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"The Pearl of the Adriatic" - Dubrovnik

sunny 36 °C

History, history history.
A wealthy trade centre throughout the middle ages and into the renaissance, it has been ruled by many different empires over the last millennium, but through it all has maintained its unique style and liberty. Despite being separated by a small part of Bosnia Herzegovina from the rest of Croatia it is passionately Croatian as was demonstrated most recently in the 'Homeland War' of 1991-1992, Dubrovnik is a mecca for ALL the tourist cruise ships that pull into the port and as you walk around you are constantly dodging through large groups of tour people all wearing headphones and following a guide who is carrying a number in the air for everyone to follow while they race through their itinerary providing a potted history. There is some movement to try to manage the no. of cruise ships allowed into Dubrovnik each day but as Croatia is fairly dependent on the tourist dollar/euro/kuna it will be interesting to see how they manage the compromise.
IMG_20180916_102439.jpg Arriving in Dubrovnik.
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Dubrovnik is also famous as one of the sites for the filming of "Game of Thrones' and looking at the city walls you can see why, the city walls are stunning, sweeping directly up from the Adriatic with imposing turrets and bastions. The 'old city' covers quite a large area and reflects its long history of trade, political organisation and religion (predominantly Roman Catholic) so there are massive churches and Cathedrals everywhere. Their government was not unlike that modelled in Venice during the same period of time. Elected leaders who rotated through their responsibilities in administering governance, and as a result I think that it was far more prosperous than those who had monarchies.
P1040535.JPGP1040544.JPGP1040547.JPGP1040559.JPGP1040723.JPGP1040691.JPG The end of another great day.

As Yugoslavia began to unravel at the beginning of the 1990's Serbia wished to consolidate a greater Serbia by incorporating Croatia and Bosnia under their control, to that end they attacked Croatia shortly after the Croatians had declared their intention for an independent, free country. As a part of achieving their goal Serbia attacked Dubrovnik, an area everyone believed would be safe because of its World Heritage status.
The attack was brutal and the Croatians were unprepared, believing they would be safe. Dubrovnik is surrounded by harsh, rocky mountains that look right down into its heart and the enemy used this to their strategic advantage. We took a cable car to the top of the hill behind Dubrovnik where much of the battle took place. there is an old fort there built by Napoleon at the beginning of the 1800's. As well as offering breathtaking views the old fortress houses a museum which explains the events that took place during 1990-1992. Reading between the lines you can 'hear' the passionate sense of injustice they felt, both in response to the unrelenting barrage they experienced on their beloved home, but also disappointment in the international communities response in that they held back from intervening stating that it was a 'tit for tat' battle. You also see a story of brave partisans who were prepared to sacrifice all for their freedom.. I think history is yet to tell the whole story.
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We also visited a number of historic sites; the beautiful Franciscan Monastery (structurally very reminiscent of Mont Saint Michel on the coast of France), they were world renowned for their work in the creation and use of pharmaceutical drugs. Other sites included a Jewish synagogue, and a variety of museums. We also walked the wall, about 2 km in the blazing sun but an amazing structure which included lots of climbing, we explored the Old Port and, a highlight, we found a spot near the wall where people were able to swim, the rocks were 'tricky' but the water is sublime, it is so clear and buoyant and as you swim you are looking at the city walls and centuries of breathtaking history, truly memorable.

The Wall Walk
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Ended the day off with a swim at one of the famous Dubrovnik swimming sites.
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Posted by Seniorcitizens 07:21 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Sarajevo; The melting Pot of Religion and culture.

sunny 30 °C

Not such a great start to the day, I had been struggling with pain from a failed root canal and resorted to fairly heavy pain killers which reacted badly with my blood pressure medication. I needed to get the taxi driver to stop on the way to pick up our last hire car in order to farewell my breakfast!!
The impact of the medication left me feeling very wobbly and we then had a 180km drive into Bosnia through winding roads that did not end, it was a bit of an endurance test!!! Did eventually arrive in Sarajevo and had to agree that despite the challenge, we were very glad we came.

