The Balkans with Friends and Crossing into Romania

Hello friends, family and followers!

When we last left off we were on our way to Dubrovnik to meet our friends, Mike and Lynn.  We were heading to Dubrovnik with Andrew and Liz but there was some confusion and we ended up on separate busses that left at the same time.  We had no idea that two buses left Kotor at the exact same time but we guess that's how things go.  Our bus only had 10 people on it and theirs looked full.  For some reason, they wouldn't let them change but we knew we would see them soon enough so it was ok.  When we arrived we had another journey finding our place.  Why is it so hard to find these places?  We eventually got settled and waited for Mike and Lynn.  Dubrovnik has some of the prettiest waters on the Adriatic so we took a couple of seconds to get a quick snapshot.


When Mike and Lynn arrived we were so excited to see familiar faces and get caught up with things from home.  We put the camera away for the day and spent the rest of the day enjoying each other's company.  These pictures sum up the first day.



The next day we headed to the closest beach to our guesthouse.  This would become our "go to" spot.  The beach was rocky and a bit strange but there was no denying the raw beauty of the cliffs and water.


Mike, are you sucking in?  Yeah, you sure look like you are.


Look at this cave a short way off the beach.  Unbelievable!


A good girlfriend holds a mirror while the other straightens her hair.


Look who we met up with for dinner and drinks.  Long time no see, Andrew and Liz!  We should really consider traveling as a foursome for the remainder of our travels.  Maybe Mike and Lynn should join in and we can be the traveling 6some (totally made up number word combo).  Talk about buying power!


Liz has this game that she likes her friends to play.  It's called Scenario and works like this:  the person with the camera gives the other person(s) an off-the-wall scenario and takes a picture of them acting out the scenario.  It's a really fun game and makes for some great shots.  Leanne can't remember this scenario but the picture is priceless.


She can't remember this scenario either but it should reflect Leanne's gratitude for Lynn letting her borrow those super cool earrings for the night.


Andrew and Liz made their way to Bosnia the following morning.  We didn't have a tearful goodbye because we knew we would be seeing them again for the fifth rendezvous in Sarajevo in a few days.

If you saw this picture and didn't know we were in Croatia what would you guess?  San Antonio?  Mike and Lynn brought a little bit of San Antonio over with them and this is one of the thousands of reasons we love them.  Tortillas and refried beans from HEB (a San Antonio grocery store chain) and A Spurs shirt.  Man, we wish we could kiss through this blog right now.  Josh has barely taken that shirt off since he got it.  This is much to the chagrin of Leanne.


Obviously we had to check out the old town of Dubrovnik so we headed out for a solid day.  This place is not touristy at all.


If you ever find yourself in Dubrovnik you have to walk along the wall.  It is supposed to take about an hour but we managed to stretch that out quite a bit.  Have you ever seen the series Game of Thrones?  Kings Landing is filmed in Dubrovnik and you can see why they picked the spot when exploring.


Great picture with great friends.


A walled in the city leading to steep cliffs dropping into clear blue water.  This is what you think of when you think of Dubrovnik.  


Don't be sad Josh, just open the door.


Fortress walls with the Croatian flag flying behind us.


Beautiful scenery of Old Dubrovnik



Another great picture with great friends.  This never gets old!  Well, at least for us.


The day started to settle into night so we made our way down into the walled in the city for dinner and drinks.



After drinks in the city it moved back to our place.  These are two-liters of beer for about two dollars.


After that amount Josh and Mike were ready to take on the world.  Too bad we were heading to Bosnia and Herzegovina the next day.  The world would have to wait for another day.


We decided to take a day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina with Mike and Lynn for some adventure.  Our first stop on the tour was a visit to Medjugorje.  Medjugorje is a village in the southern part of Herzegovina in the present-day state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The small parish of about 4,000 has become famous due to a series of reported visions of the Virgin Mary in the hills that began in 1981.  The apparitions have not been validated by the Catholic Church but the Shrine of the Queen of Peace at Medjugorje attracts thousands of tourists each year. 


Leanne was tempted to pay a visit to one of the confessionals.  She's fairly certain she might need to ask for some forgiveness for some episodes of lost patience during this around the world adventure. 


Most of our day tour was centered around a visit to Mostar.  Mostar is an absolutely beautiful town with a fairly recent tragic history.  


It was named after the bridge keepers who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Bridge (Old Bridge) over the Neretva river.  The bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and is considered one of Bosnia-Herzegovina's most recognizable landmarks. 


Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town was subject to an 18-month siege. 


The city was the most heavily bombed of any Bosnian city during the war.  At the beginning of the war, the city lost many important buildings and structures through air strikes.  Later, once the formerly-aligned forces turned into enemies, a thorough destruction of this old city began, including The Old Bridge.  Our guide said, "When the Old Bridge collapsed, it was like the heart was ripped out of most Mostar natives."  Even mentioning the bridge years after its fall would invoke tears from a native.  The bridge symbolized the city and country as a whole. 

