The first event I can remember actually following on the news was the war over the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early to mid-90s. I think, for many Americans of my age, the name of “Bosnia” or “Croatia” conjures up images of bleakness, of war and death and pain.

Visiting these countries with my fellow Fulbright friend, Sarah, today, however, shows a place teeming with life. Yes, there are still remnants of the destruction that raged there. But as I walked down a Sarajevo street around 11 p.m., the idea of “siege” and “sniper” and all those other fearful words which I associate with that city’s names faded as I wove through the packed, cobblestone streets. Like the Italians, the Bosnians like an evening passagiata, a walk simply to see and be seen. Whole familys wandered the main squares, calling out to friends. Music spilled out of bars. People downed Sarajevo Pivo. In the span of one block, lights threw a Catholic church, a mosque, an Orthodox church and a synagogue into beautiful illumination. Far from just being a “war survivor”, the city, to me, seemed to thrive.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo

Of course, I was a one-day visitor there (and elsewhere in my travels in the region), and I know my little taste of such places cannot begin to show all the pain of healing that such places must go through. I know, equally, that the great “cheap” prices an American traveler encounters there means the real residents are struggling economically. But I also want to change the minds that still see the Balkans as a land of crisis only. Part of me wants to tell everyone know to go there, right away. The other (selfish) part of me wants to keep it a secret, to keep everything as perfect as it was for our trip.

And again, coming back from a ten-day onslaught of un-understandable Croatian and Bosnian, arriving back in Ferihegy, where I knew what jo estet meant from passport control, where I knew exactly how to get back from the airport (a route I know better, I must admit, than the road to the airport back in D.C.) Ahh, good to be home, I thought, before the sinking realization that this “home” is only mine until 7 a.m. Tuesday morning.

So for now, I’m off to enjoy one bit more of this home — and I’ll just leave you with the images I know think about when I hear “Balkans”.

Dubrovnik by night

Dubrovnik by night

Sunset in Dubrovnik

Sunset in Dubrovnik

Waterfalls outside of Mostar (Bosnia & Hercegovina)

Waterfalls outside of Mostar (Bosnia & Hercegovina)

Mostar

Mostar

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Split

Split

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