I took this photo Saturday evening while coming back from New Belgrade. All six lanes of traffic were open for the first time in many months as a large repair construction project was completed 7:00 PM on Saturday. The Gazela Bridge is one of the main bridges in the city connecting the old part of Belgrade with the New Belgrade. Besides being used for intra-city traffic, it is also part of two major highways crossing Europe (E70 and E75) and so besides Belgrade traffic, there is lots of foreign cars cruising through. The bridge has more cars crossing it than it was designed for.
The bridge built in 1970 was in desparate need of reinforcement and it looks and feels much better. The project did however, make everyone’s lives a hassle because of the limited options in crossing the city. Hopefully with all six lanes open, this will cut down on the traffic delays that were a daily part of many Belgraders lives.
The city is working on another bridge across the Sava River (see photo below) which should be done in the next few months. It will be interesting to see how this affects traffic flow. There are only two other bridges going across the Sava in the center part of the city. The bypass project, which would divert E70 and E75 traffic is still in the planning stages.
By the way, the name “Gazela” comes from the fact that on a side view, the bridge does look like a gazelle running.
We stopped on the back to Belgrade during fall break in the town of Mostar. We wanted to stop for lunch and see the famous Stari Most. I also wanted to see how the reconstruction of the city was going. It suffered great damage during the war of Yugoslav Seccession. First the JNA or Yugoslav Army bombed and occupied the city and later, the Bosnian Croats and Bosniak armies fought a vicious war. There were many building destroyed, including the landmark Ottoman era bridge. The city is still divided today into a Croatian side and a Bosniak side. The Bosnian Serbs in the city were forced out during the war and have not returned.
Many countries have supported a reconstruction of the city. They did a great job with an accurate remaking of the bridge as well as the market area that surrounds it. It is a big tourist attraction and I can see why. The historic market area around the bridge has an exotic feel to it. Nadia found a lot things in the market. Driving out of the city however, I still saw many buildings that have not been repaired and there is a long way to go to get rid of any evidence of the conflict.
Herzegovina is a rugged, beautiful countryside that reminded me of the basin and range area of Nevada in the USA. The call to prayer and mosques, give it an exotic feel. It is too bad it is still a divided city, even after 15 years since the war. I definitely want to go back and spend a bit more time there as well as explore the national park north of the city between Mostar and Sarajevo. It was a stunning drive going through the deep river canyons. The rivers in Bosnia are a bright green color. It must be from the tannins of the plant life around the rivers or the geology of the rocks that causes the green color.
Ollie and Ocean are pictured above preparing snowballs to throw at our car. We were excited to see lots of snow on our trip to Sarajevo. We are on fall break and are exploring Serbia’s neighboring country.
We got off to a slow start yesterday with many errands to do around the house. I cleaned the car, fixed the rearview mirror, and helped Nadia pack. We made a delicious pancake breakfast as well as downloaded stories to listen to while driving. After exchanging some boots for Nadia, we were on our way.
We had a slight change in plans even before we got started. We had originally planned to stay near Visegrad, a town just across the Serbian border. The town was made famous by Nobel Prize laurate, Ivo Andric, a famous Yugolsavian author. He wrote “Bridge On the Drina”, a historical fictional account of the town. I blogged about the book here. We did not stay there because the best place in the area according to the guidebooks, was used in the 1990’s as a rape camp by paramilitary forces in the Yugoslavian civil war. The Bradt Guide to Bosnia didn’t mention this. Young and beautiful Bosniak women from the Visegrad area were kept there. Nadia felt queasy about staying the night in a such a place, 16 years after. I didn’t realize how much of the war happened in Visegrad. Many Bosniaks fled the area and what used to be a mixed area, is not predominately Serbian. That is consistent with the history of the place. Much violence happened there over the centuries, from the Ottoman Turks taking Serbian boys away from their families to be raised as Ottomans, to the Austro Hungarians subduing the Ottomans.
Perhaps it was a rainy, cold night, but the town felt a bit depressed. We stopped and I took some pictures of the bridge and walked out to the capia. There is no car traffic on the bridge. It is quite an impressive architectural feat, considering how wide the river is and how long ago the sultan ordered the bridge to be built. I used Serbian RSD to buy gas in the city.
