijećnica (city hall), this beautiful Austro-Hungarian–era building has a heartbreaking history. In August, 1992 the building was targeted and set ablaze by Serbian shelling destroying over 90% of the nation’s outstanding collection of 1-½ million volumes and over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts, some handwritten; they were reduced to ashes.

National Library August, 1992

After years of laborious restoration using the original drawings and architectural plans the building finally reopened in 2014. It is a beautiful restoration true to the last detail. The colorful multi-arched interior and stained-glass ceiling are magnificent. There is an excellent exhibition in the basement that includes photographs and newspaper articles giving insights into life in Sarajevo during the 20th century including the 1984 Olympics that were held in Sarajevo, just 6 years before the war.

Restored library, now the city hall

From here we walked to dinner at the Sarajevo Brewery across the river. The enormous restaurant is laid out over two floors and is next to the brewery that sits on top of a natural spring.   During the 1990’s war the spring was the only source of water for besieged Sarajevo and many were killed or injured waiting in line for water but the brewery continued production.

 

En Route to Sarajevo

Leaving Dubrovnik we drove north along the beautiful Adriatic highway, it was the San Juan Islands on steroids, over 1,000 island in the Adriatic most of them small and uninhabited but it is gorgeous, I kept finding myself dreaming of sailing through the islands, anchoring, slipping into the water for a swim or a little snorkeling, I could almost feel the warm breezes . . . heavy sigh.

Islands of the Adriatic

Crossing into Bosnia-Herzegovina and just outside of Neum, the only town on Bosnia’s 12 miles of coastline, we entered a river delta and large agricultural area – pomegranates, citrus trees, olives, vineyards, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, a dramatic change in landscape.

River Delta near Neum

Not only did the landscape change but as we left the beautiful resorts along the Adriatic coast we entered a land that bears visible scars from the war 25-years ago. It is obvious that the country has not fully recovered; buildings are still pock marked from 4 years of shelling.

We made an interesting stop in Jablanica that most people miss, a small museum built on the site of the Battle of the Neretva and largely dedicated to that battle. In 1943 Yugoslav Partisans fought the Axis forces successfully removing themselves from the Axis Case White Offensive and fleeing across the Neretva River, destroying an important railway bridge in the process. Tito is credited with rescuing hundreds of sick and wounded from Nazi attacks. The bridge was rebuilt and later blown up for a 1969 Hollywood movie depicting the battle, starring Yul Brenner and Orson Welles. A ceiling to floor glass wall overlooking the river reveals the destroyed bridge collapsed into the river, now a centerpiece of the museum.

The dioramas depict people being evacuated and what life was like during WWII. This is not a slick, modern interactive museum, some displays are labeled, a few in English. There are a displays of WWII weapons and equipment, Partisan banners and a giant picture of Tito looking down on it all and photographs. We heard from the resident guide how many people in the area yearn for the return to the security of Tito’s Yugoslavia.

One of the photo exhibits was of projects to rebuild the infrastructure of the country after WWII with most of the work being done by young people in a type of youth corps not unlike our CCC.

Yugoslavia Youth Corps

Tito

 

We stopped in Mostar for lunch and to see the beautiful, iconic 16th century stone arch bridge that had straddled the river Neretva for over 400 years until it completely destroyed by Croatian forces in the 1993 during the Bosnian War. It is unclear why the bridge was destroyed, had no military significance and was viewed as a coldhearted act of revenge against a string of defeats the Bosnian army has inflicted on the Croatian Defense Council during the war.

Stari Most

With the help of UNESCO and many European nations the bridge was reconstructed as close to the original design as possible, professional divers were able to recover original unexploded stones from the river that were used in the reconstruction and the rest of the stones were quarried from the from the same locations used for in the original construction. The bridge was completed in 2004.

