Visegrad and beyond : Bridges and Divisions

Visegrad Travel Blog

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About the only shot I took in Gorazde... from my so-called 'bus stop' :)

That Was Yesterday

‘I’d like to buy a ticket for Višegrad please.’‘No.  No Višegrad’.
‘Sorry, what I mean is, could I have a ticket for the bus to Višegrad for tomorrow?’.

‘No.  Višegrad.  No bus.’  Hmm, I’m not getting through here.  I don’t think it’s getting completely lost in translation.  ‘To Višegrad, you are saying there is no bus?’.  ‘No!’.  As in, ‘yes, there is no bus to Višegrad’ I presume.  ‘That’s very strange‘ I say as I am at the main bus station (Autobus Stanica) of Sarajevo the nation‘s capital, ’So how do the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina get to Višegrad?  It is a major town yes?’.

  ‘I don’t know’.  This guy is not being helpful at all and looking very put out and stern.  I move over to talk to his colleague at the next window.  ‘Bus to Višegrad?’.  ‘No there is no bus there from here I am sorry’.  ‘So, am I able to get there via Goražde?’. Yes, that might be the best way.  Also there might be a bus direct to Višegrad if you go to the Other Station’.  ‘The Other Station?’.  ‘Yes, Lucavica’.  Lucavica.  East or ‘Istocno’ Sarajevo. All rather confusing.  But hey, I had toyed with tipping a nod to Goražde anyway and can’t be faffed to find this ‘Other Station’ so ‘I’ll take the ticket for Goražde please’.
Stevie on the Capia.

As For Today

Sat on said bus I muse.  Juan was able to shed some light after a conversation with his Bosnian mother on the subject of my surly reception at Sarajevo Main Bus Station yesterday.  Višegrad is part of the predominantly Eastern territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) considered to be and included within the Republika Srpska, the Serbo Croat ethnic domains of BiH.  Whilst BiH is of course a technically unified nation, prior to and following the inter-communal war of the 1990s, division along ethnic (and therein religious) lines remains pronounced if off the very weak radars of most visitors and tourists such as myself.  Republika Srpska and its eastern districts of Sarajevo even unbeknownst to Juan‘s mother before her investigations last night exists in a situation of reciprocal non-recognition for any practical purposes with predominantly Bosniak (Muslim majority) Bosnia, and Sarajevo’s chief administration.

  It has its own institutions including a Government and Constitution based in Banja Luka (140km North West of Sarajevo) and even separate dialling code (which the lady on the phone would not give her) and - of course we now know - bus station!  “Phewf!”.  Complicated stuff.

‘Stuff’ that finds me in Goražde early(ish) today.  It’s okay, today’s about minor literary pilgrimages anyway so I am happy to be, if in ever such a fleeting and unmeaningful manner in Goražde for a while, it being the town whose sufferings during the 1990s conflict form the focal point of the superbly gritty creative labour of love and sympathy ’Safe Area Goražde’ by the Maltese-American ’comic journalist’ Joe Sacco.

'Rose and Bridge'
  It rocks.  Read it!

‘Okay, could I please buy a ticket to Višegrad ?’.  ‘No.  No Višegrad’.  F**k me, this is getting to be an all too familiar refrain.  ‘You mean there are no buses from here to Višegrad?!’.  ‘No. No bus Višegrad’.  What the f**k!  ‘But the people at the Autobus Stanica Sarajevo told me to come here to get to Višegrad!’.  ‘Sarajevo to Višegrad, yes.  Goražde to Višegrad, no’.  ’But I’ve just come from Sarajevo!!!  So how do I get to Višegrad now?!!’.  ’Sarajevo’.  ’Well, I’m not frickin’ going back to Sarajevo.

The Capia, centre of Visegrad's bridge and of many of the events of Andric's famous novel/
  There must be a way?!’.  Looks like I’m getting stone-walled by anti-Republika Srpska sentiments again. ’Where you from?’’England’. ’Wait a minute please’. 