"Don't Forget Srebrencia" - On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serbs troops captured the eastern enclave and U.N. "safe area" of Srebrenica, systematically murdering 8,372 Bosnian boys and men, brutally raping hundreds of women and underage girls and expelling 25,000-30,000 women in a massive ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims. 


Bosnia-Herzegovina has endured an unbelievably tragic history but the passion and will of the people to reconstruct both their cities as well as their wounded hearts is quite astonishing.  The bridge reconstruction was completed in 2004.  Its reconstruction restored the beauty to this quaint town proving that the people of Mostar were slowly but surely returning to normal.
  


There was no denying that Mostar is a special place. 



There are still ruins scattered throughout the town as a reminder of their past.  Our guide didn't want to go into the details of the years durning the war but he did tell us that he spent 2 years (ages 6-8) in a basement without seeing the light of day.   This is yet another reminder that we should all be thankful for the freedom that we have. 




Our last stop of the day tour was a visit to the fortress town of Pocitelj. 


We only had 20 minutes so we basically sprinted to the top to take a few photos but the effort was well worth it.


This marked the end of our time with Lynn and Mike but what a time it was.  Obviously it went by in a blink of an eye but now that we've had time to look back and reflect it wouldn't have been possible to do more with our time.

Side note to Mike and Lynn:  we love you guys and will see you soon.  Thank you so much for making the trip out.  We know it was hard and we will forever be grateful for your friendship.

Here's a goofy picture at Mostar to send us on our way!


After the whirlwind of Dubrovnik and Mostar we were on our way to Sarajevo.  Josh's dad was stationed in Bosnia during the UN peacekeeping mission there in 1996 so this was a place he always wanted to visit.  Sarajevo just sounded so exotic and far away.  It was hard to believe we were on our way.  Bus rides are always interesting and this one was no exception.  We stopped at a rest stop that was roasting pigs on a spit.  Not something you'd see at home but pretty cool.


There was a pretty nice view too!



We were on our way to meet Andrew and Liz again and were supposed to be there two hours before we arrived.  This seems to happen a lot.  Hmmm...maybe the buses and trains are always late?  Yes!  We figured it out.  As a general rule the buses and trains are ALWAYS late in Eastern Europe.  We have never been proven wrong but are looking forward to the day when something is on time and we're wrong.  Please, please prove us wrong.  We got off the bus and headed to the city center to touch base with our roomies.


When we got to the center this is the church where we decided to meet.  They had spent hours finding us a place to share.  We felt like such slackers but once again, they pulled through.  We have gotten so used to traveling with our buddies that we missed taking a picture with or of them the entire time we were in Sarajevo (4 days).  How pathetic is that!?  Still, it was so great to have them around and it felt like being with long, lost friends.


Sarajevo is famous for its traditional culture and religious diversity; often referred to as "Jerusalem of Europe".  For nearly four years, from 1992 to 1996, the city suffered the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare during the Bosnian War for independence. 


If these bullet holes could talk, what a story they would tell. 




Sarajevo has been undergoing post-war reconstruction, and is the fastest growing city in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Do you know what's all the rave at 5:00 pm on a weekday? A game of Chess with abnormally large Chess pieces. 


Andrew and Liz told us about a great walking tour of the city.  They went on it the day before so we decided to try it out for ourselves.  Our guide, although soft-spoken, told us bits and pieces of the tragic history.  

This is a Sarajevo rose.  A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin.  It marks where an individual was killed from the mortar explosion.  Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement.  The marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city and a beautiful way to remember the lives that were taken during the horrific time in history.


A rose of remembrance. 


Another symbolic memorial is the Eternal Flame in the city center. 


Josh is giving the thumbs up to the American Center Sarajevo. 


It was July 11th while when were visiting in Sarajevo. 


Sarajevo was the site of the Winter Olympics in 1984.  Who would have known that eight years later there would be a war in this country? 


This was the memorial for the children that lost their lives from 1992 -1996. 


So sad.  For all of our friends and family with children, hug them even tighter today. 


Everywhere you walked was a constant reminder of the destruction that took place in this city.  You couldn't walk 5 feet without seeing a building scarred by bullet holes. 


This sweet, lady tried to carry a conversation with Leanne.  She was very passionate with her expressions so she must have been trying to say something important.  Leanne apologized for not speaking her language and asked if she could pose for a picture so we could remember her and her furry companion. 


Watch out...he's a licker and has never had a bath in his life!


We spent some time roaming the city streets before meeting up with our roomies for dinner. 


In 1914, to the lefthand corner of this bridge, was the site of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria that sparked World War I. 


The next day we went on yet another walking tour!  This time all four of us went on the tour.  The beginning of the tour was confusing because we met on the front side of the theater we were standing at.  The bad thing was that we were waiting on the back side for twenty minutes!!  Lesson?  Always check both sides of the building you are supposed to meet at.  Ok, we put that one in the old memory banks.

The second walking tour was a little different and the guide seemed to know his stuff.  He took us to the market where a bomb exploded killing dozens of people less than two decades ago.  It was very sobering to think about the life that these people have lived and the things they've seen.  This cute little farmers market was the site of devastation such a short time ago.


We kept coming back to this church.


Yes, these old men playing chess are a part of every walking tour...again.