Mostar from the Bridge

Crossing the bridge today in a heavy rain made the polished limestone was very slippery. On the far side of the bridge shops and restaurants line the main street, one side overlooking the river but we did not linger, the rain drove us into a restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious lunch before continuing on to Sarajevo.

 

Kotor, Montenegro 

Dubrovnik is in the southern part of Croatia and very near the border of Montenegro where we traveled  to the beautiful fjord-like Bay of Kotor.

Bay of Kotor

Perast

Two small islands sit just off the little town of Perast and are easily reached by boat. Here, llegend says fishermen saw Mary in the reef and began a ritual of dropping a stone on the spot every time they sailed by creating the island we see today and where “Our Lady of the Rocks” Church now sits. Still today, every July the residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea to secure that the island stays firm.

In the church hangs a tapestry embroidered by a local parishioner, a 25-year labor of love. Legend says she worked on it while waiting for her husband to return from a long journey eventually going blind. She used gold and silver silk threads but what makes it unique is she also used her own hair and you can see how over the decades both the hair of the angels and that of the artist turned from brown to white.  Sorry, no photo.

 

Over 2,500 votive silver tablets depicting the perils sailors faced at sea were donated to Our Lady of the Rock and present a good picture of how dangerous life at sea was over the course of over 500 years.

Abbey of St. George

From the island we continued down the bay to the town of Kotor. This is an area of stunning natural beauty, the blue water, the high mountains that rise up straight from the water, small villages that surround the bay and the old fishing boats were gorgeous, I was on sensory overload.

George enjoying the scenery

One of the small villages along the Bay

Hillside church

At the end of the bay, cradled against a steep cliff and the sea, sheltered deep in the fjord sits the town of Kotor. A network of fortifications watches over Kotor and has successfully fended off countless would-be invasions by means of the impressive town wall that rises up the mountain behind town.   About 3,000 people live inside the old town walls but it feels much more low-key than Dubrovnik and is much smaller. We were lucky visiting on a day when there were no cruise ships in port so were able to wander the narrow streets at our leisure.

Kotor

The local farmer’s market featured smoked meats, cheeses and dried mushrooms.

The narrow lanes of the old town are filled with interesting artisan shops and restaurants.  We thoroughly enjoyed our day in this stunningly beautiful area and the boat ride up the fjord was definitely the jewel in this crown.

 

More from Dubrovnik

In no particular order,

One morning after walking a few miles along the shore we came back to the room to rest a bit, there was a knock on the door and the hotel presented me with a bottle of champagne for my birthday, how did they know?  Passport I guess, it was a sweet surprise.

At dinner one evening we overheard the waiter talking to a young couple at a table across from us, asking them where they were from . . . Seattle . . . the waiter began talking about the Seattle Super Sonics, he knew about Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. It seemed strange that he would know about the Sonics but we had a similar experience later in the trip where a waiter referenced the Sonics when he learned where we were from. Is that something they learn in waiter school to connect with customers or was American basketball really big in the Balkans? I don’t know.

Back to the couple from Seattle, we couldn’t let that pass so struck up a conversation only to find out they worked at Microsoft and lived in Mt. Baker, the neighborhood in Seattle where I grew up.    We continued to talk until sunset and then all conversation ended as the sun setting over the sea totally mesmerized us.

We walked the seaside path each day for different distances and in both directions. One day we took off but were turned back by rain and returned to the hotel to wait it out then returned to the path only to be turned back again, this time we stopped at an outdoor restaurant along the path for some lunch. It wasn’t long before we had quite a show, lightening, thunder and heavy rain. As the storm neared and the rain increased walkers who had been caught unprepared started taking cover under the restaurants canopy until they felt they could run to safety. We sat it out enjoying the show and our lunch until the main storm passed and the rain lightened then we retreated to hotel for the afternoon.

