Posted by: jwhiff | July 24, 2012

On the Road to Sarajevo

We arrived in Sarajevo this evening. I’m sitting in our hotel room listening to the echoes of a very beautiful concert that is taking place just down the street. We are on the hillside overlooking the old part of town. I think the view will be very nice in the morning. Right now we can see the lights of houses spreading over the hillside and the points of minarets from several mosques.

Getting to Sarajevo from Serbia is quite an endeavor. We have now approached the city from two different directions and both of them involved narrow winding roads and dramatic scenery. Last year we drove up mountains and then descended into Sarajevo from the north. This year we approached from the east and snaked through fortress-like gorges and canyons. We’ve never dodged so many fallen rocks or passed through so many rough tunnels in one trip before. We had the road to ourselves for the most part, too. It was easy to think we were on the wrong road and would be lost in the maze of canyons forever! Right up to the very last moment there was no sign of Sarajevo, and then, when you pass through one last tunnel, it is there…lying before you (and surrounding you) in its entirety. Except for the odd tiny village on route, there are no suburbs of Sarajevo. It emerges like a lost city finally rediscovered…a dramatic first impression, I can assure you.

We left Belgrade yesterday morning and decided to take our time, taking in what we could of central Serbia south of Belgrade and the mountainous west. The first couple of hours weren’t pretty. There was the constant smell of fuel in the air and then village after village of dilapidated houses, abandoned oil tanks, old tires and lonely watermelon farmers peddling their wares on the side of the highway. The contrast between the relative wealth of Belgrade and the outskirts an hour to the south was noticeable, even from an outsider’s perspective.

As we started to enter the mountains and villages became smaller and more isolated, the scenery became pleasant and the poverty not quite as palpable. Thick forests of oak and beach took over from the billboards and macro-litter. We chose to stop at a restaurant with a sign sporting a grimacing dead lamb and weren’t disappointed. There were only three things on the menu: savory, spit-roasted lamb, fresh bread and thick slices of ripe tomato. The owner of the restaurant proudly emerged from a shed with a whole lamb and chopped us off a plateful. It rates up there with the best travel meals we have ever had.

We then contined on the road, which was so narrow and twisty that it felt as though we were driving around and around in tight figure-eights. We stopped for an overnight stay in “the Whistler of Serbia”: Zlatidor. It was definitely touristy (Serb and Russian mostly) and quirky with no outward signs of why it became such a popular place to stick a resort town. But, it had a large and varied outdoor market and offered an array of fun activities for the kids. I’ve never seen so many varieties of bouncy castle-type thingies! For a buck, you could even stick your children into clear, floating spheres and toss them out onto a small lake. Plus, the stray dog and cat populations were friendly (and sad). I think the boys are going to want to work for the SPCA when they get home. The encounters with stray animals will be what they remember the most from this trip, without a doubt.

Tomorrow we get to explore the old town. There will be all kinds of festivities as Ramadan started on Friday and lasts for 30 days. Supposedly we will have a different concert on our street every night. It is quiet now and my thoughts are slowing down. Good night everyone!

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