topics: Adriatic Coast, DIA Sarajevo Euroclub, HISTORY; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 13-14, 1998

Food of the Day: Anthony's rice specialty

Because we had the luxury of a fully furnished apartment (with a kitchen!) for our stay in Sarajevo, and we spent too much money on the hotel in Metkovic(h), we decided to go grocery shopping and cook in for our days here. Luckily, there was a chef in the house. You guessed it: Anthony! Once we stocked the kitchen with garlic, onions, potatoes, peppers, carrots, rice, and other assorted goodies, we left him to work his magic. Like a true chef, he didn't reveal the secrets behind the lusciously scented rice, sautéed veggies, and soup he concocted. But we didn't mind... so long as he keeps up the great cooking!

Person of the Day: Renato Zrnic(j) click to view a photograph

Renato Zrnic(j) is the extremely helpful young man who picked us up from the bus station and helped us get acquainted with Sarajevo. Renato is the Project Manager of the Dobrinja (Sarajevo) Euroclub, and arranges the various youth activities that take place there. He sees it as one of the few after-school and non-scholastic places to which local youth can turn these days. There are so few other possibilities for kids without cash. The unfortunate alternatives are coffee shops (for those who can afford it) or drugs and a life on the street.

When we arrived in Sarajevo, Renato led us to the apartment where we'll be staying (special thanks to DIA and Vincent), and then drove us all to the DIA Sarajevo Euroclub (see the Place of the Day) in the suburb of Dobrinja so we could send and receive email.

Renato later gave us a guided tour of the downtown area, pointing out a few of the more famous areas and buildings that were badly damaged in the siege. (We'll talk much more about it in the next days' dispatches - just you wait.) The tops of the hills were still snow-capped as he gave us an overview of the city. click to view a photograph

Renato's help getting our feet on the ground in this new city, for letting us know the best bus and tram routes should we decide not to bike or walk, and generally welcoming us to Sarajevo, is greatly appreciated, and we wish him and the Euroclub the best of luck.

Place of the Day: DIA Sarajevo Euroclub

The DIA Sarajevo Euroclub click to view a photograph is a place where young Sarajevans can hang out. Located in Dobrinja, a southwestern suburb of Sarajevo, it was our first stop after dropping our bikes and gear off at our "home" in Sarajevo for the next few days. (The apartment we are staying in belongs to one of the DIA personnel working in Bosnia who is currently at another Euroclub in the city of Banja Luka.) Both Sarajevo and Banja Luka are and were in desperate need of a safe place where young people can congregate after school or on weekends - a place free of charge and free of drugs. Dobrinja (Sarajevo) and Banja Luka were extremely hard hit by the war in Bosnia (for a brief history see tomorrow's Place of the Day, and the France-based organization called DIA (with which we have already worked when we were in Gaza) recognized the need for youth activities in the years that followed.

The Euroclub serves as a learning resource center and a fun place where youth can relax. There is a computer center (with Internet access), and an Information Kiosk with different publications in different languages. This is one of 14 kiosks that are opening in the countries of the former Yugoslavia to promote more self-learning and encourage networking. Also available at the Sarajevo Euroclub are language and computer classes, as well as extra-curricular activities such as the drumming session we witnessed. click to view a photograph It went over extremely well with the local youth! click to view a photograph

Tech Fact of the Day: Neum as the Bosnian "coast"

Neum is the only Bosnian city located on the Adriatic coast. This stretch of land - all of about 7 km (4 mi) - has border guards at each end, but the borders are hardly enforced or checked, since the traffic going through it is pretty regular. Without Neum, Bosnia-Herzegovina would be "landlocked," meaning without any access to major waterways. Neum is mostly a resort village with a gorgeous bay and a number of very nice looking hotels. There was nothing obvious (to us) to suggest that we were in "a different country" for those few kilometers, though...

Group Dispatch, April 13-14
picture of Corinne

Leaving Dubrovnik wasn't going to be easy. The enchantment of this walled city had captivated each of us, and the pleasantness of our surroundings was all too comfortable. But it had been long since we'd done some good biking, and the hilly coastal terrain was calling. The rain even decided to let up for just a moment, it seemed, so we took the chance while we had it and hit the road.

