Sunday, December 8, 2013

Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Romania Super Post

So I originally planned to do an individual blog post on each of the places that I traveled to. However, I’ve gone so many places in such a short span of time that getting around to writing the posts about the countries I’ve already visited before jetting off to a new place has proven a challenge (Case in point: I’m actually writing this in the Venice airport—more on that later). Since I have such a backlog of countries I’ve yet to tell you about and so little time to do it (less than 20 days now!), I’m combining the places I’ve been into this one mega post. These brief reflections don’t even begin to capture my time in these countries, but hopefully you’ll at least get a peek inside my life these last few months.

Romania: I’ll be honest: I didn’t really want to go to Romania. The readings we did to prepare for the trip made it sound like the sewer of Eastern Europe. I was sick of traveling. And the fact that we were going to spend an entire day of the trip on team building activities (AKA the bane of my existence) didn’t exactly help matters. Yet Romania turned out to be exactly what I needed. I’ve always considered myself a city girl through and through, but before Budapest, I’d never actually lived in a “big city.” The experience has shown me that, while I am a city girl, I need a little bit of country in my life, too. Budapest has done lovely things with its bricks and mortar, but there isn’t much natural beauty to be seen in this city. And it definitely doesn’t smell natural. Instead, many parts of the city reek of smoke and sewage. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from the smelly concrete jungle until I set foot in the Romanian mountains. The experience was so refreshing I even found myself enjoying some of the team-building activities. I felt more at peace in Romania than I had in weeks. And I think being out in nature again had something to do with it.
The Romanian mountains in the Fall. So beautiful!
Waterfalls sprinted toward deep, blue pools, spritzing the air with a cool mist. Vibrantly colored leaves waltzed across the Autumn air. The trees from which they came stood resolute and ancient against the clear blue sky in scenes reflected on glassy lakes of water so clean you could see through it to the floor of the lakes. Overgrown paths wound their way down hills and mountains. And I decided that if fairies and hobbits and unicorms existed, the Croatian National Park would be the place to find them. The kings and queens of these magical woods, I was sure, would reign from Dubrovnik, a city with a magic all its own. The medieval city perched along the Mediterranean coast was everything I imagined my castle fortress would be when I dreamed of becoming a princess as a child. White stone buildings lined winding streets connected by narrow alleyways, across which many locals strung clotheslines and hung their clothes. The famous city walls rose high over Dubrovnik, seemingly impervious to time. As I walked along the top of the walls, the crystalline ocean on one side and the white city on the other, I felt like I was that princess I once dreamed of becoming. Of course, it didn’t take me long to strip off the regality in favor of a bathing suit. Even though it was October, I swam in the ocean and lounged along the rocky beaches every single day in Dubrovnik. Once, when we visited a nearby island, a flock of peacocks joined me in my sunbathing. One of them even joined me in the shower! I couldn’t decide if the experience was whimsical, hilarious, or terrifying. I think that moment was a combination of all three. However, it is the first word, whimsical, that shows up the most in my memories of Croatia. If magic exists, that’s where you’ll find it.

Exploring the stunning Croatian national park

Serbia: Belgrade couldn’t have been more different than Croatia if it tried. Being there felt like being back in the communist era. The buildings were still dark, dirty, unkempt. We saw the structures of buildings bombed back in 1999. They seemed unchanged, as if, after the bombing, the city left them to rot. Belgrade wasn’t pretty. But I’m glad I went there. I felt much closer to understanding communism than before.

You can still see where this Belgrade building was bombed back in 1999

Bosnia: Of all the places we visited this semester, I knew the least about Bosnia. I was aware it existed, but to be honest, I couldn’t have placed it on a map. The only reason I knew it was in Europe was that I remembered it was where World War 1 started. I guess my history teachers didn’t think the war between the Bosnians and Serbians in the 1990s merited a mention. I was shocked by what I learned. The places we went in Bosnia, Sarajevo and Mostar, were both hit hard by the war. Sarajevo actually spent three years under siege! The remnants of the war have been, for the most part, patched up and hidden. So both cities are actually quite beautiful. But the war is still there, bubbling beneath the surface, in the minds of the people who lived through it. We visited the single tunnel beneath the airport that allowed people a way in and out of the city during the war. It was small and dank. I couldn’t imagine trekking through it much further than the 20 feet I did. But our guide did. As a young girl. She and her mother escaped Bosnia to New Jersey through it, only to come back when the siege ended. They couldn’t escape Sarajevo—it was who they were. Our guide for the walking tour of the city was born during the war, though his parents had escaped to Germany. Despite not being there, he, too, felt the war’s effects. When asked about how Bosnians feel about the United Nations, his response was vehement: “We hate them. We called them United for Nothing.” After learning about the way the United Nations handled the Bosnian war, I can’t blame the Bosnians for not being big fans of the UN. The UN was created to keep the peace, but the UN troops in Sarajevo sat and watched as Serbian soldiers slaughtered civilians. They did nothing to stop the Serbians. Instead, in the name of peace, they placed an embargo on weapons for Bosnians, preventing the Bosnians from being able to defend themselves. They told the rest of the world lies about what was happening, even claiming that the Bosnians were bombing themselves to make Serbians look bad. Why would they do that? They had to justify their lack of action to help the Bosnians. They claimed they sent the people of Sarajevo food while they were under siege. They actually gave them food packages left over from World War 2. They said they gave the people of Sarajevo medicine. What they neglected to mention was that it was malaria medication. During the three years Sarajevo was under siege, there wasn’t a single case of malaria. These are just a few examples of the UN’s blunders during the Bosnian War. Shockingly, I knew about none of them before I went to Bosnia. In fact, my history classes didn’t even mention the Bosnian War. I can see where it’s easier to leave this part of history out, but I think it is important. This war happened during my lifetime, and it happened in Europe. Some people like to think that something like the Holocaust, or World War 2 could never happen in Europe now. If it did, they assume, either the United States or the UN would stop it. The Bosnian War proves that these people are wrong. It’s an unsettling revelation, but I’m thankful that I realize that now. I wish more people did.

Our whole group in front of the famous Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia. The original medieval bridge was actually totally destroyed during the Bosnian War. This is a reproduction. 

I hope these little snippets gave you a peek into my life this semester! As I mentioned earlier in the post, I visited Venice this weekend as well! I hope to get a post up about that soon. For now, suffice to say it was incredible! I feel so blessed to have been able to visit and learn about all of these amazing places this semester. It has been a truly amazing few months!

1 comment:

  1. SO GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU, GRACE! Can't wait to see you later this month!