Sarajevo has been acknowledged through the centuries as the centre where all faiths meet, accept each other and live side by side with understanding and support. On one main street there is a mosque, a synagogue, a Roman Catholic church and a Christian Orthodox church, and these buildings represent hundreds and hundreds of years of faithful tradition. Jews were accepted first in the 1500's following their expulsion from Spain and 400 years later from Eastern Europe where pogroms began to escalate. The present Jewish pop of Sarajevo honour many Christians and Muslims who kept them safe during WW2, they are honoured with the title; 'Righteous Among the Nations'.

P1040921.JPG Latin Bridge. very famous landmark in Sarajevo.P1040920.JPG John resting
P1040933.JPG One of the many different types of churches we visited.P1040934.JPG This one had a statue of a Greek God in the middle of the archway.

Sarajevo is remembered as the notorious site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophia, heir to the Austrian throne, which became the trigger that started WW1. We managed to visit this site and view the Museum that fleshes out the story, we also saw the alleged footprints of Gavrilo Princip the assassin. Walking through the streets of Sarajevo has a very different feel to towns in Croatia, there is a very strong influence of the Ottoman rule, the atmosphere is much more that of an open bazaar that you may expect to find in Turkey or Morocco. The food, ornamentation, clothing and architecture reflect this heritage whilst the coffee culture with men gathered around talking is also predominant. Bosnia displays a much stronger influence of its Muslim past than is present in the neighbouring countries.
P1040922.JPG The corner (museum corner) where the assassin stood to shoot the Archduke and his wife.P1040929.JPG Apparently he was standing in wet concrete when he killed them as these are supposed to be his footprint (Hmmmm).

The other significant event that Sarajevo is remembered for is the siege that occurred during 1992-1995, where the entire city was surrounded by the Serbian army. It was the longest modern day siege, even outlasting Lenningrad and Stalingrad. Bosnia is a very mountainous country and Sarajevo sits in a valley surrounded by rocky mountains which were ideal for the enemy to bring in their heavy guns to pound the city with. The citizens lived under siege conditions for over three years without power, water, basic food and medical supplies. There was no way for basic needs to come in yet, despite this the people tried to maintain some degree of a normal lifestyle. Collecting water in plastic jerrycans, gathering trees destroyed by the bombardment for fuel, queuing for very basic supplies like bread all of which required the inhabitants to leave their housing and become targets for the snipers who encircled the city and picked off children on their way to school, old woman queuing for bread or people carrying water. Walking through Sarajevo now there are patterns on the pavement called 'Sarajevo Roses' which remain as reminders of sites where people lost their lives.
P1040923.JPG Sarajevo RoseP1040942.JPG A picture drawn by a child during the Siege of Sarajevo.
P1040961.JPG Two building that were marked with holes caused by bomb explosions, rifle fire etc. The building on the left has been patched up whereas the building on the right hasn't.
The pain of this time is palpable as you hear the stories, look at the reminders and see the damaged buildings that are still present. People here are obviously finding life more challenging than the citizens of Croatia, life is still tough, unemployment is high and everywhere there are indications of a coming election (Oct) , but there are very mixed feelings around that. Posters display smiling individuals with 'great' teeth and hair but there is little confidence in the prospect of corruption free leadership.

