Balkan Adventure 2014 - Budapest-Osijek-Vukovar

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August 27th 2014
Published: October 3rd 2014
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We met our Intrepid group of travellers. There were 9 other people aside from us, and our leader who was Croatian. The group was a good mix of nationalities - Australians, Brits, Americans and a New Zealander. One of the British travellers was our good friend Alan from Oxford - 87 years young and fighting fit. We met Alan on our 2008 Intrepid Middle Eastern Adventure - 4 weeks through Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. We met Alan again in 2009 in Budapest and again in 2011 at his home of Oxford, and he also came to visit us in Brisbane later that year. After a welcome dinner with our group and then drinks at a funky open air multi-storeybar, we went back to the hotel to rest for a big day ahead of exploring Budapest. The next day Bill, Alan and I explored Budapest by foot. Alan had worked as a lecturer in Budapest after the fall of communism, so he is quite familiar with the city. We went to castle hill (where I got my photo taken with an eagle) and walked across the famous chain bridge, and then stopped for a spot of lunch and a shop at the famous shopping street - Vaci uta. After a big day, I went to the famous Gellert baths for a soak and sauna, whilst Alan went for a ride on the new tram line (the most civilised way to travel he says!).

The next day we were on the road and over the border to Osijek, Croatia. This is where our leader Darko is from so were expecting some local interaction. Osijek is the caputal of the Slavonia region - the old town is a sleepy town, alive and buzzing at night with a thriving cafe culture. After an orientation tour with local guide Igor,we went to dinner and had the local specialty game stew with gnocchi. It was also Bill's birthday, and Darko had organised a surprise cake (which was a TOTAL surprise ! Well, not really he had an inkling!) The next day was a free day,which we spent going to the local farmers market with Darko, and chilling out around town. Bill and I also went to the local archeological museum. The most notable thing that happened was on the way to dinner, was a car with what looked like a water cannon attached, was driving up and down the street spraying for moquitos! We had quite a time taking selfies with the smog machine behind us. The next day we were on our way to Serbia. The group had collectively decided to do the optional activity and visit Vukovar,one of the many cities that suffered atrociously during the Yugoslav conflict in the 90's. We visited the hospital, which still runs as a hospital, but the basement is a museum whch is dedicated to the memory of the month seige that took place in 1991 by Serbian paramalitia. For 3 months,hundreds, if not thousands, of wounded were taken to the hospital and housed in the basement while war waged around them. The upper floors of the hospital was bombed- the basement was the only relatively 'safe'place. I say relative because there was an occassion when a huge mortar penetrated the upper floors and landed in a person's bed! We saw the rooms were people stayed - crammed in like sardines - one functioning operating table, a birthing suite next to a room where people were dying. We also saw photos of a memorial where over 200 people were taken from the hospital (civilians including staff and a pregnant woman) by Serbian forces and shot in a field. The enormity of the situation comes to light when you realise this occured just over 20 years ago - I was a school aged child. After hearing stories such as that and of Darko and Igor's childhood hiding in basements for shelter, it makes you realise how lucky we are that we did not have to go through anything like that. But this is why we went on this tour - to learn the history, pay our respects to those who lost their lives, and get an understanding of the intricate politics they played out (and are still alive today) after the death of Marshall Tito (president of Yugoslavia) and the break-up of Yugoslavia. Wetnen visited to town's water tower - the only structure that remained standing after the tragic war. After our visit to Vukovar, we visited a famous Croatian winery which lifted our spirits. We went to the cellars AND they showed us their collections of aged wines - apparently 1983 was the best year for wine 😉 We also had a tasting, and being on holiday, most of the members of the group bought a bottle or 2 to share later on the trip.

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