Visegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a (really) small town near the border with Serbia. It became famous though a novel called The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić. The author went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1961. Now you can visit Andrić Town in Visegrad, visit the statue of the writer and see some pretty buildings. However, that wasn’t what brought me there.
When I volunteered at Melbourne’s Human Rights Arts and Film Festival I got free tickets to the screening of a film called For Those Who Can Tell no Tales. It followed the story of Australian who travelled to Visegrad. However, upon returning home, she learnt that the old bridge, the hotel she stayed in and the town itself was the site of a genocide of Muslims Bosniaks during the 90s. There was no memorial in the town that gave recognition to this. The victims have been forgotten and it’s like they never existed. In fact, it was the only place we visited in Bosnia and Herzegovina where you couldn’t hear the Call to Prayer five times a day.
When I first planned my trip to Bosnia, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there. Watching the film had given me a dark feeling about the place. However, after falling in love with country in Mostar and Sarajevo, I wanted to delve deeper into its background. It also made logistical sense as we made our way from Sarajevo to Belgrade.
A dark history
I felt sad and somber as I walked over the Old Bridge. My visit confirmed the complete lack of recognition of the massacre, even though the bridge was once so full of blood that you couldn’t even walk across it. Now its just a tourist attraction where people take smiling selfies.
I threw some flowers into the water in honour of the victims.
Disturbingly, I found advertisements for Hotel and Spa Vilina Vlas in our hotel room. This was the hotel featured in the film, that was used as a rape camp for Muslim women during the war.
Just walking around town it’s hard not to look at the faces of the locals and wonder what they did during the war. Were they involved? Are they unhappy about the lack of recognition? Or do they just want to forget and get on with their lives?
It felt strange that such a horrific event could happen in such a beautiful, peaceful place. I guess that’s reality. Genocide doesn’t happen only on rainy days, with ominous background music and an evil villains. It happens through normal, complicated and confused humanity, when the sun is shining and the water is as blue as ever.
The best kind of travel experience
My experience in Visegrad wasn’t all sad and reflective.
When we arrived in the town, we made our way to our guesthouse cottage, Sobe V&P Blagojevic. It was a little out of the centre, but still easy walking distance. It was super peaceful, down by the river surrounded by trees. You could hear birds twittering in the morning and crickets creaking in the evenings. Although the online directions were a bit confusing, we just followed the train tracks and signs from the old station and bumped straight into it.
The sweet elderly couple, Olga and Vladimir, who owned the guesthouse made our visit to Visegrad very special. They didn’t speak a word of English, but happily typed everything into Google translate, and we communicated that way (with the occasional bit of charades).
We were welcomed with water, local natural honey, Bosnian coffee, and warm (Google translate assisted) conversation. They made us feel right at home after a long day on the bus.
They gave us an upgrade to a big sunny room with a private bathroom (we were the only people staying there). We paid only 30 euros for two nights. What a bargain!
They waved us goodbye from the front porch when we went into town, and joked with us like we were family. They let us use their kitchen and watch TV with them and even offered to lend us some bicycles for the day. Even though we stayed for only two nights, it felt like we became part of an adopted family.
To me, it’s this kind of experience, where you connect with locals in a meaningful way and overcome cultural and communicative barriers that makes travel so special.
Pin this post