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The Byzantines & The Balkans 3

V. 3

The Byzantines & The Balkans 3

Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a six-week trip to Southeastern Europe from May 9 ~ June 21, 2012. Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard, copyright 2012. V. 3

The Byzantines & The Balkans 3

The Byzantines & The Balkans 3

The Byzantines & The Balkans May 9 ~ June 21, 2012 That dark background of consciousness where live and ferment the basic feelings and indestructible beliefs of individual races, faiths, and castes, which are preparing for later far-off times unsuspected changes and catastrophes without which, it seems, peoples cannot exist and above all, the peoples of this land. ~ Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina (1945)

V. 3 Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia & Albania


Monday, May 21

Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

I must admit that I was movin’ kinda slow this morning; that second grappa may not have been such a great idea. The weather was variable all day, with a little rain but sun when we needed it. It was sprinkling by the time we got to Montenegro’s old royal capital of Cetinje, driving on a precipitous road that took us high into Lovcen National Park by way of 25 switchbacks. But that road was a superhighway compared to the road to Ostrog Monastery, which was in terrible shape and carried tour busses as well. Ostrog’s striking white façade is set into the cliff face 3000 feet above the Zeta River Valley. Built in 1665 within two caves, no one really knows how it was actually constructed. We left the car and walked the final distance using a series of stone steps. Most pilgrims walk the two kilometers from the lower to the upper monastery; some are barefooted. The shrine to St. Basil is the most important site in Montenegro for Orthodox Christians. We noticed that the pilgrims all seemed to be young or middle aged, often with small children in tow; I don’t remember seeing any old people. Most women covered their heads and we saw that the pilgrims backed out of


doors, kissed the lintels, or crossed themselves. Before departing, I left the first of three small envelopes that my Serbian friend Sanja had asked me to deliver when she learned we were planning a trip to the Balkans. Continued 25 km to Piva Monastery to see its remarkable frescoes; most of them date from the early 17th century. When the monastery had to be moved in the mid-20th century, more than a thousand fragments were painstakingly removed and reset into the new walls. The one monk in residence dozed nearby but gestured for us to go on in; we had the beautiful church to ourselves and were free to marvel and photograph as we wished. As we left, I handed the second of Sanja’s envelopes to him. By 3:00 we were back on the road, driving through Durmitor National Park and Tara Canyon. Again, the driving was challenging, but the scenery was truly extraordinary. As we crossed the border to Bosnia & Herzegovina, found that the roads deteriorated further; besides being narrow, winding, and high, they were badly neglected. We passed through as many as thirty rough tunnels as well; the contrast of light and dark on the road was really difficult.



Ostrog Monastery


Piva Monastery 8







Durmitor National Park UNESCO

A Complicated Land 19

4:04 PM


5:27 PM

We drove into Sarajevo a little after 5PM. I was very interested to see this city that came so near annihilation in the 1990s. Checked into the newly restored Hotel Europe, the classic hotel of Sarajevo built during the AustroHungarian era, now sporting a new and rather incongruous façade. We do not have long here, so tried to get a feel for the city by getting out immediately and walking from the pedestrian area of Ferhadija with its trendy shops to Bascarsija, the old Turkish Quarter. Even in a short time, we could see why Sarajevo was declared Multicultural Capital of the World in 1997. A place where Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, and Roman Catholic met, coexisted and warred, Sarajevo is a city of contradictions. Where civilizations once clashed has now become an example of peace and tolerance. Catholic and Orthodox churches, mosques, and synagogues share the skyline, with minarets, steeples, and onion domes contrasting against the evening sky. People were strolling together, Turkish

women in scarves looked in the windows of Mango, while Slavic couples shared ice cream near a Turkish café. Men played chess, kids ran around chasing each other. Buildings show a mixture of influences from AustroHungarian to Russian, Ottoman, and funky modern. As I looked up into the surrounding hills, golden in the setting sun, a chill went through me as I saw for myself what easy targets these people were to the Serb forces that shot at them like fish in a barrel. Evidence remains of the horrors of the war—bullet-riddled walls and ruined buildings—but you have to look for it. After dinner at the atmospheric Pivinca Brewery’s beer hall, we walked back along the Miljacka River. As we crossed the historic Ottoman Latin Bridge, we came across a plaque marking the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip in 1914, the event that precipitated World War I. So much blood has spilled in this place where cultures now flow together.


