From Niš to Sarajevo: a ride through recent history [Serbia - Bosnia]

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Stara Varos, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
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    Day 1: Thessaloniki [GR] – Niš [SRB] (2013, September 27)

    I was in elementary school when the war in Yugoslavia broke out, but i still remember images of that time that were presented by the media. The name «Sarajevo» engraved in my memory back then. Even though i had already visited the city twice, both times i had limited time to appease my nosiness. Motivated by those thoughts, i packed some basic stuff and hit the road.

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    From my hometown Thessaloniki, to reach Sarajevo demanded some 850 km and 11 hours drive. I found it a lot for an autumn day, when the time difference and day length would surely make me ride at night, so I decided to spend a night in Serbia, in the historical city of Niš.

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    The road up to Serbia is mostly highway and there was nothing special to see in between, except riding along the Vardar valley, so I rode aiming to arrive as soon as possible to have some time off the bike.

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    My first impression from above was the industrial infrastructure and later the Yugoslav era «Ambassador Hotel», right in the middle of the city. It was opened back in 1968 and is said to be the second tallest building in Serbia, outside of Belgrade.

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    Next to it was located the «Monument to the Liberators of Niš» and across the river Nišava, the «Fortress of Niš». It was erected on the site of earlier fortifications and during World War I it was occupied by Bulgarians who turned it into a prison where Serbian patriots were imprisoned and tortured. Since 1966 the Niš Film Festival is held here.

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    Some more about the fortress you can read by clicking here . If ever in town, not to be missed is the Bubanj park, where the famous «Fists» are located (my post «Alone in central Balkans» is partly related), the «Skull tower» (Ćele Kula), «Crveni Krst» the presented Nazi concentration camp and «Mediana». I spent the rest of my day walking around the central pedestrian streets and having coffee to a «kafana», something, let’s say, like a local bistro.

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    Day 2: Niš [SRB] – Sarajevo [BiH] (2013, September 28)

    After a calorie explosion at the hotel’s breakfast area, i was back on the road. Next thing exiting Niš, was to head north on the E75/A1 road until Kruševac junction.

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    I followed the route that passes through the cities Kruševac, Kraljevo, Čačak and Užice. I picked this route, as i saw on paper map that it had to be the shorter one.

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    I remember it was a crazy road and a bit stressful to ride to, as the traffic was heavy, the speed limits were strict and although the presence of traffic police was totally obvious, locals were driving like competing in a motorsport stunt show.

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    The monotonous urban landscape was interrupted after the city Užice, as i was approaching the area of Mokra Gora (it means «wet mountain»).

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    Until that time, i had no clue that here, with the financial support of Emir Kusturica, was built the traditional little village Drvengrad (also known as Küstendorf or Mećavnik) and his film «Life is a miracle» was shot.

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    The borders to enter Bosnia where very close and after a typical «documents check» i was already to Visegrad (if you have some free time, i suggest you to read the relevant novel by the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric «Na Drini čuprija» (The Bridge on the Drina), for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize).

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    From there i had four different routes that were leading to Sarajevo and, to be honest, i really don’t remember which one i followed, as i was mesmerized by the beauty of the surrounding nature and the colors of the sun setting.

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    Around 07.30 local time, just before it got dark, i was in the city of Sarajevo.

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    As i knew very little of where to go, i tried to find a hotel near the historical area of Bascarsija quarter, so i can later explore the city’s heart on foot. I had a full day that closed walking the main pedestrian streets on my own, making plans about what i would like to see the next (free of riding) day.

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  2. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Day 3: Sarajevo [BiH] (2013, September 29)

    Early wake, looking through the window the rain.. First thing I noticed were the bullet holes on the walls of neighboring buildings.

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    I start the engine of my motorcycle and head uphill, by the river Miljacka, aiming to visit the «White Fortress» (Bijela tabija).

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    Somehow i got a bit lost and i had the chance to explore a little this area, until a came across to a military zone and had to return.

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    Anyway, i was awarded with magnificent misty views over the city. I noticed that throughout the city several cemeteries, of people who lost their life during the war, were distinguished.

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    Later, i reached to a road fork, where a barrier was blocking the one leg of the gravel road. A sign warned of mines and the other one of dogs. Not sure what I was more afraid.

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    I followed the other road and soon i saw a sign with familiar inscription. It was for a de-mining project that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of my country was participating. Some years later it got publicity a big scandal of fraud, money laundering, etc that involved a Non Governmental Organization (NGO), Greek diplomats, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, of course, was associated with the minefields of Bosnia, among other countries.

