Part A: The Road Trip
After a few great days in Belgrade, Serbia, it was time to get on the road and begin the actual road trip. When I started planning this long-awaited Balkans trip, I looked into several modes of transportation. Trains = out of the question: many of the train lines were never restored after the war; the few that had been restored are outdated and take twice as long as any other mode of transit. Our remaining options: bus or driving. We opted for the latter for flexibility in travel itinerary and timing. Despite what transpired, it was one of the best travel adventures I’ve ever had.
We knew of several potential road-trip obstacles from blogs we read before the trip, namely:
- only manual-transmission car
- the lack of highways
- reckless drivers
- one-lane roads that cling to the sides of the mountainous topography
- land mines that remain on the side of the roads once you enter into Bosnia (wartime remnants from the Serb army)
And still, there were some obstacles that came as a total surprise:
- a total lack of roads for some entire stretches
- roads in total disrepair that were barely drivable (7 mph, max)
- our cell phones not working at all in the Balkans (thank you, Verizon)
- flooding caused by the torrential rains during parts of our drive
With the detour to stop in Srebrenica, our road trip journey took 8+ hours from Belgrade to Sarajevo, which is only 120 miles as the crow flies. Stocked with a great Spotify music playlist, a bagful of pastries from Belgrade, and the best co-pilot/company a girl could ask for, we had an incredible adventure – one I won’t forget anytime soon.
Part B: Stopping in Srebrenica on Yom Hashoah
I was 11 years old when the genocide in Srebrenica took place in July 1995. I had just finished 5th grade. And I remember hearing the news coverage. Hearing of the systematic massacre of 8,300 Bosniak (ethnically Muslim) boys and men age 12-77 by the Serb army. Hearing of the Dutch UN peacekeepers who stood by and watched. Here’s a link for a brief recap of the history.
It’s hard to explain why I needed to stop in Srebrenica It’s not “my” history. Perhaps as a Jew, I felt compelled to bear witness to the other 20th century European Genocide. What I hadn’t realized was that the day of our trip was Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I fear that any commentary I might write bears the risk of trivializing the experience, making it seem trite. I will just share that the memorial prayer at the cemetery, with its echoes of the Holocaust’s “never again” haunted me.
“…May mothers’ tears become prayers that Srebrenica Never happens again to no one and nowhere,”
Because it did happen, again. And in our lifetime. As the world watched, again.
In Sarajevo, Gallerija 11/7/05 is a exceptional two-room gallery with a photo exhibit and a 27 minute documentary that is not to be missed. It includes the Serbian broadcasts at the time and is a must when visiting the region.