Hotel Europe, prior to 1992









In 1914 it all started here on this streetcorner ...


Tuesday, May 22 Novi Pazar, Serbia Breakfast in the crowded hotel café resembled the UN, as businessmen in suits and groups of women wearing headscarves babbled together in a rumble of languages. The drive east from Sarajevo looked almost Bavarian, with tall pines and rolling hills and sheep grazing in the fields. Thank goodness Jake had printed charts with place names in Cyrillic or we would have sailed right past our turnoff. Followed the Drina River valley to Visegrad. Since reading Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina, I had been looking forward to seeing the UNESCO-listed bridge. I was not disappointed; it looked just as I imagined it would. Jake waited for me while I walked to the middle and sat on the kapia, just as so many of Andric’s characters had done. I thought of them and of the bloody history that this graceful structure has witnessed. Designed by master architect Mimar Sinan and completed in 1577, it is a testimony to the beauty of classic Ottoman style.

The Bridge … is a symbol of the establishment and the overthrow of a civilization that came forcibly to the Balkans in the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries and was no less forcibly overthrown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. ~ William H. McNeill, in the Introduction to The Bridge on the Drina


Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic Bridge UNESCO

For every woman has some reason to weep and weeping is sweetest when it is for another’s sorrow. ~ Ivo Andric


We drove east to the border, crossing into Serbia just after noon. Saw that the houses looked different, with wooden or high-pitched tile roofs. I also noticed strangely mounded haystacks in the fields. We found the roads to be an improvement over those we experienced yesterday, but with heavier traffic and a lot more trucks. The drive through the Ibar Valley from Kraljevo was pretty, the fields planted with new crops. Turned off the main road for an 11 km detour to Studenica Monastery in its setting high up a mountain over the river that shares its name. As we walked up the rough steps to the 12th century stone complex, we heard the sound of crickets chirping. Set amongst flowering trees, the three surviving churches are filled with beautiful frescoes. In the King’s Church, a depiction of the birth of the Virgin Mary is painfully detailed, the labor pains of St. Ann etched on her face. As we entered the larger Virgin Church, we heard the chanting of a single monk; his clear voice echoed from the ancient walls.




Studenica Monastery UNESCO




Sopocani Monastery UNESCO

Back on the road, we passed Novi Pazar and continued for 18 km, hoping it was not too late to see Sopocani Monastery. Again, we found the setting to be almost mystical, up on a hill with a flock of sheep grazing below. When we saw the gate closed, we were afraid we were too late, but a smiling fellow ran down the hill and slid it open for us. One of the monks unlocked the church and again we were treated to incredible frescos, even more incredible because the church went through almost 200 years without a roof. As the sun was setting, one of the monks made the call to vespers by circling the outside of the church, rhythmically hitting a wooden plank (simandron) with a mallet in remembrance of the pounding sound of nails being driven into the wood of the cross. We quietly departed, back to Novi Pazar.





As we looked for the Hotel Tadz, we saw some of the most hideous modern architecture imaginable. The hotel blends in well with these other buildings: it is located down a dilapidated street with its entrance through a driveway and up a flight of bland stairs. The lobby is decorated in pink and purple plush. I am glad that we saw a more attractive part of town later when we took a walk to look for an ATM and postage stamps. We found the ATM and asked about stamps at a nearby electronics shop. Even though the young owner said that he did not carry stamps, he asked where we were from and introduced himself as Dzelal (“Jelal”) Carovac. He was surprised to find two Americans on their own in Novi Pazar, and was even more surprised at the length and complexity of our trip. After running down the street and bringing back some postcards for us that he promised to mail, he engaged George in a discussion about the best way to get to Kosovo. Soon his brother Emir showed up, as well as another fellow, whose name I did not get. Directions and maps were shared and evaluated, and

various merits and hazards of each alternative weighed. Soon Dzelal was leading us down the street where we shared kufta kabobs and thick bread over good conversation at an outside table at Rostilj Sadrvan, on the main plaza. Although the official population of Novi Pazar is around 60,000, Dzelal thinks it is about twice that, as there are a lot of Serbian refugees here from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia who boycotted the 2011 census. He is of Bosnian Muslim heritage, and has the combination Turkish-Slavic name that is typical of the area. He thinks that Novi Pazar has the youngest population in Europe, saying that the average age is 17, which I would find hard to believe until I saw the number of young people out walking in the cool evening. Turkish coffee followed, brought by Dzelal’s friend Elvire. These young guys could not have been more friendly and hospitable, and have added a real richness to our experience in Serbia. We returned to our room and listened to the cacophonous calls to prayer that floated up through our open window.


