Human Geographies of Conflict and Renewal, Lessons from the Old Continent

Human Geographies of Conflict and Renewal, Lessons from the Old Continent

I embarked on a journey this past August that would take me through a diverse set of nations, cultures, and landscapes in Europe. The heart of this trip was a segment in Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro. Holland and Hungary were other destinations along the way. It had been over a decade since I’d been in Europe, and this was the first time I’ve traveled there as an adult with a fuller appreciation of the places I’d be visiting.

I read Mark Mazower’s The Balkans: A Short History to expand my admittedly lean understanding about the history of the region outside of the role it played in instigating World War I, as well as the more recent Yugoslav Wars. One of the first points Mazower makes is to debunk the commonly held misconception that the Balkans are somehow especially prone to conflict for one reason or another. This caution led me to reflect on the history of conflict across Europe and not just the Balkans. I’ll elaborate below with an account of each stop on my trip. Given where I traveled, I found the trip especially poignant as it fell one year short of the centennial of the end of World War I. How conflict unfolded and how the people recovered afterwards in all of these areas are as relevant and instructive as ever, perhaps especially so in light of concerning trends as of late.

HOLLAND

It’s hard to imagine while strolling along the harborside esplanade in Volendam, the placid polders adorned with windmills in Zaanse Schans, or the boisterous canals in Amsterdam that Holland has been through more than its fair share of destructive conflicts over the course of the last 500 years. Indeed, the Dutch Republic was born of the Eighty Years War during which the Dutch wrested independence from their Hapsburg rulers. The conflict took a horrible toll, but in the end, not only did the Dutch gain their independence, they also launched headlong into a golden age that has left a legacy across the globe. This includes my home in Flushing, which takes its name from the town of Vlissingen in the Scheldt estuary.

The marks of earliest conflicts in Dutch history are still visible today. The Eighty Years War broke out in part due to the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the wake of the Reformation (the 500th anniversary of this just passed). In Utrecht, on a casual night out, my gracious hosts took me to a bar in a building that once housed an underground Catholic church. The facade of the building is understandably undifferentiated from the surrounding buildings, but on the inside, the ceilings are massive. Adornments typically found in a Catholic church occupy the inside, including an organ. Many are unaware of Utrecht’s history as a Catholic stronghold in Holland even well after the Reformation. There is even a historic papal residence in town. Utrecht’s strategic importance as a nexus of trade routes sitting astride a now defunct channel of the Lower Rhine ensured that it would be fought over. Catholics were surrounded on all sides by Protestants and faced such persecution that they felt the need to clandestinely convene away from their neighbors. The Dom Cathedral in the heart of the city was burned and vandalized. The desecrated statuary and other relics are preserved for visitors and natives alike as a silent memorial to this unfortunate chapter.

A defaced relief sculpture inside Dom Cathedral in Utrecht

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam stands as a stark reminder of the horrendous cost conflict fueled by religious hatred. And yet Holland at this point looks no worse for the wear having survived two world wars. It’s a thriving place where the investments the Dutch people have made in building up their infrastructure and institutions put many others nations to shame. This is in no small part due to effects of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe after the cataclysm of World War II, in stark contrast to Bosnia which I’ll address later.

Religious conflict continues to afflict northern and western Europe today. This time it’s a renewal of the longstanding tension between Christian Europe and the Islamic world. Extremist groups like ISIS have conducted a wave of terrorist attacks across France, Belgium, and England. Geert Wilders, the firebrand Dutch politician, offers among the most vociferous and impassioned resistance to extending an open hand to immigrants and Muslims in response. He is not alone in this sentiment, as the next destination I visited is also seeing a rise in nationalism in the face of a wave of immigration from Muslim nations.