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    Down that gravel path and after some abandoned buildings with war scars and maybe some minefields under the process of deactivation, i had a stop at the museum of the 105th Motorized Brigade of the Bosnian Army (Muzej 105. motorizovane brigade), whose soldiers participated in all the battles for the defense of Sarajevo, from 1992 to 1995. The museum, also known as «Memorial Building Little Tower», was housed in a renovated fortified tower at Pointy Rock.

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    I left the Grdonj area and through narrow streets i was returning to the city center. Finally, i was thinking that it was a bad idea, as i got stuck many times between other vehicles. Thank god i didn’t have the side panniers, because i would still be there..

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    On the way down to Vratnik neighborhood, i had a stop to «Visegrad Gate» (Višegradska kapija), that was built between 1727 and 1739 and it is said to lead Sarajevo traffic to Visegrad continuing east, towards Istanbul.

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    By luck i found the «White Fortress», the cannon bastion i was looking for from earlier that morning. Some sources mention that it was built over the site of a small medieval town «Hodidjed». Although, during my visit, only ruins remain from that Austro-Hungarian structure, the views to the city were beyond expectations.

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    Back to the city center i had some moments by the «Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery» (Sehidsko mezarje Kovaci) in Kovači quarter. Next to it is located the «War Childhood Museum» (Muzej ratnog djetinjstva) that i would surely visit next time in Sarajevo.

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    Riding through the city i came across to the «Markale Market» (Gradska Tržnica), which was bombed twice and initialized the NATO intervention and later on, where Ferhadija and Marsala Tita street meet, the «Eternal Flame» memorial (Vječna vatra), dedicated to the victims of the WW2, during the occupation of Bosnia by Germany and Croatia.

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    It was then that i headed outside Sarajevo, to Butmir area, where the most famous war memorial «Tunnel of Hope» (Tunel Spasa) was located.

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    It was a tunnel that was dug from the garage of a house, under the airport and led to area Dobrinje.

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    Many Sarajevans may have passed it at some point of their life, so ordinary people may be some good source of getting to know some more about the tunnel, this true «war hero».

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    I quote an informative link https://www.tunelspasa.ba/#Dobrodošli and some words from Wikipedia: «The Sarajevo Tunnel (Sarajevski tunel/Сарајевски тунел), also known as Tunel spasa (Тунел спаса, Tunnel of rescue) and Tunnel of Hope, was an underground tunnel constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War».

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    «It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel linked the Sarajevo neighborhoods of Dobrinja and Butmir (that's why it's also called "Tunnel D-B"), allowing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and allowing people to get out».

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    «The tunnel became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry. There were reports of Bosnian civilians being forced to pay up to $120 USD to the Bosniak army for passage for themselves and their families through the tunnel».

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    Having the last thing on my mind and mixed feelings about the atrocities committed but also the opportunistic character of people, i was returning to Sarajevo center by the Meša Selimović Boulevard/Zmaja od Bosne aka «Sniper Alley» (Snajperska aleja). The name says it all. That boulevard had many high-rising buildings that made it perfect for sniper posts.

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    It is said that, during the war, sniper shooters wounded 1,030 people and killed 225 (60 of whom were children).

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    Holiday inn hotel in 2013.. scroll up if you didn’t notice its wartime condition when it was the home for international journalists. On Obala Kulina Bana (if i’m not mistaken) were some more interesting buildings. The «National Museum», for some reason closed, the Parliament building, where some people were protesting and the, once an Evangelistic church, «Academy of Fine Arts», with the modern bridge in front of it.

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    I wanted to make some photographs near the «Latin Bridge» (Latinska ćuprija), where the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated on 28 June 1914, sparking the beginning of World War I. By mistake i shot some other bridge that i don’t even know its name. If someone knows, comment bellow..

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    Parked my motorcycle near the «City Hall» (Vijećnica) and had a walk around «Baščaršija», the historic district of the city. Later, i read that when the siege by the Serbian forces started, one of the first targets that got shelled was the City Hall and by that most of the 1.5 million volumes in the library's collection, of which 155,000 rare books and manuscripts were lost in the fire.

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    Walking the cobbled streets of the old bazzar, somewhere between mosques and oriental-style shops, i found this flea market, selling all sort of antiques, war memorabilia, even some personal items of Nazi soldiers’ like uniforms and other stuff.

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    On the main square was located the iconic fountain «Sebilj». I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but when i first saw it i thought it was some kind of shelter for pigeons, but it happens to be a 1753 wooden fountain, counting three more replicas, in Belgrade and Novi Pazzar in Serbia and in St. Louis.