The highlight of the day was the beautiful snow in the mountains. On the Serbian side in Zlatibor, there was lots of snow. We stopped at the Hotel Mecanik for a late dinner, just outside the village of Mokra Gora. We wanted to spend the night, as Ocean vomitted and the kids and I were tired. There was no rooms available, so we decided to go on to Sarajevo. It snowed the whole way and I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the beautiful canyons and mountain views as we were approaching Sarajevo. Being from northern Michigan, USA, the snow brought back memories of my youth.
We finally arrived in Sarajevo around 10:00 PM. Distances are deceptive in Serbia and Bosnia as the narrow, twisting mountain roads make progress slow. It took about 200 hours to travel the roughly 100 kilometers. The hotel we booked was full so we found another nearby. Initial impressions are a lively, beautiful city. I can’t wait to explore it.
We are having a bit of car trouble. The temperature gauge is cold even though we drove through the mountains all day. I think it is a thermostat problem, we’ll have to get it checked out today or tomorrow before we leave on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Owen and I were riding our bikes to Ada Ciganlija Island. Along the bike path, we stopped and watched the huge cranes as they were building the support for the new bridge. This is a much needed project, as there are not enough bridges in the city. The Sava River is a tributary of the Danube, and both rivers divide Belgrade. On our side is the older part,and the other side has New Belgrade. We cross the bridge to go grocery shopping, etc. Last night, we went to the Enrique Iglesias concert at the Belgrade Arena which is also in New Belgrade.
The bridge closest to our house, the Gazelle Bridge, is the main freeway through Belgrade. It is constantly full of traffic and this new bridge will relieve this.
I was a bit worried that the bridge would ruin the atmosphere of Ada, my favorite spot in Belgrade. I don’t think it will as you can see below, it just touches the tip of the island. There are private rowing clubs on that side and I never go there.
I wonder if “Sava Bridge” will be the name of it. The official web site calls it Sava Bridge Project.
I just finished reading “The Bridge on the Drina” by Bosnian writer, and former long-time Belgrade resident, Ivo Andrić. He won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature.
UPDATE: I visited the bridge on October 17, 2009. My blog post on the experience is here.
Andrić lived a full life and he is a great example of the idea of Yugoslavia. His parents were Croats from Sarajevo, Bosnia. He spent his childhood in Višegrad, a small town on the border of Serbia and Bosnia. He studied in Sarajevo and Zagreb, Croatia. He was imprisoned during WWI by the Austro-Hungarians as a revolutionary. After the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes gained independence Andrić began a career as a diplomat for the new government. He held posts in Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and finally, in his peak position on the eve of WW II, to Berlin, Germany. All during this time, Andrić was writing and publishing poems, essays, and short stories. When Hitler occupied Poland, he tried to resign, but the Yugoslav government rejected it. When Germany bombed Belgrade in 1941, he retired from the foreign service and lived the rest of his life in Belgrade. During the war, he wrote three novels that would earn him the Nobel Prize. He donated the prize money to build libraries in Bosnia. You can read more about him at Ivo Andric Foundation web site.
I highly recommend the book, “The Bridge on the Drina.” The Drina is a river that separates Bosnia and Serbia. The bridge he refers to in located in the town of Višegrad, Bosnia. The novel is an epic historical fiction beginning in the 1500’s with the construction of the bridge by the Ottoman Turks and ending with its destruction during World War I. I love history and as all good historical fiction does, it brings alive the facts of history. It got me to think more about the legacy of the Ottomans. They had a large empire for many years, but are not that well known or studied in the US. Andrić tells of the Ottoman’s blood sacrifice, in which the Turks would raid Serbian villages and kidnap young Serbian boys to raise them as Turks in Istanbul. He also describes the public “staking” of a man caught vandalizing the bridge during its construction. The Turks were here in Serbia for a long time. As the novel progresses through time, it is good to have a bit of background of Balkan history. Besides the historical stuff, he tells good stories of people and families. My only criticism is he slides into a bit too much of “magic realism” and I got burned out on that by reading Garcia Marquez and other Latino writers.
The picture above is of the Hotel Moscow which I took in August of last year. Ollie is pictured in front of the fountain. A friend tells me it was one of Andric’s favorite hangouts here in Belgrade. I will go visit his museum soon. The apartment where he lived is now a museum and it will give me a better idea of the man and his works, and I will do another post on the visit. I will also most likely read some more by him. I am especially interested in reading his essay on Simon Bolivar. If any of my blog readers have a copy of that, preferably in English (I am now at the stage in my Serbian language development which I call “early caveman” – for example, Danas lepo toplo i kizovo (today very cold and slippery).