After saying goodbye to Berengere, I continued south from Sarajevo, going to Mostar. This is one of the towns that was hit the hardest during the war. It's hard to describe how disturbing it is seeing bullet marks on pretty much every building wall in town. The majority has been rebuilt, but every block has several buildings that are still completely bombed out. The roofs are totally gone, and there are holes from the shellings all over what's left. It's hard to believe that the war has been over for ten years.
Walking through the grave yards was also quite moving. Almost everyone buried in some of them died on the same day.
Last year, they remade the town's main tourist attraction, called the Old Bridge. The original was built about 500 years ago, but was destroyed during the fighting. The Serbs damaged it quite heavily, but it was in fact the local Croats that finished the job. They were fighting both the Serbs and the local Muslims [who they had lived along side for decades], and found that the Muslims were using it to carry back supplies...
George Bernard Shaw once said that 'Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik'. It's a town in the south of Croatia, and it was my next stop after leaving Mostar. The quote is perhaps what the city is most famous for.
The borders with Bosnia are set in a very strange way, so it in fact made sense to go back to Croatia, rather than having gone there directly from Split. Even so, I had my passport checked four times on the way, as the road keeps going between the two countries.
The town is lovely, being built into a huge medieval castle overlooking the Mediterranean. Of the four days that I spent there, the weather was only nice for one. It was incredible how much this improved the ambiance there. Looking out at the sky blue waters when the sunlight is reflecting off was incredible.
For accommodation, I stayed in a B&B. It's quite odd when you first step off the bus, as the little old ladies that run the B&Bs wait at the station to grab tourists as soon as they set foot on the sidewalk. Sometimes, if there aren't many tourists on board, things can get really ugly. It's in some ways entertaining, in others disturbing, watching them fight over you. I didn't understand when they were yelling at each other, but I got the feeling it could get physical pretty easily if someone provoked them. In the end, I bargained for the lower price, and a few of them lost interest.
From Dubrovnik, I caught a night bus to Beograd [pronounced Belgrad], capital of Serbia. I had arranged to stay with one of the locals, Zlatan, who offered to meet me at the bus station. I had sent him the time that the bus was supposed to arrive, but unfortunately there was a snowstorm in the mountains that the bus had to cross. In the end, we got in four hours late. Of course, I didn't expect him to still be there, and was planning on calling him on his mobile once I arrived. When he was standing right outside the door of the bus as I got off surprised me, to put it mildly.
I stayed with him for five days, and the hospitality that he and his family showed me didn't let up in the least. His parents were concerned that if I slept in the living room, they might wake me up on their way to work. So they insisted on taking the couch themselves, and putting me in their own bed.
Zlatan is part of a Serbian dance team, and along with his three close friends, travel around Europe doing competitions. Together they showed me a wonderful time, taking turns bringing me to different places when each had free time. Check out http://www.couchsurfing.com/image_gallery.html?id=400346&photo=147231.
This sort of hospitality seems to be a Serb thing in general. In addition, I met quite a few other people through the same website who also brought me to great cafes and museums. Elena, Milena, Nebojsa and his girlfriend Desa, Jovana, Marianna, just to name a few. In the five days I spent there, the only time that I was alone was when I was sleeping.
After Beograd, I went north to Novi Sad, the much smaller capital of Vojvadina, one of the few provinces of the former Yugoslavia that never had a strong separatist movement. Just as in Beograd, the highlight of my time here has been the people that I've met. I've been staying with someone named Slobodan, who has also been a great host. As well, I've been shown around by two others, Dragana and Ivana.
I find it very sad that, although on the surface everything seems normal here, everyone expects another war soon. Recent history almost always comes up in the conversations, and although I've only met people who are very nice, there are of course others who are a bit different. I've seen several street merchants selling calendars. Some feature pictures of convicted war criminals. For too many in these areas, they are heroes.
Over the centuries, there has been so much fighting here that it seems to be bred into many people. Even the nicest have come to expect war, and in some ways see it as a part of life.