HUNGARY

Budapest was a true delight to visit, and its impressive panoply of architectural styles captures in stone the city and nation’s long and diverse history. Gleaming new glass and steel constructions, Soviet apartment blocks and metro stations, the iconic Hungarian Parliament, Turkish bathhouses, medieval palaces and churches, and Roman ruins each bear witness to a distinct era. Throughout all of these periods, this crossroads of Europe has been the scene of sweeping changes and has seen wave after wave of invasions.

At the ruins of the Roman city of Aquincum, one can picture what life was like on the very edges of the empire. The threat of invasion from any number of barbarian tribes was ever-present. The high cost in blood and treasure incurred by securing this long Danubian frontier was among the factors that eventually led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The vacuum of power left by a retreating Byzantine Empire set the stage for Árpád and the first Hungarians to invade and settle the fertile plain created carved out by the Danube and Tisza River.

Ruins of a Roman bath at Aquincum, just north of the Buda side of Budapest on the west bank of the Danube

The Hungarians established a burgeoning kingdom that lasted for several centuries before they themselves were taken over by the Ottoman Empire, a force that will figure prominently in the rest of this essay. Traditional Turkish style bathhouses the Ottomans built in Budapest stand as the most visible testament to their legacy, since mosques were largely destroyed after Christians reconquered the area. It is remarkable to think that I could have soaked in the very same baths that pashas, sultans, and their entourages would have visited 600 years ago.

For the Ottomans, Budapest was a convenient staging point for their ultimate goal: the conquest of Vienna. This was a goal that would occupy The Porte for centuries. The thrust on Vienna was also the galvanizing moment for Christian Europe to organize a united defense against the Islamic armies of the East. Austria gained territory as it pushed the Ottomans back, and it became the next sovereign over Hungary. The restlessness of the Hungarians in wanting to throw off the Austrian yoke would force the Austrians to negotiate the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, establishing the Dual Monarchy with Hungary as a co-equal in the newly established Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The half century following the Compromise would see the ascendancy of the Dual Monarchy and elevate it to Great Power status. The famed Szechenyi lanchid, and Metro Line 1, the first subway in Continental Europe would be built in Budapest during this time. Culture also thrived, Franz Liszt being among one of the exemplars of this period. It was multi-ethnic state in every sense of the word, but in the end the experiment in multiculturalism would come to a catastrophic end, embroiling the entire continent in a war like none before it.

 

The economic dislocation brought on by the collapse of the Dual Monarchy has consequences that still endure. A much weakened Central Europe would later be no match for Germany and the Soviets after that. Europe has done what it can to re-integrate the continent with the institutions of the European Union, but the same tensions that pulled apart the Dual Monarchy a century ago persist. Viktor Orban’s administration has taken a hard-line stance on issues of immigration, just as Geert Wilders advocates in Holland.

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

If there’s one itinerary item that highlights the rapidity, brutality, and ever-present threat of conflict, while also showcasing the ability of a people to recover from such conflict, it’s Bosnia & Herzegovina. This crossroads of the Balkans was a centerpiece of Ottoman Europe, and was the heart of Tito’s Yugoslavia. Over centuries, trade interests and invasions brought a mix of Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims to settle in the area. The capital, Sarajevo, retains the physical legacy of these heterogeneous origins. Ottoman era mosques dot the skyline. The main landmark is a square around the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mark. This diversity of religion has been at times a auspicious blessing for Bosnia. Other times, disaster can and has unfolded when there’s been a confluence of the currents of ethnic and religious tension.

 

The old and the new share space in Sarajevo’s skyline

 

One point Mazower drives home in his history of the region is that these ethnonationalist identities were almost non-existent prior to the late 19th century — they arose in part due to the intervention of Great Powers who sought to sow unrest in Ottoman Europe so as to resolve the “Eastern Question”. Even religious identities were fluid during the Ottoman Era as people often found conversion to and away from Islam could be expedient at different times. Mazower recounts that some people would go to mosque on Fridays and attend Orthodox mass on Saturdays. If the imam failed to remove a hex on you, you might go and see the patriarch. Ottoman rule, though clearly flawed and unfair, was at least stable up until the advent of ethnonationalist movements.