Wednesday, May 23 Skopje, Macedonia Managed to get on the road before nine after an array of interesting choices on the hotel breakfast menu, including cream of milk omelet with milk white sugar; Viennese sausage with sour milk; and fatly ham of beef and unleavened cake. It was raining as we departed; unfortunately the rain continued the entire day. As we drove out of Novi Pazar, we could see evidence of the city’s Ottoman character in the architecture, the shops, and the people’s clothing. Drove by way of Ribarice to the Montenegrin border, and from Rozaje to the Kosovo border at Zhelebi. Patches of snow remained in the dense forest of dark pines as we descended to the crossing. Jake bought the third party liability insurance required with no problem and we were pleasantly surprised that there was little delay in entering the country. There was a flare-up of tensions at the border areas between Serbia and Kosovo in late 2011, but things have been relatively stable since then, thanks to the presence of NATO-led KFOR forces, but there is a continued threat of terrorism.


On the way to Kosovo


One of the main reasons for Serbia’s despair at losing Kosovo was the loss of its cultural heritage represented by the medieval monasteries that are now beyond its own borders. Foremost of these cultural treasures is the UNESCO-listed Decani Monastery. That is why, when we turned up the tree-shrouded road to the complex, we were greeted by a military barricade and cement roadblocks. After inspecting our passports, an Italian KFOR soldier waved us to a second barrier where our papers were held for the duration of our visit.

There, over there... beyond those hills, Lies a green grove, they say, Under which rises up Holy Decani: A prayer said within Paradise claims. ~King Nikola I of Montenegro, 1867

Visoki Decani Monastery UNESCO

Thus it was with a feeling of incongruity that we entered the peaceful walls of the 13th century complex. The cathedral stands in the center, striking with its red, yellow, and onyx façade; it is the largest medieval church in the Balkans. Inside are over 1,000 frescos that dominate the entire interior. The structure was built by St. Stefan, blinded as a young man by his father. He is buried in the church, which has become a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims. A monk greeted us and explained the significance of many of the scenes, particularly the ones involving the monastery’s patron saint. I gave him the third of Sanja’s little envelopes entrusted to me. He seemed genuinely pleased and asked for her name and the names of her sons so that they could be blessed. He then gave me two books about the monastery: one in English for me, and one in Serbian for her. 57






Therefore, God-loving children, let us comprehend the mercy of God toward us. Strive not only to protect my endowment to this holy place from destruction and loss but seek rather to add to it ‌


~Stefen Uros III Decani Founder, 14th century

We had been planning to drive to Pristina and visit a second monastery, but the day was so bleak and the roads so crowded and in such poor repair that we decided to cut south instead and make the long drive to Skopje. Even the road between two national capitals had only two lanes; I don’t think that there are any roads in Kosovo that have more than two. Crossed into Macedonia at around 5:30. As we drove into Skopje, were impressed by a clean, modern city with wide boulevards and buildings similar to those in Western Europe. In dramatic contrast to the oriental city that Jake recalled from his visit 45 years ago, traffic moved in an organized fashion, with modern busses, many of which were double-deckers. What remains of Skopje’s Ottoman past is the Kamen Most, the old bridge crossing the Varda; the walls of the fortress above; and Carsiija, a small enclave of small shops and restaurants along narrow stone streets. The government has created municipal buildings in a modern classic style and commissioned massive sculptures, many of which are created in a kind of idealized realism. Signage is good too, or we would have had a lot more trouble finding the Stone Bridge Hotel; I had not realized it was a glass high-rise. There is a lot of construction going on all around us, and we had to pick our way through mud and broken pavement to get to Carsija, where we shared a dinner of Macedonian specialties at Pivnica An in the old courtyard of Kapan An. We have been in four countries today, and it was raining in all of them.