The man from Goražde bus station makes a harassed looking phone call ’blah blah blah Višegrad… blah blah blah Inglaise… blah blah blah Inglaise Višegrad etc…’.  He hangs up.  ‘It’s okay, my friend here help you’.  A man appears and whilst I’m tensing up sensing an expensive taxi ride or a tourism-tout f**king (not that there is tourism in Goražde), instead he walks me 100 yards down the road, points to a patch of the pavement and scribbles on a snatch of paper ’11.

20’ and points to the ground again and then the piece of paper.  ’What?  Bus? Here?’.  ’Da’ ( ‘yes‘ ).  ’Bus here’ I say mimicking his pointing gesture ’bus here at 11.20?!’.  Apparently so, and improbable as it is at 12.05 (yeah, never stick to set or promised times in the Travel Business people… impatience gets you Nowhere whereas patience may eventually get you Somewhere or even the There, where you wanted to be… but no guarantees) a rickety local bus chugs along the road and I have to step out and flag it down.  ‘Višegrad?!?’.  ‘Yes, Višegrad’.  Thank fork for that!

So finally, here I am.

My companion for a while, Vlad, on the Capia.
  Višegrad.  Heading out East towards the Serbian border and apparently deep into Republika Srpska.  Only about 37 kilometres along the banks of the same river that flows through Goražde, The Drina, but ‘enemy’ territory nonetheless.  And why am I so keen to drop off here en route to Serbia?  As I mentioned, just a day for minor literary pilgrimages really.  To visit the second great bridge within BiH, a bit of symmetry for my time here I would like to complete following on from Stari Most in Mostar.  The ‘Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic’ Bridge or Stari Most ‘Old Bridge’ of Višegrad, The Bridge on the Drina, both subject and title of the famous novel by Serbia/ BiH’s most famous author Ivo Andric.  As a social history and part factual, part fictional record of a town within a nation, besides a river with its people The Bridge on the Drina remains one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in the last 5 years, if not ever.
  So powerfully does it speak of this old and great work of architecture and its keystone position within a community striven by conflict and unease over the centuries.  It is a tome of much gravity, but also joy, as life invariably proves to be.  And a Nobel Prize winning effort too.  Andric (1892 - 1975) was made a Nobel Laureate in 1961 whilst living and working in Belgrade where in a flat he and his wife Milica Babic lived between 1958 and his death and that is now a tiny, hard to find but free memorial ’museum’ to his life and works. 
It is fabulous to see the bridge now stretched across the deep, deep emerald green of the powerful Drina now before me.  Something that previously only existed as black ink on paper for me, although evocatively so.  Its eleven white arches, two falling on an embankment and the other nine into the waters reach out before me.
Ivo Andric before the bridge of his famous novel, (copied from Memorial Museum in Belgrade)
  And for anyone who’s read the book, you of course know where I’m heading right away.  The Capia.  This being the name given to the small stone balcony seating area, about 2 and half metres across and deep, set back from the main bridge walkway and over the river.  The centre of the bridge, and in times past the centre of the small community of Višegrad and therefore the centre of nearly all events and observations within Andric‘s novel.  Sat upon its time smoothed and battered stones I really feel I have completed a miniature journey within a journey.  A journey from paper and page to place.  It feels good.  I accomplish worryingly little whilst travelling but this feels like an objective achieved.  I place my palms on the Capia’s stones and drink warmth from its sun-kissed surface through my pores.
Ivo Anfric's Nobel Prize medal and award in the Memorial Museum in Belgrade.

In brief overview, the history of the bridge stems from the relations of the region with the incursions of the Ottoman Empire.  Under Turkish rule Serbian children would be kidnapped; abducted by force and taken to Turkey where they would be converted to Islam and sent to train in elite Turkish military schools to serve the Empire.  This was also the fate of Bajica Sokolovic a boy from the region of Višegrad who when he later returned to the region as Mahmet Pasha Sokoli, one of the most powerful men in the Turkish empire, he ordered that the bridge over the Drina be constructed.  His commission coming in 1571.  The architect was one Mimar Sinan.  Its construction and history are steeped in bloody and sometimes amusing anecdote and given  lack of space within this blog, I can only direct you to Andric’s masterpiece for more.

The famous Bridge on the Drina
  You will not be wasting your time.

