After a summer of indulgence and living easy, I said goodbye to Tim and met with my friend Marita for a short adventure in Eastern Europe.
Our trip was a little over a week and went like this: Paris-Sofia-Niš-Belgrade-Sarajevo-Zagreb-Barcelona. We took lots of bus rides and crossed borders with our passports. I think that was the scariest moment. The border crossings and having to hand out your document to a man that would disappear. He would then reappear and your passport would be stamped. Sometimes everyone on the bus would have to get off and wait for border control. But here I am typing this saying that it all went fine.
We visited a lot of places and I can’t summarise each day, also, that would be boring. What I can do is write a few sentences of what I will remember from each place we visited.
Tolerance. It was also our first encounter with Eurocrem! A spread very similar to Nutella but even more ‘hazelnutty’. I wrote tolerance because during the walking tour we saw four churches or temples belonging to different religions and they were all very close to each other. A mosque near a Orthodox church, close to a synagogue close to a Catholic church. All these beliefs living very close to each other in peace. It brought lots of hope and warmth.
Kindness and remembrance. This was a smaller Serbian city. We were looking forward to the fortress but actually, that was something I probably wont remember as much. We visited a concentration camp museum. The museum was the concentration camp and it was open in its entirety. All the elements were left there without being moved. You could see the German writing, the chambers where prisoners were held and the notes they left carved on the walls, the barbwire that surrounded the camp, the wall where shootings took place. Horrific. It was the only concentration camp that had a successful escape with 102 prisoners breaking free.
For some reason, perhaps it was just my experience or perhaps it was a thing, but people in this small city were very kind. The pharmacist, the cook, the lady at the till, everyone keen to welcome you and even ask where you’re from and have small chat 🙂
Ćevapi and bilinguism. Ćevapi is a meat and bread dish they sell throughout the Balkans. I’ll remember Belgrade for its Ćevapi because we had the best one there. Delicious! We saw too many historical things in Belgrade to type here, also, they’re on Google. A very pleasant surprise was that 90% of people that we encountered spoke really good English. If I had any question or wanted to communicate with someone at any time, someone close by would always speak really good English. Very impressed!
Humour and will to live. As we were doing in every city we visited, we took the walking tour. Here, in addition the standard walking tour, there was a tour dedicated to the war. We took both tours with the same guide, she had such a good sense of humour about the darkest things.
She mentioned she had to grow up in Sarajevo during the 90’s war. She explained a typical war day like getting ready, going to school, not getting shot, eating SPAM, socialising with her friends and family in a enclosed space. Then doing it all again. She explained people lived almost normally during war time. They knew the times the bombing would happen and they stayed in at that time.
She had a fantastic sense of humour about the darkest things, so here’s one of her jokes: “Everyone living today that went through the war has been missed. They can’t say they haven’t been missed. They’ve been missed, at least, by a snipper.” Dark but she laughed and so did we because she did.
Reconstruction and resilience. Croatia also was part of Yugoslavia and also had a war for its independence. I would have never, ever, suspected it. In Sarajevo there was still lots of physical evidence. In Zagreb, I would have never guessed. Everything was in good shape and ‘pretty’. I guess that was the tell-tale, that it was all too pretty, very reconstructed. We particularly enjoyed the Museum of Broken Relationships. I’ll have to go back to Croatia but probably to the coast next time.
To finish, I think the area needs to be visited more. As is common, I had lots of misconceptions about the region and about what people would be like. I learned so much and have a new perspective on what some people have had to go through and how they’ve coped. Affordable and if you’re in Europe, it’s close and easy to access.