First we had to pick up the bikes from Club Otok and say goodbye to Slaven. click to view a photograph One last coffee and a little more conversation with him brought to a close our stay in one of the most charming and endearing cities we've seen so far. click to view a photograph

And so we breached the Old City walls of Dubrovnik to explore the rest of the Dalmatian coast. First heading south to catch a glimpse of the city in all it's morning splendor click to view a photograph, we then biked back north around the outer walls of the city, right through what was once the rocky moat!

At the nearby port (where our boat from Bari had landed a few days earlier), we stopped to pick up some hearty breakfast foods, as well as a few morsels for the road. The headwind was fairly strong, but the sun was trying to come out by that point, and we welcomed it. In fact, the entire coast looked like a delight to bike. We were excited. We didn't have a road map of the country as yet (it had been the holiday weekend when we arrived and many things were shut), but that's what makes keeping the water on the left an easy navigational tool for our journey. Plus, heading up the coast, the water remained what Corinne dubbed "impossi-blue" - or impossibly blue. It was a clear, gorgeous mix of water and shore.

But our gaze was not always out to the sea. The road had its own "attractions" too. We had seen plenty of evidence of rebuilding in Dubrovnik (after the bombings there), and we were all on the lookout now for signs of post-war repair to the highways. After all, the area around Dubrovnik had been badly battered by Serbian shells as well. Well, sure enough, we had a hard time missing (literally and figuratively) the scattered assortments of patched-up potholes on the road that had clearly been made by mortar rounds. The deep cuts in the pavement from the shrapnel that sprays outward with the explosion resulted in impact scars about two feet in diameter. It was enough to keep our minds busy. We wondered sadly how many mortars didn't miss more obvious targets, as these had.

But back to the coast! Biking on the coast is always an adventure in geography, since the roads generally follow whatever contours and curves Mother Nature has deemed necessary at any given point. For instance, the first bay inlet that we biked into and back out of easily added 15 km (9 mi) to our distance. The actual distance across the bay's mouth, however, was probably no more than about 800 meters (875 yards)!

This happened over, and over, and over again, throughout our 120-km (75-mi) day. As the crow flies, the distance may have been closer to 70 km (43 mi). Padraic swore he could still see the Old City walls before we came off the coast to Metkovic(h)! But the roads took us up and around and into every little nook and cranny of coast. That can be frustrating, especially when the tailwind and downhill that brought us into each alcove turned into a climb and headwind as we made the haul back to the heights overlooking the sea.

In short, the wild terrain only offered more incredible views of the sea, the Croatian islands, and the coast from numerous and ever inspirational perspectives. It was a great "welcome back to biking" kind of day, complete with rural experiences like staring cows. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Even the rain and clouds swept up and passed over us. For the most part, we stayed dry. (Only once, when a big storm seemed to be brewing about 20 km (12 mi) in the distance, did we think, "Oh, it'll pass by the time we get up there." Just then, a huge bolt of lightening erupted from the dark cloud mass directly ahead. Once again Mother Nature reminded us that She does as She pleases...)

In fact, we actually held the rain at bay until we reached Metkovic(h) proper click to view a photograph and were hunting for a hotel. We had considered getting a bus directly to Sarajevo that evening, but it turned out the next bus wouldn't leave until midnight, putting us in town at 5:00 a.m.! Instead, we willingly decided to call it a day, as by that point in the late afternoon, the wind, rain, and cold had all started to set in. Not to mention that we had covered 120 km (75 mi)!

Splitting up into groups, we looked for the best hotel price we could find as well as a nearby restaurant that looked suitable. Unfortunately, on Easter Monday - and with only relatively high-priced hotels in the vicinity - it was slim pickings. However, our ultimate home for the evening luckily offered both good accommodations and good food!

Checking into the hotel, we were offered hot coffee and sweets to tide us over a bit. We gladly kicked back. As the hotel manager arranged the kitchen for dinner preparation, we even took the time to check out the Croatian television options - mostly German subtitled television from the USA - and to take well-deserved showers. As the rain poured down outside, we wolfed down a huge meal. Perhaps for the first time in BikeAbout history, the boys were unable to clean their plates!