We visited a tunnel which had been dug under a very exposed area in order to try to bring urgent supplies in or attempt to get people out, it was 800 metres long and became the life blood for besieged citizens. We travelled along a section of road called 'Sniper Alley' which was renowned as the most dangerous spot to pass through because of the snipers who sat up at a distance picking off their hapless victims. Some of the buildings along this road still bear the scars of the gunfire. The museum was also in this part of the city and suffered serious destruction, it was renowned as the site of the "Sarajevo Haggadah" * an ancient Jewish text which had survived multiple attempts to steal or destroy it over millennia, yet being protected most notably on the last two occasions (WW2 & the most recent war) by Muslims. I didn't think that it would be possible but I managed to get to see it, it was one of those experience which make your hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
P1040962.JPG This was one of the few lucky buildings that survived, not may did.
The Sarajevo Haggadah
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The following are some pictures taken at the tunnel (which as mentioned was 800 metres long) dug under the landing strip of the Sarajevo International Airport. This allowed goods both humanitarian and military to be brought into Sarajevo.
IMG_20180921_161803.jpg The tunnel started under this house which was in the "safe zone".
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The story of war is ever present and this is represented in the range of museums you can visit, We saw "The children's Museum" which reflected on experiences of children and adolescents during the war, it was chilling to read the birth dates and know that they were the same age as our children and friends' children. I was also confronted by a toy that we had had for one of our boys and to see it and its story on display. We saw the museum of genocide, the museum of the Siege Story and the museum remembering the massacre at Srebrenica where over 8000 defenceless men and boys were murdered on July 11th 1995, The story is still so palpable, and leaves you reflecting deeply on humanity. Some people may suggest that it is ghoulish focusing on these evil events but I believe that their story needs to be remembered and that the victims deserve to be heard.

We also visited a 500 year old Synagogue, built by the Jews fleeing persecution in Spain (they were probably the ones who first brought the ancient Haggadah to Sarajevo)

  • "The People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks

Posted by Seniorcitizens 06:45 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Mostar - The Bridge Keeper

all seasons in one day 17 °C

Caravans trading in silks, spices and crafted goods travelled through the stunning countryside of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, they had come from cities like Trieste, Venice, or Zagreb and were heading to Sarajevo, Split, and Dubrovnik. They would travel through Mostar because there was a bridge that crossed the Neretva River, it was also a place they could trade with. In 1557 a beautiful stone bridge was constructed to replace a chain and timber bridge. The bridge has a single vault/arch but its unique design is stunningly beautiful as the vault rises higher than other bridges built with a single vault giving it a beautiful profile. The bridge itself is assembled with individually cut local stone shaped toward the apex, held together with pegs of iron which have had liquid lead poured on the pegs. The technology to create this with only hand tools is amazing and the testament to its strength is that it remained standing until 1993 when shelling from Croatia destroyed it. It has since been rebuilt following all the original designs, materials and technology with the help of the Global Heritage Fund. Because of the height of the vault it is quite steep and its marble surface is punctuated with raised sections about every step and a half along. On one of the days we were there it was raining and the surface is quite slippery.
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Diving from the bridge is a celebrated activity (particularly among young males) the bridge is 24m high and the river is recorded as being very cold, we watched as one young man jumped while his mate collected funds from the crowd for the feat. Tourists are warned about performing the task themselves without appropriate training. NO, neither of us were tempted. Again we were amazed at how the night sky lit up as the sun went down on our first day there.
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Like Sarajevo, Mostar has a predominantly Muslim community with some very ancient mosques, we climbed to the top of one of the minarets where the call to prayer is delivered from. View amazing, spiral staircase confronting. The old town is still much as it would have appeared to those early caravans who passed through; lots of tiny shops selling local trades, leather, wood, jewellery, manchester and local foods. The ancient road is made of hundreds of pebbles set on edge in a composite material, making it very difficult to walk along and while we were there the wind blew up and a storm came through. Avoiding the rain we managed to catch up on yet another War Museum focusing on the victims of the '92-'95 conflict and through the town are messages saying; "Don't Forget 1995".
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We also travelled to an unusual monastery, it was built by Sufi acolytes called Dervishes. Growing up I remember my Dad talking about The Whirling Dervishes, I think that he might have used it to sometimes describe how I might conduct myself, I thought it was his exaggeration, pointing out how wild I was, but it turns out that they are a real and ancient group of Muslim mystics who would achieve a state of intense worship by whirling around and around . There are still groups of Dervishes who meet and practise their form of worship and this monastery, which is over 500 years old was one of them. It is nestled in the most sublime setting, as we followed the river down toward it it reminded me very much of Mt Beauty in autumn. The monastery is right on the river at the base of imposing rocky mountains and behind it all is the restful sound of water trickling down little falls. From across the river you are able to capture beautiful reflections in the water.
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We left Bosnia for Dubrovnik to fly to Athens, a bit of a shock after checking in as a bus drove us out to our plane waiting at the end of the tarmac it was a small plane with two propellers!!!!!