The resolution of the Eastern Question cost the Great Powers a world war. It brought about the demise of Dual Monarchy and the Romanov Dynasty, destroyed by the very forces of nationalism they had seeded in Ottoman Europe. The interwar period didn’t bring much relief as economic woes spread. The economic gap between former Ottoman Europe and the rest of the continent was wide, and it could not be closed easily. World War II brought a fresh set of horrors, occupation by yet another in a line of aggressors, but it did spark a successful partisan movement led by the charismatic Tito that would set the stage for a unified Southern Slav state after the war.

The infamous Latin Bridge on the Miljacka River that runs through the old city (Stari Grad) area of Sarajevo. This was the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip that sparked World War I

By some of the accounts of the people we met traveling, Tito’s rule was not only stable, it was also fair and led to prosperous growth in Yugoslavia. But it didn’t last. Brotherhood and Unity began to unravel almost as quickly as Tito was put to rest in 1980. What transpired next was a descent towards internecine and religious conflict. We were led by a tour guide named Meme (short for Memović) on a journey back to the brutal Siege of Sarajevo during which he was born.

Meme noted that even in the 1980s one could see the bonds of unity that Tito had carefully cultivated fraying. Yugoslavian flags and anthems were replaced by those of the constituent republics even before any formal move towards dissolution of the union took place. This process began as Slovenia, then Croatia declared independence and were welcomed by the international community in the early 1990s. Bosnia & Herzegovina was not so lucky.

Meme took us up to the hilltops overlooking Sarajevo and recounted to us the background and setup for the Siege of Sarajevo. This siege lasted 1,425 days (3 years and 5 months), the longest ever in modern warfare, longer than the infamous Siege of Leningrad in World War II. Bosnia’s diverse makeup of Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks, held as a shining example of Brotherhood and Unity, now became the trigger for regional conflict. Yugoslav forces composed primarily of Serbs and Bosnian Serb forces undertook any means necessary to turn back the renewed tides of ethnonationalism that threatened to break apart Yugoslavia. Croats at times fought with and against Bosniaks as they tried to secure their own future as independent entities. The scars of the savage fighting between these sides are still plainly evident in the holes on buildings created by bullets and mortars.

 

Sarajevo Roses — the blast marks from mortar rounds hitting concrete

The Sarajevo Rose and the ever watchful white tombstones that dotted the hillsides surrounding the city were ample reminders of the war, which is why there are few actual war memorials as Meme pointed out. Divisions still remain. Meme alluded that the potential for renewed conflict was real, especially if the economy continued to stagnate. On our ride up to Trebević Mountain, we passed into territory administered by the Republika Srpska, an autonomous region governed by Bosnian Serbs. Immediately, you could see Serbian flags flying. It was from the abandoned bobsled track that Serbian forces launched mortars down on the city, and from the side of Trebević Mountain, their troops took hold of the skyscrapers overlooking what would become known as Sniper Alley.

At Trebević Mountain, you can see the themes of renewal and rebirth, too. The entire bobsled track is functionally an outdoor gallery of street art and there are people who do actually use it for luge. The city and its people stand as a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit even in the face of overwhelming odds and prolonged suffering. Stari Grad is rebuilt. Wandering around the streets at night, you could be forgiven for forgetting a war happened here only 20 years ago. We were there during the bustling film festival, and throngs of tourists eagerly soaked up the atmosphere of the renewed city. But unlike Western Europe after World War II, the nations of the former Yugoslavia didn’t have the benefit a Marshall Plan recovery program and fund, and sadly, the differences are stark in comparison to Holland.