It was still raining the next morning when we ate an enormous breakfast at the hotel. It was even still coming down when we boarded the first bus to Sarajevo. (Fortunately, the bus was not as crowded as we had feared, so we had only moderate trouble getting the bikes in the luggage stow. Of course, and as usual, the driver was not at all happy about this - it must be part of the job - but we managed.) Soon enough, we were at the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina, less than a kilometer away. The actual crossing was quick and painless, but once we crossed, the bus stopped and the driver decided to take his own breakfast break for about 30 minutes. This gave us plenty of time to ponder our new location.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is yet another of the "former Yugoslavian" nations (also including Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro [today's Yugoslavia], and Slovenia), and began appearing in the news as a result of the civil wars in the early 1990s. For a full overview of how this came to be, you'll have to wait until tomorrow and the next day for Ethan and Padraic's in-depth reports. However, prior to the events of the last century, the history of this area is still tumultuous, full of tribal and nationalistic drama.

The Illyrians - the ancient ancestors of the Albanians (remember them?), lived here until the Romans took over this mountainous terrain sitting at the edge of the "East." In fact, when the Roman Empire split into two parts in 395 AD, the Drina River (now the political border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) was the east/west dividing line between Byzantium and the Western Empire. As we know by now from our varied and numerous sections about the Roman and Ottoman Empires, this entire section of land between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea was entirely up for grabs. It was, after all, the gateway to Asia. And grab at it everyone did.

Sarajevo, as one of the centers in this region, became a cultural, political, and religious vortex. Even as late as the 19th and 20th centuries, the Austria-Hungarian Empire made Sarajevo a continual battle ground among the various Slavic (Croat, Slovene and Serb) tribes who had settled in its environs.

And so our bus made its way up toward Sarajevo, primarily following the river valley of the Neretva, where the mountains seem to have all but broken in two just to make way for the water and our bus. It was unbelievably gorgeous. The rain was off-and-on enough for us to take in some of the views of the natural wonder as well as some totally destroyed villages, the first evidence we saw of fighting in Bosnia. On a few plots of land, new homes were being built right up next to gutted, burned-out shells of houses, no doubt in the yard that once was home to a tree with a swing, or a garden plot. But we didn't look too carefully... we would have a chance to see it all again.

As we made our way up the mountains, we drifted in and out of sleep, being sure to note scenery and landmarks during our waking moments. We wanted to scope out the lay of the land since in a few days, we knew we would be heading back down... but by bike. We had talked about doing it all in one day - 166 km (103 mi) straight from Sarajevo to Metkovic(h). We would see what was possible. (Of particular note to all of us were the numerous and sometimes long tunnels. Of course none were lighted, and, of course none of us has front lights anymore. Even more alarming was that the higher we climbed, the worse the weather got. The rain turned to snow and gained in intensity, certainly making the landscape that much more picturesque, but leaving our hearts heavy with concern about the ride back down.)

At the Sarajevo bus station, Renato, our Person of the Day, greeted us and led the way to the flat we would have to ourselves for the next few days. Dropping our gear off, we were whisked away to the DIA Sarajevo Euroclub, our Place of the Day, where we were able to send dispatches and receive email. (You may remember an introduction to the DIA Dialogues and Initiatives Organization from our visits to their home office in Marseilles and our time at their branch in Gaza City, Palestine.)

Because the Serbian siege on Sarajevo was so widely televised and otherwise documented in the media, the initial shock of the obvious destruction somehow had a little less impact. It was what we had expected. The much harder thing than the blown out windows, gutted buildings, and other seen and unseen damage to the area (like the streets which are still have mines removed from them) was the realization that people have had to live through the whole process.

Arriving in the suburb of Dobrinja where the DIA Sarajevo Euroclub is located, Renato explained that it was right on the front line of the fighting, and the evidence was hard to miss for anyone visiting, much less living there. click to view a photograph

By the afternoon the sun had returned, and the snow on the ground had turned to slush, but the hilltops surrounding Sarajevo remained white. Still, with the passing of the bad weather, our spirits began to lift and our hopes of a peaceful stay in Sarajevo were revived.

After a brief lunch and walk back through the downtown area with Renato, Ethan retraced some of his steps from a visit he made here in 1996. He was curious to see what progress had been made in repairing the city. His report on the reparations in the downtown area and its gradual recovery will be reported as part of Padraic's dispatch from Sarajevo.

While we were certainly looking forward to the rest of our time in Sarajevo, as evening fell, we retired back to the apartment to catch up on some work and unwind for the evening.

Late at night, an amazing moon came up behind the hills and shone over cityscape. The view of the scattered domestic lights within and around the hilly cradle was peaceful. What was once, still is, and will be a beautiful Sarajevo was before us.

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