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    Ferhadija pedestrian street is the heart of the whole area where are located most of the city’s historic monuments like «Gazi Husrev-bey's Mosque», the caravanserai «Tašlihan» and the neo-gothic «Sacred Heart Cathedral» (Katedrala Srca Isusova).

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    West from the Cathedral, the ottoman era traces tend to fade and the city takes on its European guise. I closed my day wandering around this unique place, just by enjoying the noisy life of my favorite Sarajevo’s street, Ferhadija.

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  3. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Day 4: Sarajevo [BiH] – Niš [SRB] (2013, September 30)

    The goal was to get to Belgrade, but weather had other plans.

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    I chose to ride north, heading first to Zenica and then Doboj, aiming to enter Croatia from Slavonski Brod and finally take the E-70 highway to get me directly to Belgrade. As always, plans are made to be ruined and so it happened. During all those kilometers, from the very first moment i entered Croatia and up to Belgrade, i had to face the worst storm I encountered on my whole bike life.

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    At some point i was so fed up that i stopped and entered a McDonalds on the highway. I was standing there by the entrance, like a poor beggar to a side, in order not to flood the entire floor. Even customers were looking at me, with pity in their eyes, like «bro, get a pair of dry clothes, ditch that bike and get in our car». From that day i remember two more things: One is the Croatian border guard. When he saw i am a Greek passport holder, he told me all the Greek football players that won the Euro 2004! Funny guy.

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    The other thing is that in that crazy thunderstorm, some 100 km before Belgrade i bypassed another crazy guy with a Yamaha T-Max! That made me feel a little better, as i wasn’t the only fool on the highway anymore.. This weather-joke, i mean the rain, kept up to Belgrade, where i decided to go a little further and headed to Niš.

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    Day 5: Niš [SRB] – Thessaloniki [GR] (2013, October 1)

    The hotel provided everything I wished to have for breakfast and after that i jumped on the bike to go home. It was like 4-5 hours away, not a big deal.

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    At this point i will write something that will be for the first time on my blog. I want to write about the manager and stuff of Garni Hotel Consul in the city of Niš ( http://www.consulaccommodation.rs/ ) where I spent that night and forgot my waterproof jacket to dry in the bathroom. When I realized I had forgotten it, I contacted them and they told me not only that they would reach me via booking, but that they will post it to Greece on their own expenses.

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    I was speechless. I can’t say enough, just a big «thank you» for your professionalism. Package arrived to Thessaloniki, I still have the jacket and every time i use it i remember that kind and generous people still exist.

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    Sarajevo & Closing thoughts

    Even though cease-fire was forced to the case of Bosnia by UN, the conflicts are not totally over. Many Sarajevans have lived the siege of their city back in 1992-95 and the majority of them suffered from the loss of friends or relatives. So, it is justified Bosniak population to still have, let’s say, anti-Serb feelings, even negative predisposition and anger towards the UN, as the memories remain. For example, the United Nations are blamed for doing nothing to deter the Srebrenica massacre, or done little to protect the citizens of Sarajevo.

    For many the war is not a taboo subject anymore. It is easily detected by the numerous museums and memorials around the city that prove people had moved on. But still, it is a sensitive topic, as it arises memories of pain and suffering. You should also take under consideration that Sarajevo is also inhabited by Serb separatists, who want to see the territories of Republika Srpska independent, as by Bosnian unionists. So, as conflicts between those different ethnic groups are far from over, discussions may end up differently, depending the neighborhood your conversation partner lives.

    As in any country in former Yugoslavia, I try to avoid discussions about politics, religion and recent history, especially with people I don’t really know. Sometimes it can be educational or even amusing, but the risk of getting misunderstood just because of the language barrier or missinformation, prevents me from starting such conversations, unless I’m not the one who brings up the topic or my opinion is asked.
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  4. Amphib

    Amphib A mind is like a parachute....

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    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You really capture the region.
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  5. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    thank you bro!
    i just take my time wherever i may find myself and try to suck up everything.. i hope the result is a decent content.
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  6. Amphib

    Amphib A mind is like a parachute....

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    Amazing content. My brother was there as a US soldier in the first infantry...and its incredible to get a chance to see the photos of the area. He had some horrific stories of what he witnessed. These subjects can be difficult to discuss and you did it in such a respectful way. Thanks again.
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  7. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    ..all ex-Yugoslavian grounds have such stories to narrate and, as i mention in my closing thoughts, is fair to keep same distances from both parties since 'history' is so recent.

    Thanks for the read!
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