Starters

While searching the internet for things to see in Dubrovnik I ran across an exhibit that sounded interesting and asked our local guide if she knew of it, she did and said it was excellent and gave us directions. There were no street signs so the directions were go down 3 lanes on the right, turn right it should be about mid block. Well not quite but we wove our way up and down the lanes and eventually found it. The small second floor gallery was exhibiting “The Human Price of War” is a thought provoking and thoughtful photographic presentation of the people in Yemen and included images from the Balkan War, including the siege of Dubrovnik, wars in the Middle East and Africa. It is not a bloody or gory representation the images are beautiful portraits of people living through their darkest hours, haunting. There is a book of narratives that go with each photograph for those inclined to learn more. It was a powerful exhibit, hard to find but well worth the time.

I am really glad that we went into Dubrovnik a few days early because I feel we had a chance to really explore all the back lanes of the old town with and without the crowds, walk the wall and then return to the quiet of our lovely hotel with that wonderful seaside path and countless restaurants at our doorstep.

Just for fun . . .

Triple Threat

A Helping Hand

Fairies in the Window

Need I say more

 

 

 

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

September 15-19

Bidding Rome and our travel companions farewell last night, we had a fairly leisurely morning with a late morning flight to Dubrovnik to begin the second leg of our adventure.

It was a beautiful day and the flight across the Adriatic revealed some of the 1,000 islands off the Croatian coast; we flew right over the old walled city of Dubrovnik on our approach to the airport. I’m very excited; visits to Croatia and Slovenia, both have been on my bucket list for a long time and here I am.

The Walled City of Dubrovnik

Our hotel in bottom right corner, behind the beach

On this tour we will also take a day trip into Montenegro and visit Bosnia-Herzegovina.

My interest in the break up of Yugoslavia began when I had heard stories of the war in the 1990’s from two Croats who served in the war. I was impressed with their passion and love for their country and how they spoke of the senselessness and cruelties of war. I hoped to gain a better understanding of that conflict and maybe how such atrocities could take place among fellow citizens, we will see.

Our hotel was outside of the old town, located on a beautiful cove away from the hustle and bustle. We had a few days on our own before the rest of the group appeared and we took advantage of a little down time. The first thing we found was a beautiful stone walkway that went for miles along the shore in both directions, it was so beautiful. We learned that the beaches here are rocky and while there was nice swimming beach in the cove, it is a rocky not sandy beach but that didn’t slow people down from enjoying a swim.  There were a lot of people who took advantage of the many smaller, private areas that could be accessed from the path. All along the rocky shoreline areas have been cemented to provide flat ground for sunbathing and water access.

A day of rest and relaxation😴

Beautiful seaside hotel and outdoor restaurant

Shore walk and the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic

The Cave Bar

After a day of relaxation we decided to go into the old town, I wanted to walk the wall in the late afternoon hoping the light might be a little friendlier for photography. It was a short ride and as we entered the old walled city we found an over-crowded tourist spot trying to accommodate the endless cruise ships that disgorge thousands of passengers into a very small area, inundating the old town. It was awful! Rather than try to navigate the wall-to-wall crowds on the narrow streets we immediately climbed the wall, hoping to escape the hordes.

Entrance to the walled city

Luza Square

The wall was also very crowded by as we passed the first exit point it thinned out, thankfully. It takes a good 45 minutes to an hour to walk the entire wall and most people don’t want to commit that much time. The views to the sea and across the red tile roofs were awesome.   Here is where we began to get an idea of the amount destruction that was rained down on Dubrovnik during the war; because of damage from the shelling, most of the roofs had been replaced after the war with the help of UNESCO and other foreign contributors.   It was easy to spot the homes that suffered damage by the bright red roof tiles.  The original tiles were more of a brownish-red color – very few buildings escaped damage.

Main street from the wall

Climbing the wall near the Pile Gate

We returned to Dubrovnik for a second day and what a difference, the ships had left and so had the crowds.  It was delightful exploring the quiet, narrow lanes.

Dubrovnik Harbor

Harbor Restaurant

Dubrovnik at night