My Balkan tour continued after Athens towards Thessaloniki. Greek ruins are spread throughout the entire country, and its very surreal to see how the first civilizations began and developed. We stopped in Delphi, an ancient city that was once considered to be the center of the universe. Preserved statues and engravings tell the stories of the people and the places that grew into the world we live in today.
The weather has become very warm these past few days, which makes for brighter days filled with even more sightseeing. After traveling through Greece, we made our way into North Macedonia. Our first night was spent near the stunning Lake Ohrid, one of the biggest lakes in the region. We explored thin roads and churches sitting along the waterfront. The next stop was the capital city of Skopje, filled with flags and statues on nearly every street. Skopje is known for its beautiful architecture that often directly resembles other world sights, such as the Arc de Triomphe and Golden Gate Bridge.
Our next country was Serbia, and we spent a few days in Belgrade, which may be one of my top favorite cities. Where the Danube and Sava rivers meet lies Belgrade, home to a mix of cultures and bustling city life. In one square, you can spot several different styles of architecture, showing how the styles have evolved and differed throughout history. From the top of a fortress, you can see breathtaking panoramic views of the newer parts of the city. Belgrade has an upbeat nightlife scene, and my tour group was able to experience some great food and even better company.
After Serbia, we crossed the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country with heavy stories of conflicts in the more recent past. The capital of Sarajevo has artisan markets, many religious sights and distinct remnants of the city’s history. The Bosnian war in the 1990s was something that I knew very little about, but after my time in Sarajevo and Mostar, it was put into a much deeper perspective. Bullet holes still line buildings and spots where mortars exploded in the streets are painted with red paint to show where the destruction was. Sarajevo’s museum on war crimes and the genocide showed more about the past than what I had ever known. The city of Mostar was one of the most destroyed cities in any historical European conflict, and reminders are still on every street. Yet the country is looking towards the future, one day at a time. As people share their stories, we are able to see how hope and courage can change everything.
Learning about the difficult past is essential to understanding a place and its people. Eastern Europe has chapters and chapters of history and conflicts from the past several generations. If we don’t continue to learn about it and teach others, we risk leaving it behind. Museums and books are helpful, but seeing these areas in person is so much more descriptive. I’m humbled to have been able to stand in the spots where events changed the world forever.
After Bosnia, my tour ended in Split, Croatia. I said goodbye to my tour group that had quickly become great friends. After many well wishes and hugs, I headed to Zagreb for the night before my flight to London. It’s hard to believe that I only have a few more days left in Europe!