All four of these countries were once part of the former-communist country of Yugoslavia, which was ruled and held together by the dictator Joseph Broz Tito. After Tito’s death in 1980, the country began to fall apart. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, Montenegro declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 2006, while Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, which resulted in a bitter civil war that lasted from 1992 until 1996.
Only after direct intervention by the USA and its NATO allies, did the war finally come to an end with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords at Wright Patterson Air Force Base on Nov. 21, 1995. Today, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina are free from the turmoil of the past and are only overrun with tourists from across Europe and the rest of the world.
So let’s resume our travels shall we?
My friend and I drove across the Croatia-Montenegro border and headed immediately to the charming town of Kotor, which is located on the Bay of Kotor, Europe’s second largest fiord after the largest one in Norway. That evening we headed to the resort city of Budva, which is located on the beautiful Adriatic Sea. I had booked an amazing sea view room at this fantastic hotel high above the city and the Adriatic and just sat on our balcony staring at the stunning sunset and the shimmering sea that evening.
The next day, we drove to Podgorica, Montenegro’s small capital city and then spent some time doing some hiking at nearby Lake Skoder National Park, which is a huge lake located on the border between Montenegro and Albania. Later that afternoon, we crossed yet another international border, this one being the border between Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, our fourth country visited on our 17-day driving tour.
Visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina was very unique and interesting to me for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is predominantly Muslim (70 percent), with mosques everywhere, alcohol and pork either forbidden or frowned upon and cash-only accepted at many of its establishments. However, the people couldn’t have been nicer and the food hearty and delicious.
That night, we finally arrived in Mostar, with its very famous 16th-century stone bridge that was built by the Ottoman Turks when they controlled this region. The historic bridge spans this huge gorge and river that divides the city into two halves. During the Bosnian War (1992-1996), opposing sides controlled opposite sides of the bridge resulting in its complete destruction. However, the bridge was completely rebuilt after the war and today, tourists flock to the pedestrian-only bridge to watch very bold young people jump or dive off the bridge into the river far below, for tips of course. Because Mostar was in the very heart of the fighting, many of the scars, bullet holes and damaged buildings have been deliberately left alone to remind visitors and locals alike what took place there only 25 years prior.
We then visited the town of Medugorje, which has been an unofficial place of Catholic pilgrimage since the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared on Apparition Hill in 1981. Even though I am not Catholic, I still wanted to see this very famous and spiritual place since I had heard so much about it and because it was conveniently located on our route to Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where we would spend the next two days/nights.
Sarajevo is famous for two significant events that took place there, both in the 20th century. The first event took place in June of 1914 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a young Serb who threw a bomb at their carriage while they were touring the city, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. This event officially started World War I, when Austria-Hungary and its close ally Germany declared war on Serbia, forcing Russia, France and Great Britain to defend their ally Serbia by declaring war on Austria-Hungary and Germany and their allies Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) after that.
The second significant event that put Sarajevo on people’s radar screens was when it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Since I love the Olympic Games — it was very exciting and interesting for me to see the huge stadium where the Opening Ceremonies took place, even though it is kind of rundown and tired looking today. We also drove up into the surrounding mountains overlooking the city to see where the skiing events took place, where the toboggan and luge events were held and where the Olympic Village was located.
After two very fun days in Sarajevo, we then drove back to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, where we first started our trip 16 days prior. The very next morning, after we returned our car at the airport, we boarded our plane and flew back to Amsterdam where I then said goodbye to my friend and I boarded my second plane for my long flight across the Atlantic Ocean back to Detroit. It felt very strange at first to drive my own car once again in very flat southern Michigan and northern Ohio after 17 days of driving in extremely mountainous Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But, I have to admit that it did feel good to be back home again on flat solid ground, also known as Norwalk, Ohio.
Gary Richards is a teacher and Norwalk resident who enjoys writing about his travels.