Thursday, May 24

Ohrid, Macedonia

Needed an engineering degree to figure out the shower this morning. Tried everything and finally heard water running, but soon discovered that it was running on the floor outside the enclosure rather than from any of the five orifices pictured on an extensive diagram. Good thing they gave us plenty of towels. Breakfast had an Ottoman flair with glasses of strong Turkish tea and evocative music playing in the background. A late departure at 10:00; before leaving town, drove to a suburb above the city where we hoped to see Sveti Pantelejmon, a 12th century church with Byzantine frescos. It did not open until 11:00, however, and we decided not to wait; did take some nice pictures of Skopje from its perch. An excellent toll road—with three stops for tolls— took us through Tetevo to the access road to Mavrovo National Park. Birch and pine forests and deep gorges made a lovely drive, with snow-capped Mt. Korab (over 8500 feet high) hovering above us. In this magnificent setting (although we voted that our Montenegro drives were more exceptional) we came to the Monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski. Building commenced in 1020 on the spot where an icon of John the Baptist miraculously appeared, and

continues to this day. I had to don a skirt, provided by the ticket office, in order to enter the monastery. Although dating from as late as 1835, the carving of the iconostasis is what is special about the church. More than 500 tiny human and animal figures are worked into multiple layers of curling foliage. We continued our scenic drive through the park and by 3:00 reached the UNESCO city of Ohrid, founded in the 4th century BC. Worked at finding our hotel, the Vila Sofija, for at least 45 minutes. Finally, even Jake gave up. I hailed a taxi, and with Jake in pursuit, we went up and down narrow streets, through arches and around corners. There is no way we could have ever found it on our own. Once a family mansion, the small hotel is located on the same square as the Sveta Sofija Cathedral and is actually a part of the former complex. The ancient town of Ohrid is named for its even older lake. At three million years and more than 900 feet, it is one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes. As the afternoon wore on, we walked around the old town, visiting the cathedral and exploring the surrounding streets. Settled at a table at water’s edge at Dalga Restaurant for fresh trout and wine as we watched the sunset over the lake. 69

Sveti Pantelejmon Monastery 70

Mavoro National Park

Sveti Jovan Bigorski Monastery



Friday, May 25

Ohrid, Macedonia

Jake had the brilliant idea to take a taxi to the Upper Gate and work our way down the hill, following the Lonely Planet’s walking tour. Visited Sv. Bogorodica Perivlepta, a 12th century church that features vivid Biblical frescoes. Next door there is a nice collection of icons; we decided that our favorite was an icon of St. Clement of Ohrid, painted in the 14th century. Walked past the classical amphitheater, framed in bright red poppies, and up to the church of Sv. Kliment I Pantelejmon, originally a 5th century basilica that has been worked on by the Slavs, Byzantines, and finally the Ottomans. However, in 2002, a project was completed to rebuild the church to its Byzantine design. Archeological work continues, and under a protective roof early Christian mosaics are being uncovered. Followed a little path through the forest, descending to the most photographed religious building in Macedonia, the 13th century church of Sv. Jovan at Kaneo. Sitting high on a rocky promontory with the azure sea below, the little church presents a appealing picture, and we attempted to capture it as best we could under an overcast sky. Ana, the young woman in attendance, told us about the icons (several of which were unfortunately stolen 30 years ago). She gave us each a glass of rakija—an interesting custom—and offered to arrange a small boat to take us around the point to give us a view of Sv. Jovan from the water. We thought this was a fine idea, and afterward, employed the boat to return us to the port area. Strolled in the well-manicured park. The

benches were filled with old men deep in conversation and lots of children were playing on a fleet of motorized toy cars. Continued up the pedestrian street as far as Cinar, an enormous plane tree that is perhaps 1000 years old. An old woman was selling hand-sewn items nearby and I admired an embroidered blouse she had hanging on a branch of the tree. She took out a ballpoint pen and wrote “85” on her palm—her age, not the price of the garment. We had a fun exchange and I decided to buy it when I realized that it was completely handmade with delicate stitching even in the seams. I hope I can make it work for me, but loved the interaction with her in any event. While Jake waited for me, I walked to a nearby church, looking for the CD of chants by monks of the Monastery of Sv. Jovan Bigorski (where we had visited yesterday) that Ana (of rakija in the church fame) had told us about. As we walked back toward the water, stopped to watch a man bend names out of silver wire. Ordered our granddaughters’ names in Cyrillic; had coffee and ice cream at a nearby café while we waited for him to make them. Visited the National Museum on the way back to the hotel, housed in a 19th century home, giving us the chance to see the unique style of Macedonian architecture. Had dinner on the deck at Mo Mir, where we had belvita and trout, both from the lake, topped off with a Macedonian pancake and rakija. It had rained earlier and the air smelled wonderfully fresh. An early night, as we have a lot of driving tomorrow. 75