After exploring all angles I’ve decided to spend just a whole day in Višegrad with my bags for company and to crash on through to Belgrade on a fantastically convenient night bus that I’m told will run into town later on.  So plenty of time just to stroll around the few sights of this slumbersome little town, most of which have too early closing times (The Ivo Andric school room and Ivo Andric  Memorial Library).  Mostly I sit in the glorious sun and read. 

I of course spend plenty of time just sitting and thinking on the bridges stone Capia watching the waters flow far, far below.  Incredible to think that following a devastating flood in 1896 when the waters of the Drina rose to an unthinkable 1.6 metres above the level of the bridge, whilst Višegrad was to all intents and purposes completely annihilated, the bridge stood firm.

(Drina) Muju []
  Two of its stone ‘legs’ were destroyed at points of 20th Century war, but apart from that its all old, original, tough stone stuff.

It appears well used with age now, of course.  The mortar between its many dirty, time worn blocks seeming to consist entirely now of small green and white clover like blossoms, and around the Capia, discreetly stuffed cigarette butts discarded by Višegrad’s youth, who seem, come evening anyway to be the Capia’s main visitors these days.  Looking down from the Capia, a small, inexplicable slit-window opening seemingly of no function but leading towards a chamber - if my poor memory serves - wherein the children of Andric’s Višegrad are led to believe a poor woman (I think?) is bricked in during the construction of the bridge.

Night has fallen now and much to the amusement of locals who’ve passed by a number of times and the little local guy who befriends me, Vlad, I am still here.

  Star and moonlight drowning now in the Drina.  A German couple join me and pop a couple of beers together.  I have enjoyed my day and my meeting with The Bridge on the Drina immensely.  On one level, simple travel.  Go from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’, sit your ass on a monument, be happy, and if lucky possibly even proceed to ‘Point C’.  On one level interesting, challenging.  A journey through the hidden tensions of a nation’s still divided heart.  But it is onwards to ’Point C’ I now shamble off to do in a phenomenally hungry ( my last few KM - ‘Convertible Marks’ used to buy a Burek style pastry) and unwashed (as usual) state …

For Tomorrow

… as the marvellously helpful man at the tiny Višegrad Tourist Information Office had assured me that at 23.

15pm a coach would roll into town, stopping besides the Okuka Motel someway down the Drina’s banks for 20 mins before carrying on its way to Belgrade in Serbia.  This sounds just as improbable as my ‘11.20’ pavement connection from Goražde earlier today, but as with my iconic bridge pilgrimages in Bosnia Herzegovina, I like the symmetry.  And it works.  After sitting under a mosquito and fly-humped neon light for 40 minutes, sure enough, here it is.  And it’s tomorrow now.  And I’m on my way, deeper into Republika Srpska and to Belgrade.

MoonStarFarAway says:
I confused :) Which station in Sarajevo you took Visegrad bus? How far it was to Sarajevo and how many hours it took? Bus depurture time? Do you think it is worth to stay for one night there?

You mention that you went to Belgrade after ? From Visegrad to Belgrad? How many hour that night bus takes?

Thanks for sharing info
Posted on: Jul 08, 2010
joss77 says:
Hi Stevie - interesting description of Visegrad and the bridge. I'm a third of the way through Bridge on the River Drina but wish I'd picked it up before visiting BiH earlier this year. Well, I suppose I can still visit. At least I know the bus situation now...! Thanks.
Posted on: Dec 01, 2009
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About the only shot I took in Gora…
About the only shot I took in Gor…
Stevie on the Capia.
Stevie on the Capia.
Rose and Bridge
'Rose and Bridge'
The Capia, centre of Visegrads br…
The Capia, centre of Visegrad's b…
My companion for a while, Vlad, on…
My companion for a while, Vlad, o…
Ivo Andric before the bridge of hi…
Ivo Andric before the bridge of h…
Ivo Anfrics Nobel Prize medal and…
Ivo Anfric's Nobel Prize medal an…
The famous Bridge on the Drina
The famous Bridge on the Drina
(Drina) Muju []
(Drina) Muju []
Beautiful mountain surrounds in th…
Beautiful mountain surrounds in t…
Andric and his wife in Belgrade.
Andric and his wife in Belgrade.
The study in Ivo Andrics flat res…
The study in Ivo Andric's flat re…
photo by: Stevie_Wes