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Two Weeks in the Balkans- Pt 2

August 29, 2013

The next day after climbing Maglić we drove from Foča to Sarajevo on our way to Serbia (Srbija), where the roads became quite a bit better than they had been the previous two days. Driving into Sarajevo took awhile, and I caught up on a little reading about the area. The Balkans have a war-torn and troubled history, that is fascinating in how complicated it is. I was interested in what happened in the areas that we visited; driving past each bombed-out hotel or blown-up bridge I wondered: what happened here? There is no way that I will ever really know or understand completely, but reading up combined with visiting these historic places aided my learning. Take Foča, for example. A simple, quiet town that appears to have seen better days. You could drive right through it an not know that in 1992 all 13 mosques in this town were demolished when Republika Srpska invaded, thousands of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were murdered, 23000 fled, and the town was completely ‘ethnically cleansed.’ Every town has a story like this one, but the most famous is Sarajevo.

After driving through a beautiful canyon with many tunnels and a winding river of turquoise water, we made it to Sarajevo. Driving into the city past the airport it looked pretty rough. The walls of the block housing complexes on the outskirts had taken a beating, good a good portion of the walls having dozens circular patches from mortar and RPG, and thousands of pockmarks from bullets. Every building has a character. Some abandoned, covered in graffiti and dilapidated from years of siege, others with a bright new coat of paint that fails to cover the shoddy reparations made after the war. It certainly is a city with a lot of texture. From the outskirts, which seemed dead, we emerged into the downtown with busy streets filled with life. The buildings here still have hundreds of pockmarks, and I wonder what happened here. Like every other place we went to, I will never know. After a meal of Ćevapi, a salty and oily grilled sausage with diced onions and bread that soon became a staple of our diet, we continued walking.

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We walked through downtown and seeing the Latin Bridge where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914, starting the First World War. As an aside, this is one of a few Archduke Ferdinand-related sites we have been to, including Ferdinand’s hunting palace Konopiště, and Terezín where Princip was imprisoned in solitary confinement until his death. Anyway, in the afternoon we got back in the car and drove North across Bosnia to Zvornik, where we crossed into Serbia and stayed in Mali Zvornik. Mali Zvornik was pretty boring and run down, but made a convenient overnight stop.

In the morning we made our way on small country highways to Šabac, and North to the toll motorway which we took all the way to Niška Banja, a spa town outside of Niš. We checked in to a hotel called the Villa Prica. It was a nice place, and the owner was extremely helpful. He showed us where the restaurants were, asked about our trip, and gave us the hotel phone and his phone number in case we needed help or translating. Honestly, the most friendly group of people that we met on our trip (and that is saying something, because nearly everyone was friendly) were the Serbians, a nation that most people have really gotten the wrong impression of. We found it to be quite safe, very beautiful, and people extremely friendly and helpful.

In the morning we woke up early to climb Midžor, the highpoint of Serbia, on the Bulgarian border. From Niška Banja we drove through Svrljig, Periš, Kalna, up to Babin Zub. When we arrived at the trailhead at Babin Zub it was pouring with rain. We gave it a half hour in the parking lot and then began our hike when it was just a drizzle. The trail began as an easy dirt road, but after passing some ski lifts became rough double track. We walked along the ridge, making good time until we reached the peak. There was signage at the trailhead, which was helpful, though the quoted distances of the signage at various points along the trail were inaccurate. GPS track here.

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We reached the top in fog, and it was very windy so we got down quickly and trudged back to Babin Zub. Babin Zub appears to have been built up in the last couple years with a new hotel, and a couple bars were open where we enjoyed a celebratory Zaječarsko pivo.

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We returned to Niška Banja, and the next day set out for our next country highpoint, Greece.

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