Sv. Bogorodica Perivlepta



Sv. Kliment I Pantelejmon


Sv. Jovan Kaneo



Saturday, May 26

Gjirokaster, Albania

Met a Danish couple at breakfast: he is a professor of Slavic languages and she is a political scientist; wish we could have had a longer conversation, as he was an expert on the linguistic connections between the Balkan peoples. Departed at 9:00 for the Albanian border, leaving the former Yugoslavia for the duration of this trip, having been in all seven countries. Thought it might be easier to get gas before we left Macedonia and stopped at the last station that side of the border. The guy did not take credit cards, resulting in heavy financing in three currencies. Bottom line, he made out like a bandit. When we reached the Albanian border crossing a short time later, found a lot of men standing around; not much appeared to be happening. Jake noticed a large poster announcing that human trafficking is a crime and is not tolerated in Albania. I was glad to see attention brought to this world issue. We entered the country along the northeast coast of Lake Ohrid.

Almost immediately, the sunny morning turned to rain; lots of rain. As we turned off toward Berat, the rain became torrential. Ahh, there we were, tooling along the roads of Albania: potholes, sinkholes, giant puddles and broken pavement punctuated by trucks of all sizes, super fast and painfully slow vehicles, and all manner of humanity strolling beside or in the road. Add a few herds of sheep, meandering cows, and the odd dog, and you have a recipe for a difficult drive. But the scenery was a pleasant surprise. Rolling farmland plotted with various crops, vineyards on the sides of hills, and dramatic mountains in the background. It was raining too hard to get much out of Berat, one of Albania’s most beautiful cities, according to the books. This UNESCO city has been called “Town with 1000 Windows� because its white Ottoman-styled houses climb one over the other up the hill. Stopped to take some pictures from across the river before leaving for Gjirokaster.


Berat Historic Center UNESCO

Note graffiti on wall: “You make me smile like no one” 90

Note graffiti with church and mosque: “Allah is One” 91

Little did we know that the absence of signage, the ignorance of Marishka (as we have dubbed our GPS lady), and our lack of a map of the area resulted in a 6-hour drive through impossibly potholed, rain soaked roads. After stropping to ask directions of people with kind faces who had no idea what we were saying, we finally found some signage that we could follow, and arrived in Gjirokaster at 5:30. If Berat is the city of windows, the UNESCO town of Gjirokaster is the “Town of 1000 Steps”. The old area is built up the mountain with a series of labyrinthine stone streets. A boy who worked at a café in the square of the old area hopped in our car and led us up and around to the Hotel Kalemi, a 200-year old Ottoman Albanian house that is more museum than hotel. Our room is full of beautifully carved cabinets and has a magnificent carved wooden ceiling; one of its many windows has a view of the castle above. A giant wooden bolt comes out of the wall to lock the door. Owner Dragula Kalemi’s wife smilingly settled us in and pointed out

all we needed to know without a word of English. Walking tentatively, we made our way down slanted stone steps to the center of the old town, and then to the small restaurant Kujtimi, where we sat on the porch and ordered specialties from the region, starting with a glass of raki (note the different spelling). We had Midhje, fried mussels from Saranda; Qifqi, a local specialty made with rice and egg; Qofte Me Mish, rolled minced beef with spices; along with grilled vegetables, homemade potato chips (a beloved dish here), and wine, all for less than $20.00. We were even given more raki as a traveller. Stopped in a shop on the corner that advertised “Old Souvenirs” on a slate sign outside. Came away with a hand-woven cloth that was made locally about 50 years ago and nice wishes from the attractive shopkeeper. It was a little dicey negotiating the steep stone streets back to our hotel in the dark. A knock at the door summoned Mrs. Kalemi to let us in, where we tucked ourselves into history for the night.


Gjirokaster Historic Center UNESCO




Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a sixweek trip to Southeastern Europe from May 9 ~ June 21, 2012. Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard, copyright 2012. V. 3

So, on the kapia, between the skies, the river, and the hills, generation after generation learned not to mourn overmuch what the troubled waters had borne away. ~ Ivo Andric 100

2012 Balkans 3: Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania  

2012 Balkans. Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia & Albania