 

CROATIA & MONTENEGRO

Resiliency in the face of conflict when combined with adequate resources in recovery and renewal can work wonders — Dubrovnik in Croatia is a sterling example of this and provides a more proximate contrast to Bosnia. Though Croatia was far from being immune to the impacts of the war, it fared better than Bosnia, partly because it served as the entry point for aid UN ad deliveries. Today, the streets of former Ragusan Republic are teeming with hordes of tourists. You can hardly tell the city was shelled extensively from nearby Montenegro during the Yugoslav Wars. The superficial damage has largely been repaired. Indeed, looking out from its daunting defensive walls over its rooftops, you can see some of the only signs of this conflict in the bright orange tiles of restored roofs compared to the aged brown tiles of older roofs that stood through the war. Bullet holes are there, if you look closely, but not nearly as noticeable as in Sarajevo.

Dubrovnik from atop its famed city wall

Perhaps Dubrovnik’s quick ascendancy can be in part attributed to its historical legacy as a powerful, independent city-state with a prowess for trade. At its apex, Ragusa vied with Venice for control of lucrative Mediterranean trade routes along the network fostered by the Ottoman Empire that eventually connected with the Far East. Circumventing this monopoly was in part a trigger for the Portuguese to seek a new route towards India and China around Africa. Ragusa’s imposing defenses were built with the riches from this trade, in order to protect this very lifeline. To this day, the old harbor of the city continues to be a place teeming with activity. But even this prosperous place was quite literally built on foundations of parleyed conflict. It is said that the Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik, was once a channel that separated one part of the city as an island. Greeks and Romans inhabited this island while the “barbarians” were kept at arms length on the mainland.

The Stradun at night

From Dubrovnik, we journeyed onward across a short, but painfully time-consuming border crossing into the picturesque environs of the Bays of Kotor. This ria (not a fjord) has also been a point of contention between multiple parties over history. The bay itself provides a sheltered, deep water harbor, so it’s no wonder that it has attracted the eye of empire builders from the Ottomans to Austrians to the Russians. This has kept up even to this day. Montenegro only recently left the orbit of its traditional protector, Russia, in favor of joining the EU despite of heavy investment from Russia. Opinion on this decision remains divided.

 

In light of all this, the Montenegrin national identity has developed a strand of fierce independence, dogged resistance to external aggressors, and defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. We saw abandoned as well as extant villages and farms deep in the remote mountainous terrain of the rural areas of the country. Whenever the Ottomans or whatever other imperial power with designs on Montenegro invaded and captured its urban centers, its people would simply retreat into the relative safety of the isolated mountains. Such a scene is visible just on the other side of the commanding heights of the fortress of Kotor.

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It was fitting one of the last sights I saw in this trip was the mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. Njegoš was known not only for his leadership skills but for his contributions to the canon of Serbian literature. His seminal work, an epic poem entitled Gorski vijenac (The Mountain Wreath) tells the largely apocryphal tale of a tortuous decision Christian Montenegrins of old make regarding what to do with their Muslim family, friends, and fellow countrymen. An ultimatum is handed down to the Muslims to convert back to Christianity on a certain Christmas Eve or face the consequences. Those who refuse meet a predictably fiery end. This work is considered seminal to both Serbian and Montenegrin culture, and yet is so controversial that it is sometimes not taught in an ethnically and religiously mixed setting like Bosnia. This, I think, speaks volumes about the scars that many centuries of conflict have left in this region.

 

Mausoleum of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, constructed during the Yugoslav era

As Mazower cautions, it’s all too easy to buy into the tropes presented to us about the Balkans having some propensity towards bloodshed, a place where divisive nationalism is as much a part of the landscape as the dramatic mountains and coastlines. Indeed, the Balkans are hardly alone in inheriting this kind of legacy, as I’ve alluded to throughout this piece, and there are crucial lessons for us all of the various histories and geographies detailed above. From what I saw, signs of historical and contemporary conflict are everywhere. While we were ambling along the alleys and plazas of Dubrovnik, we were also getting news about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and its violent aftermath. Meme’s caution that “when ethnicity becomes more important than nationality” you’re in serious trouble seemed particularly apropos at this time.