We managed to catch a peek of Friday services at the mosque during Ramadan.



We also stopped at a coffee house serving Bosnian coffee.  In case you are wondering, Bosnian coffee is very similar to turkish coffee.  Josh thinks it is a lot less floral so he prefers it.


On our final day in Sarajevo we decided to visit the underground tunnels of Sarajevo.

"Between May 1992 and November 1995, during the Siege of Sarajevo and in the midst of the Bosnian War the Sarajevo Tunnel was constructed by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut-off by Serbian forces, with the Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel linked the Sarajevo neighbourhoods of Dobrinja and Butmir, allowing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and people to get out. The tunnel was one of the major ways of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry."
--Wikipedia

One of things that immediately stood out were the bullet holes in the facade of the building.  This place was blasted during the occupation of Sarajevo.  It was an unbelievable experience and one that we will never forget.


Weapons and artillery used during the conflict.


Maybe we shouldn't be smiling but we can't help it.  It's what we do!!


A short section of the tunnel was open for visitors to the museum to go through.   Can you imagine walking through this for nearly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles)?! 


Sarajevo is a constant reminder of the horrible past.  The destruction was tragic and sobering.  Still, you have to appreciate the struggles and accomplishments for those that stuck it out.  One of the questions we heard a few times on our tours was "Why didn't you just leave?"  This response really troubled us.  It assumes that people had the resources to just pick up and go.  These people were barely scraping by.  How in the world could they have just left?  Also, this is their home.  Why would they want to?  Sometimes we need to think about what we're saying before we just say it.  Josh's fourth grade teacher used to call this diarrhea of the mouth.  She was a smart woman.

The four of us needed to go to the bus and train station (they're next to each other) so we walked along and checked out the city outside of the center.  Beautiful disaster comes to mind.

Andrew actually pointed out this sculpture and said it reminded him of the Bronco outside of DIA (Denver International Airport).  However, this sculpture doesn't look possessed like the one in Denver. 




We left the apartment at 4:45 am the next morning to catch a bus to Belgrade.  From there we planned on catching a train to Timisoara, Romania.  Andrew and Liz actually got up to say goodbye to us even though it was way before they needed to wake up.  This goodbye was a bit harder than the previous four goodbyes.  This might be the last time we would see our travel buddies while on the road.  They were heading a different direction than us and most likely we would be behind them by the time we arrive in South America.  However, it wasn't a goodbye as much as it was a see you later!  We are grateful to have you as friends and will cherish our memories of traveling around the world together.  We just know we will be friends for life and will bore our future children with stories of our travels.  If we don't see you in the next few months, we will meet again in the good ole' USA.  Safe travels dear friends! We miss you already!

So, that train we planned on catching in Belgrade apparently doesn't exist.  Imagine that!?  We went back and forth between the bus station and train station until we were finally told that we would need to take a bus to some small town and then take the train to Timisoara.  Another lesson of the road...don't plan too far ahead for things just might change!

After a 3-hour bus ride, we found ourselves in a sleepy little town call Vrsac.  The train wasn't scheduled to leave for another 2.5 hours so we tried our best to pass the time.  We were the only ones in the station and the bathroom was one of the worst we have seen on our trip.  We couldn't even bring ourselves to take a picture because it was so disgusting. 

Instead, Josh posed for a picture at the ticket counter as if we had actually purchased something to prove we would be getting on this train.  No one showed up at the ticket window until 30 minutes before the train's departure.  


Leanne even contemplated walking to Timisoara for all of one second. 


We made it on the train and over the border.  After one heck of a travel day, we finally arrived in Timisoara around 10:00 pm.  What we thought would be 10 hours of traveling actually turned into 17 hours of traveling.  At least we pre-booked a hotel room so we had a place to lay our heads down for the night. 

We were exhausted and got a late start to sightseeing the next day.  Welcome to Romania!


Timisoara is a city in Western Romania.  We imagined a small town in the country side but it actually turned out to be huge.  The city center was rather small so we stuck to this area so we wouldn't get lost. The people were extremely friendly and we knew we'd love it immediately.  Timisoara is also the "jumping off" point for Transylvania.  We loved our stay here and it was so beautiful.



Is this the best place in the world to have a cheap cup of coffee?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It was a good place no matter what side you're on.


We walked around the city center and enjoyed the feast for the eyes.  Is this a tie-in for the Sarajevo rose?  No.  Just for us it is.


They had the most elaborate and senseless graffiti in Timisoara but it was still pretty cool.



After we covered everything we could on the map it was time to move further east into Romania!


Kisses from the road!


Thanks for following!
Cheers, 
Leanne and Josh

P.S. Rob and Lucy (UK) if you are reading this post, could you please send us your contact information? We can't find your email address in our journal from the Everest climb and your contact information is not listed on your blogger account. Thanks for the wonderful comment on our last post.  We are so excited for your upcoming adventure!  


3 comments:

  1. Like this post, look to be a wonderful place with a lot of story. Thank you for all your post Cheers, Stephanie Fullum xxx

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  2. Thanks so much Stephanie! We miss you!

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