Posted by Seniorcitizens 11:06 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Athens - The Birthplace of Democracy!!!

rain 16 °C

Our final stop - and it feels like we are ready for home!

To be fair we have probably not done Athens justice, we are tired, the weather was very ordinary and my brain is overloaded with information, I just can't take in any more and process it. Travelled by train and after rail systems which work with precision Athens is a little more 'laid-back'

We made the compulsory trek to the Acropolis which did take my breath away as we emerged from the underground to see it just sitting regally above the city. John was starting to feel a little bit over "more broken rocks" and there have been quite a lot of late.
It is quite phenomenal to see it sitting so close and for structures between 2 to 4 thousand years old they aren't in too bad a shape, they must have been inspiring for those who lived there at the time (that is, if you weren't a slave). To look across the city at the imposing structures would have filled you with a sense of being invincible and of having reached the pinnacle of human achievement , which to some measure they had. Thinking about this perspective does give you pause to reflect on how we in the 21st century view our achievements.
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The crowds there were overwhelming, cruise ships unload large groups of tourists and they all make their way to the Acropolis. Along with gale force wind and the experience of queueing amongst the ancient ruins with dust flicking up it was a little challenging but we did view the Parthenon and the robed female figures who act as columns supporting a temple. Whilst the site is centuries old it is still used for various events, while we were there people were setting up for a performance in the amphitheatre which still has the seats engraved with names of special attendees including Hadrian who initiated many massive building projects throughout Athens to repair much of the damage caused by the Persian invasion 500 years earlier. Wandering around some of the ruins, particularly Zeus's Temple with the overcast skies and grey/green conifers it brought to mind all those images of the Romantic artists who on the 'tour' would paint exotic images of what they were seeing.
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We also visited the Acropolis museum and other ancient sites around the city, most were in equally poor repair and almost every site we visited seemed to have an ancient, very arthritic dog who would oversee the visitors.
P1050313.JPG Zeus"s Temple P1050256.JPG View from Zeus"s Temple
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That's it for touring. Off to catch our flight home, via Dubai; see you all soon.

Gill and John (Senior Wanderers)

Posted by Seniorcitizens 00:33 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

THINGS WE HAVE LEARNT !!!

all seasons in one day

Travelling with my 'bestie' is great fun and sharing our interests, passions, curiosities and somewhat 'take it as it comes' attitude is enriching to our lives, our relationship and our appreciation of God's amazing world.
Reading back over this blog at a distance of time I am again overwhelmed by how incredibly lucky we are and how fortunate to have shared all these experiences.
Enduring 'take-aways' would include; meeting such amazing people, eating such wonderful food, and appreciating the story of struggle so many people have had to overcome and their consequent resilience, perseverance and resoluteness.
We navigated seven different underground rail systems, seven different currencies 14 different languages using Google interpreter, we travelled on four planes, seven trains, three ferries, we hired three cars, trams and walked and walked (often because we were lost), we climbed more staircases than I thought possible yet benefited from the amazing vistas that these climbs afforded us. We also lost 3 credit cards (near catastrophe) we nearly missed trains OR arrived hours too early because we were not acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of Russian timetabling. Precise directions are never precise!!! Assurances that a local knows exactly where something can be found are not to be relied on, international SIM cards do not work, (for me anyway) BUT we navigated our way through all of this without ever having phone contact with each other, not bad considering that we loose each other in a shopping centre and have to ring up to find each other again.
Things to remember; be flexible, expect to be ripped off at times, take risks, try new things, make an effort to meet with locals, smile, learn a few simple words in each language (where possible) and don't think that you know it all, listen to their story..

Posted by Seniorcitizens 01:16 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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