Many of the same threads of risk factors for serious internal, internecine conflict that I saw along my journey are present in the United States today. Political ideology is becoming identity: the new tribe. Underlying racial, religious, and cultural differences are increasingly in sharper relief. Economic dislocation and inequality allows some to genuinely not understand how others are struggling or only just making it. We’ve been waiting for political saviors of our chosen tribe to fix our problems the way we want them fixed, while refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of other people’s grievances. We demand instant solutions for problems that have slowly accrued over generations. These trends are not new to the Trump era. They have simmered for decades. In many ways, these are echoes of the traumas of our own prior internal conflicts that we’ve never truly recovered from.

Violent conflict arises when people refuse compromise and only choose to see irreconcilable differences, eventually dehumanizing those they have no common cause with. But conflict, internal or external, is not inevitable. How we as individuals, communities, societies, and nations cope with a bewilderingly diverse world in which integration is accelerating at the expense of established identities will be decisive. This will be complicated by real physical constraints from continued growth and climate change. The scale of the challenge is unprecedented, and indeed can seem paralyzing.

When I ask myself what I can do, I think the only practical answer is to start from a foundation of sound knowledge of myself, genuinely understand and embrace the diversity around me (especially the views of people who I don’t agree with), draw on these lessons from history as a guide, and commit to serving the greater good, organizing with others to enhance my impact. I’m betting I’m not alone.

Returning To King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

Returning To King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

 

Just how many monsooners are there really on this trip?

 

Take a closer look (click to zoom):

 


 
 

 

Dubrovnik. It’s good to be back.

 

 

I was here for the first time 3 years ago, as part of my Crossing The Adriatic monsoon. Even though I got to see a lot, I also missed important things like the Dubrovnik Old Town walls. Otherwise most of the things we were able to see today have already been covered my last time here, but what new things we did this time around, there have been many.

Today we woke up at 6am in Mostar to catch a 7am Croatia Bus to Dubrovnik. However, not only was the bus late, but they overbooked us by a few seats and caused 3 of us to stand (and myself to sit in the exit stairwell) for the first 20 minutes before the first few people got off at the next stop. Not a total disaster but it was annoying that they also add insult to injury by forcing you to pay 1 euro to store even your personal items when you’re already relegated to standing room only.

We crossed the Bosnia & Herzegovina border into Croatia at around 9am.

 

 

They’ll take your passports, stamp you out, give you back your passports, and then you pass through onto into Croatia without stopping.

 

 

We then crossed back into Bosnia & Herzegovina to get into Neum, where I also had crossed through 3 years ago while traveling from Split.

The photo of Neum I took 3 years ago:

 

 

Today’s photo of Neum:

 

 

We arrived late into Dubrovnik Bus Station at around 11:30am, from where we then took 4 taxis for 10 euros each to Old Town. It never gets old, though, walking through the gates for the very first time.

Can you even tell which photos are from 3 years ago and which ones were taken today?

 

 

We first dropped our stuff off at Hostel Amnesia, located smack dab in old town (I learned my lesson after the last time) and had lunch there.

 

Photo Credit: Lei Zhao

 

After lunch we did the obligatory tour around Dubrovnik’s old town, peppered with highlights that I didn’t get to do last time, namely filling up our water bottles at the public fountains…

 

 

…stripping off our clothes and jumping into the Adriatic Sea by Buza Bar

 

IMG_6040

Where did my diginity go
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao

 

…returning these lozenges I had bought from this exact pharmacy 3 years ago back to its rightful place…

 

My lozenges, after 3 years in my travel bag.

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

…chasing all the Game of Thrones on-site filming locations…

 

4-shame-stairs-2

Photo Credit: Taylan Stulting

 

But the main thing that I regretted missing last time was walking along Dubrovnik Old Town’s city walls. For 150 kunas each, you get to saunter across the entirety of the 1.2km length of old town’s fortress walls in a single direction. We took about 2 hours to do the whole thing comfortably before 7pm closing.

It’s totally worth it.

 

Now press play. And then start reading.
 
  
 

 

Photo Credit: Ted Chen
Photo Credit: Ted Chen

 

We even had a Rhode Island reunion at the walls, all thanks to my killer sunset playlist I was playing in the background (FYI if you’re reading this right now, the song is Moments Descend On My Windowpane by Rafael Anton Irisarri).

 

Lily & her Rhode Island family...for liking my music that I was playing in the background, before discovering a mutual connection with Maria over your shared Rhode Island roots. You would then go on to recommend visiting Our Lady Of The Rocks church in Kotor the next day (which we did thanks to you!), and then following up with another email a week later attached with more photos from our chance encounter! 08/17/17.

 

Leaving the walls, we had a perfectly atmospherically seafood dinner at underrated Nonna’s Ragusa, which was totally worth it especially with a 20% discount for having our group eat with them. They even held onto Alfred’s wallet for him when he thought he lost it at the hostel.

 

 

After dinner we pregamed at the hostel with the owner’s moonshine.

 

IMG_6077

 

… and by 11am headed out to Club Revel located within the old town walls, gaining free entry with flyers they hand out to hotel/hostel owners. Surprisingly, they played no electronic or house music as it was hip hop all night. AMAZING.

And we danced,
And we cried,
And we laughed,
And had a really, really, really good time. . . .

 

Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

We stayed at the nightclub until 3am, after which we probably took most beautiful walk of shame we’ll ever have in our lifetimes.

 

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 59% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

6 Hours In Zagreb, Croatia

6 Hours In Zagreb, Croatia

 

After taking it easy on Club World business class via British Airways, I landed in Zagreb at noon, where I would have a 9 hour layover before my onward flight to Belgrade. However, the international airport at Zagreb (Croatia’s capital city!) has NO left luggage storage facilities or lockers if you want to store your larger bags and do a day trip around the city. Therefore, my only option was to head into the city and lock my bags away at the train or bus station.

Given that the main train station would be closer to the city center, I hailed a $14 USD Uber ride there, which took about 15-20 minutes.

 

 

The train station has ATMs and adjacent room where you can exchange bills for coins, with which you can then deposit for a locker outside (with removable key for you to keep for the day) for 15-20kr depending on the locker size. It was pretty simple. 

After storing away my big bag, I walked north 10 minutes into the city center.

 

 

Once you reach the center, you’ll find another charming pedestrian-only wonderland that’s typical of European capital cities. One of the more recognizable landmarks is a piece of vandalized street art known as Grounded Sun, which has seen better days.

 

 

Otherwise this whole place feels like another quintessential bite-sized European capital city to which you can escape from all the crowds.

 

A block west of Grounded Sun is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, which was closed when I visited.

 

 

Trg Bana Jelačića, the offical center of Zagreb, lies 2-3 blocks east.

 

 

Head north from here up a flight of stairs and you’ll reach Dolac Market, the most well known central farmer’s market in Zagreb.

 

 

They even have an underground lot for cold meats:

 

 

If you chase that tall, giant building looming outside over the market, that’s the Cathedral of Zagreb.

 

 

This cathedral is fee to enter, and free to take photos: Zagreb is SO CHILL.

 

 

Afterwards, I headed back south to the main street of Trg bana Jospia Jelačića and headed west, reaching Tomiceva ul street, which is the entrance to the Uspinjaca funicular.

 

 

For 4kr head on up to upper town Gornji grad, the medieval center of the city. Your views from here:

 

 

If that’s not enough, for 20kr you can climb up Lotrscak Tower (immediately facing you once you step out of the Uspinjaca Funicular) for even better views:

 

 

North of Lotrscak Tower is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, which was also closed when I visited:

 

 

…and 2 blocks north is Saint Mark’s Church, also closed:

 

 

More notably and immediately to the west of St. Mark’s Church down Kamenita ul. is medieval-era Stone Gate, famous for its enclosed Virgin Mary shrine which miraculously (hence, its shrine status) survived a blazing inferno that otherwise had engulfed everything else around it.

 

 

However, I think the biggest draw here in Upper Town is the world-famous Museum Of Broken Relationships, which is fitting given my penchant/knack for rather unbelievable (but true!) meet-cute stories and missed connections

Furthermore, the last time I was in Croatia engineered the beginning of the end of a long-term relationship (eep!).

I found the museum to be otherwise a cute, small, and quirky place that functions like a “post-secret” book, displaying anonymous submissions from all over the world with stories of people trying to get over their lost loves.

 

 

The admission fee is 30kr and sometimes there’s a 20-30 minute wait to get in since it can get really crowded (mostly young college-age backpackers). There’s also a café inside where you can pass the time over coffee and free (and fast) wifi.

The museum itself features 4 exhibition rooms and a small hallway filled with letters, trinkets and random everyday items from all over the world that symbolize a couple’s story, each accompanied by a written vignette that attempts to touch upon the faded passion for “someone we used to know” — a few revolve around the familiar innocence-lost of young love, while others evoke stories of war, betrayal, death and disease.

Call me jaded, but I resonated with alas, only a handful, as most of the stories on display (at least when I went) were playing themselves out on the typical “We met, we fell in love, and oh BTW I found out later that he/I had a wife/kids and then shit got real” pattern. 

Gosh, wait, when did I become this cynical? I bet those of you who know me might say that if had an exhibition room all to myself, it would sell out QUICK (you jerks).

Nevertheless, here were the ones that I liked the most:

 

 

After about an hour at the museum, I headed back down to lower town and hailed an Uber 15 minutes north to Mirogoj Cemetery, arguably one of, if not the most atmospheric, evocative, and beautiful cemeteries in Europe.

 

 

After spending about half an hour lingering here (felt like I had the whole place to myself) and taking it all in, I then took an Uber south back to the train station to pick up my bag and then another cab back to the airport.

Now checking into my 9pm Air Serbia flight from Zagreb to Belgrade, Serbia!

 

 

- At time of posting in Zagreb, Croatia, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 36% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

From Croatia To Italy (Dubrovnik to Bari)

From Croatia To Italy (Dubrovnik to Bari)

The goal was to get from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Bari, Italy via an overnight ship. I found that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a Jadrolinija ship departs from Dubrovik to Bari at 10pm. So I got the cheapest deck tickets (by deck, I mean literally on the deck) ahead of time online via Jadrolinija’s website, which was a pretty straightforward and easy process.

Then in Dubrovnik at around 7pm, I stopped by the Jadrolinija office as it opened up for business. There I exchanged printed vouchers that I had bought online for the real tickets.

I then proceeded to the docking gate where I waited for passport control to open up at 8:30pm and then my passports stamped out of Croatia:

 

 

I then quickly boarded before the ship departed at 10pm:

 

 

As I mentioned before, since I bought the cheapest “Deck” class ticket I didn’t get a cabin to sleep in but we were free to sleep anywhere else (the floor, couches, etc.). So off I went searching:

 

 

…after awhile, I concluded the best place to settle in the entire ship was in the bar and the hard “couches” there.

 

 

The ship ride was pretty uneventful as I was able to knock out without the need for any Benadryl or Ambien. The next morning I docked in Bari at around 8am:

 

 

When then, got my passport stamped into Italy:

 

 

And I went around exploring Bari’s Old Town, which takes only an hour or two to do by foot:

 

 

Afterwards I headed to the train station to catch the Trenitalia train to Caserta:

 

Landing In King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

Landing In King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

If it’s not already playing, press play. And then start reading.

