After Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, we were
ready to leave Eastern Europe. Next stop was Yugoslavia, but we
persuaded ourselves that Yugoslavia would be a breeze, after what we
had seen. It was Communist, to be sure, but not part of the Soviet bloc. We decided that it would be a vacation no matter what.
Yugoslavia did not
disappoint us. We had scheduled stops in every region of Yugoslavia (except
the lens of our history course, each region did in fact offer a distinct image.
First was the modern city of Skopje in Macedonia. I say modern, because the city had recently suffered a devasting earthquake and everything was new. We treated ourselves to rooms in a downtown hotel.
We were a bit surprised to find that brand-new bathrooms in a Macedonian high-rise featured a porcelain hole in the
floor, rather than a toilet.
Next came Belgrade. Great Serbian food, such as pljeskavice and muscalisce. Many restaurants,
many bars. Cars in the streets. The
view from the bluff overlooking the river was dramatic. The tour guide spoke
with pride at how many times the city had been destroyed in war because the Serbs always put up a fight when attacked. Belgrade, of course, was the Paris of the East, but it would never be an open
city, as Paris had been.
Sarajevo was a step back into a pre-Communist,
pre-World War I setting. The ancient bazaar looked like a Middle Eastern bazaar
should look in our imaginations, with stalls, rug dealers and bargaining over the wares.
We climbed a hill to visit an old cemetery, and along the way, we heard a young boy singing a very Turkish melody. We had never been to Turkey, of course,
but it sounded like Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio! Of course, we
visited the famous bridge, where the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a Bosnian
member of the Serbian nationalist "Black Hand" society put in motion all the battle plans of World War I. It should not have come as a surprise to us that the bridge had been renamed in honor of the assassin.
The bus ride through the mountains of Bosnia Herzogovina to the coast could
not have been more enjoyable. We were in a kind of reverie for times past
as we passed through beautiful old Bosnian towns. We fell in love with the old
bridge at Mostar. At the top of one mountain pass, we all got off the bus. There were goats roasting on an open-air spit, and we all took part. The air was fresh, and no barbeque has ever tasted better to me.
Next chapter: Croatia and Slovenia