Blog entry No. 6 – One Last Highlight
The last exams are through and the stress from all that learning is gone in a second, so I can really look forward to one last highlight. After packing, checking my dear old VW transporter, tanking up and picking up two other Erasmus students, we are ready to go. First destination: Belgrade. Crossing Croatia, we reached the Serbian border after four hours. The milelong tailback of trucks signalized us, that we were coming closer to the EU’s external border. After a check of the vehicle interior we were allowed to continue down the potholed highway. In the evening, 130 kilometers later, we reached the Serbian capital and set out to find a parking lot in this chaos of one-way streets. One ‘sight-seeing tour’ and a couple of transposition maneuvers later, we finally found a parking space close to our hostel in the city center. Three kind Serbs gave us directions, so that we reached our accommodation after just a couple of minutes. After a friendly but half-hour welcoming procedure during which the concierge provided us with numerous information and insider tips about places of interest, we got the keys to our room. Exhausted from our journey, we decided to end the day at the bank of the river Sava. We started our second day with a ‘Free-Walking-Tour’. Our tour guide, a former geography student and a born entertainer, took us on a three-hour tour through sunny Belgrade. We learned about the history and architecture of the city, went to some lovely spots and tasted some Rakia, Serbia’s national drink. After a refreshment we returned full and exhausted to our hostel for a short rest. Later we set out to go on another sight-seeing tour on our own. On our way back, we followed a friend’s insider tip and asked a passer-by if he could take us to the rooftop of the high-riser, where he lived. He invited us without further ado. We went into a rattly lift with a rather odd closing device, then a few steps more and we were out on the roof. What an amazing view over the Balkan metropolis with its communistic concrete buildings! My smartphone’s tripmeter counted 25383 steps that day, which equals a distance of roughly 18 kilometers. But our day wasn’t over just yet. On weekends the city comes to live at night time. At nightfall we went out in the streets and partied with the Belgraders far into the night, also to traditional Serbian music.
We left the ‘white city’ the next morning after breakfast to travel to Sarajevo, which is situated 300 kilometers from Belgrade. We drove on country roads through rural landscapes most of the time. We only drove on paved roads, because I’ve read that you could still hit a landmine when driving through Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later the students in Sarajevo told us that this is actually not true, since landmines can be found only in a few and marked parts of the county. Along the roads it also became obvious, that we were driving through a country greatly influenced by the Islam. We saw numerous minarets and according to Islamic rites butchered animals in front of some houses. Apart from a short waiting period at the border control, our six-hour drive was only interrupted by two policemen who seemed to be eager to catch some tourists in their trap. 20 minutes and a fine of € 40 later, we were allowed to continue. Towards evening we finally arrived in Sarajevo. This time it was easier to reach our hostel, maybe because Sarajevo is only a sixth the size of Belgrade. Hungry as we were, we left our room and walk a couple of minutes to the nearby city center.
The original plan was to find something to eat and return to the hostel as soon as possible. But I was so fascinated by the city with its narrow and bustling alleys that we postponed our dinner and went on a nightly walk through the welcoming city center instead. Alas, Sarajevo is not just as pretty in broad daylight, as I found out on a ‘Free-Walking-Tour’ the next morning. Lovely historic buildings, of which some are still damaged from the Bosnian War, belong to the town picture just as much as stray dogs (I’ve heard there are more than 8,000 in Sarajevo) and beggar children. This sight made me think a lot about the city’s contrasts. Social contrasts between the rich and the poor, and architectural contrasts between Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian parts of the city.
To complete our trip we spend two extremely sunny days by the Croatian seashore, which was really relaxing after four exhausting days of city-sightseeing. On our last day we visited the breathtaking lakes and waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
As you might have guessed from the title of this blog entry, this last highlight topped off my semester abroad. I personally knew nothing about Bosnia and Herzegovina but it was a really enjoyable experience. I always felt safe and I met many friendly and interesting people. Sure, there are other places in Europe that are prettier, cleaner and more modern, but Belgrade and Sarajevo have a unique charm, which I liked very much. I’m already planning to visit some more Balkan countries during my next semester break!
Tomorrow will be one last big farewell party and then it’s time to say goodbye! I’m so glad that I chose to go to Slovenia. It was an incredibly intense semester! I hope that my blog entries gave you a better understanding of the Balkans and life as an Erasmus student. I also hope that it made you want to go abroad yourself to experience the ‘Small Great Unknow’. In two weeks, when I’m back in Germany, I will write one last blog to look back on my time in Ljubljana.
PS: If my blog entries inspired you to complete an Erasmus semester in Slovenia yourself, feel free to contact me anytime. My e-mail address is: lukas.wiemer[at]student.fhws.de