 


 

 

Dubrovnik, aka “Pearl of the Adriatic” and “King’s Landing” of Game of Thrones’ fame, lies near the borders of Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina and was once a city-state that rivaled Venice in the Middle Ages. It has been regarded as one of the most beautiful cities of the Mediterranean as it became a magnet for prominent celebrities, playwrights, philosophers, poets, and scholars as early as the 19th century and even to this day remains as Croatia’s top tourist destination and most well recognized locale from the hit TV series, “Game of Thrones.”

I arrived by bus from Split at 4:45pm. 

From there I took a 10min bus (1A, 1B or 1…all head to the same place) for 15kn into Old Town. 

 

To get to my hostel, Apartments Stella, I had to climb a lot of stairs:

 

 

In return I got a great view of Dubrovnik and its old town outside my room:

 

 

After settling in, I headed to Old Town itself from its Eastern “Pile” Gate:

 

 

It felt as if I were walking into something out of Harry Potter (or Game of Thrones, which would be more fitting):

 

 

When you enter, you’ll most likely be walking along its main road, Placa Stradun, where the city comes alive with locals and tourists alike:

 

 

Head to the Western End and climb up the stairs to the Jesuit Square:

 

St. Ignatius Church

 

Keep walking along the Southern Street of Buza, follow the signs “Cold Beer, Great View…” and you’ll find the famous Café Buza:

 

 

Plop down a chair, order a beer, and enjoy the sunset as you overlook the island of Lokrum. On some months, you can step out from your chair and go cliff diving:

 

 

Afterwards, Dubrovnik takes on a different atmosphere in the evening:

 

Roland's Column and Sponza Palace

 

Everything begins to close up by 10pm, shuttering by 11:30pm:

 

A concert outside the nearby university

 

The next morning I took a hike up Mountain Srd overlooking Dubrovnik, to reach the fortress museum and Cable Car at the top:

 

 

The hike was a pleasant zig zag up the hill and took me about 30-40min to climb at a leisurely pace.

 

 

At the top is a fortress housing a museum that depicts the 1991-1995 war that devastated Croatia and Dubrovnik, as well as giving you 360 degree views of Dubrovnik from its terrace:

 

 

Walk around to the Cable Car station where you can take it down to Old Town for 120 kn each way:

 

 

There in a total WTF moment, I ran into Christian and Candice, my fellow classmates graduating with me from medical school!

 

 

After catching up, I explored what was left of Old Town and its surroundings, including the abandoned Hotel Bellevue (where they shot a lot of Game of Thrones scenes…read on!) and Fort Lovrijenac.

 

 

Want examples of how Game of Thrones was filmed here? I have many.

Like this:

 

20121009a_image_4

 

or this:

 

kill-the-basterds

 

or this:

 

ItRZ6IN

 

Afterwards I paid the 30kn student entrance fee to check out empty Fort Lovrijenac, which served to defend Dubrovnik back in the day.

 

 

After that, I packed up and prepared my voyage across the Adriatic Sea to Bari, Italy.

 

- At time of posting in Dubrovnik, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 47% | Wind Speed: 18km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

From Split, Via Bosnia-Herzegovina, To Dubrovnik

From Split, Via Bosnia-Herzegovina, To Dubrovnik

 

Just took a 5 hour bus from Split to Dubrovnik for 125 kn. If you’re doing this route, make sure you sit on the right side of the bus to get the best views:

 

 

At around the 3.5 hour mark, your bus will go through immigrations control to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here a lone immigrations officer, who probably pulled the short straw, comes onboard to inspect every passengers’ passports before leaving without a word. 

They don’t issue entry/exit stamps unfortunately.

 

Bosnia & Herzegovina

 

The bus then stops in the city of Neum of Bosnia and Herzegovina for about half an hour to pick up supplies. There you can have a late lunch or go shopping as clothing and goods are much cheaper in this country than in Croatia.

 

Neum, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The view of the Adriatic Sea from Neum

 

About an hour later you’ll be back in Croatia and heading towards lovely little Dubrovnik, aka “King’s Landing” or “The Pearl of the Adriatic”:

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

- At time of posting in Neum, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 47% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear