By John Stewart, 15-time traveler from Newport Beach, CA
Crossroads of the Adriatic is a historical tour through a beautiful region of the world. This adventure was an emotional trip through history, visiting magnificent places, learning the culture, and sharing lives with wonderful people. From the Dubrovnik walls built in the Middle Ages to the creation of Yugoslavia after World War II to the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992 and the bombings of Serbia by NATO in 1999, we were constantly engrossed in the history of the places we visited.
We traveled through five countries of the Balkan Peninsula, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Serbia, hearing the locals tell the stories of how the disruptions had touched them. Our Trip Leader, Milan Miletic, told the story of his grandmother, born in 1918, who through her life had five government identification cards from different countries, yet she had lived in the same city her entire life. Wars and politics have moved the boundaries of countries and created new ones. However, even with the political and religious disagreements, the people we met were kind, generous, happy folks, and they were willing to share their life stories with us.
The most disturbing thing we learned and experienced was the history of the religious diversity of the region. The three groups of Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats representing the religions of Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics have divided the region for hundreds of years. However, these three groups share a large fraction of the same ancient gene pool distinctive for the Balkan area. Unfortunately, religion has divided families over the years. We heard stories of brothers who profess different faiths and were now at war with each other. At a Home Hosted Dinner in Sarajevo, we heard the disturbing story of how they had to sneak across town to avoid sniper fire to collect water and food for their family and slept in the central hallways of their apartment building for protection from mortars and bombs. While the cultural diversity between the groups is significant it added intensity to the adventure.
While the history and culture of these countries is very emotionally charged, the countryside is beautiful and full of wonderful things to see. From the beautiful Adriatic Sea to Lake Bled, the views and photographic opportunities were amazing. From the walled hilltop town of Motovun to the quaint town of Mostar, the small-town experience was charming. From Plitvice Lakes to Postojna Cave the beauty of nature was captivating. And from the cities of Zagreb and Ljubljana, shopping and the architecture were marvelous.
The walls surrounding Dubrovnik have provided protection since medieval times. We spent much time walking the tops of these walls enjoying the views of the Adriatic and the rooftops, streets and homes of the local Dubrovians. These walks also inspired much thought about what had taken place in the past on the spots we stood on.
The Adriatic Sea has many spectacular views like this sunset view from Mount Srd. Where my wife and I had a very romantic dinner.
While cruising a bay off the Adriatic Sea we stopped at the village of Perast, Montenegro to visit the island church, Our Lady of the Rocks. According to the legend, a fisherman from Perast, after a shipwreck, found an icon of the Holy Mother of God on a sea rock. So as the folklore says, they vowed to build a church on the tiny island. The local fishermen brought rocks and created a larger island on which they built the church in 1630. As the island had to be maintained, the seamen continued to bring stones, a tradition that is alive even today.
One of the most beautiful places of our adventure was Lake Bled, Slovenia. The lake surrounds Bled Island with the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary built in its current form near the end of the 17th century. It is decorated with remains of Gothic frescos from around 1470 in the Presbyterium and rich Baroque equipment.
We visited the walled medieval village of Motovun, Croatia. It was located in an area called Istria, which used to be part of Italy. The small village was a true venture into the history in former times of the buildings and shops.
The town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a charming exploration of the local culture. We watched with interest as people jumped from the Stari Most bridge into the Neretva River, a historic rite of passage that has now become a tourist attraction. Anybody can jump but you must attend training and pay a fee.
One of the highlights of the adventure and a great cultural learning opportunity was an overnight stay with Dennis and Greta in the town of Karanac. We took part in making cheese for the next day’s meal and working with a clay artist to learn how pottery is made. Our room was the old town post office and the home cooked meals were delicious. A visit to a local school, a Grand Circle Foundation recipient, was a very emotional encounter as the children sang to us.
The Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia were amazing. While not spectacularly high they are numerous and beautiful. Unfortunately, time prevented us from touring the entire large park which had many other lakes and waterfalls.
Another wonderful natural venture was Postojna Cave, Slovenia. The cave was carved by the Pivka River over a million years ago. The beauty of the stalagmites and stalactites were breathtaking.
This view was from our room in Ljubljana, Slovenia and gave us a great opportunity to appreciate the architecture of the region.
The Cravat Regiment performs a march by the honorary regiment from the Lower to Upper Town of Zagreb, Croatia on weekends and holidays which culminates in a changing of the guard at St Mark's Square.
Belgrade, Serbia has maintained the Ministry of Defense buildings as a commemorative of the NATO bombing in 1999.
The Siege of Sarajevo was the beleaguerment of the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1996. This was well publicized history and I was aware of the battle, but I had no idea of the impact it had on the residents. There are still many signs of the barrage of bullets that strafed the buildings in the city.
Discover the stirring multicultural heritage of the Balkans during Crossroads of the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia.