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Category: Travel (page 1 of 15)

Gravestenenbrug in Haarlem, the Netherlands

There is something about draw bridges. I think maybe I’ve been a bit taken with them ever since I lived in Greifswald, where they have an example of surpreme beauty. But this one in Haarlem in the Netherlands left an equally great impression on me. Gravestenenbrug, Haarlem, NetherlandsWe drove through Haarlem on our way back to Amsterdam from the North Sea coast in Zandvoort. Walking through the small town at night, when it was all lit up, was a treat in itself. Beautiful architecture is all around, and little cute canals gave the town its remarkable atmosphere – an even cozier, cuter version of the Dutch capital. What I liked most though was, of course, the walk down the river Spaarne that led us to this beauty of a bridge.

The sky had this intense dark night blue colour, and the reflection in the water was so clear cut that you almost wouldn’t think it was a living, moving surface. I did feel reminded of Greifswald, which made the place feel very familiar in this great sense that grants safety and security and is not in the least boring. The arms of the bridge looked like they were ready to open up any minute now, visions of sailing boats majestically gliding through and on through different canals and into the open sea crossed my mind, and I thought that maybe this is why I like draw bridges. They connect the banks while still appreciating the river’s path and its opportunity to lead us on, on to different shores far away.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Bikes, Sand Dunes, a Memorial, and the North Sea

You read me, so you know I love the Baltic. Now the important question is: Can you really love the North Sea when you love the Baltic? My hometown Hamburg is approximately the same distance from either sea. Most of my family and friends have a clear preference. It is either North or Baltic Sea. You can’t have ‘em both. My sister once phrased it as follows: “I like the North Sea better than the Baltic, because I like the Elbe River better than the Alster.” For someone from Hamburg, that makes immediate sense. Baltic Sea and Alster River are calm and domesticated, while Elbe River and North Sea are moody, wild and untamed. Now here’s the kind of girl I am: I like the Baltic Sea and the Elbe River. I’m annoying. I want it all.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsGranted I hadn’t been to the North Sea in a very long time. You see, as opposed to the Baltic Sea, it is not in Central Eastern Europe which made it hard to integrate it into my travel schedule. But when Jan and I did our trip to Amsterdam, we agreed that we would absolutely have to rent bikes at some point, and where prettier to do that than at the coast. So on the second day in the big city we took the car out to Zandvoort, found rental bikes quickly (and very decently priced at 10€ per day per person) and off we went.

Zandvoort, NetherlandsThe town of Zandvoort is a beach resort, the likes of which I know from Germany (and from both teh North and the Baltic Sea) – too many buildings with questionable aesthetics line the coast and make the view from the beach inland rather grey. Looking out to see is grand though. And the good thing about this being a town with good infrastructure is that there are also decently tarmaced bike trails. They lead us out of the immediate town and into the National Park Zuid Kennemerland.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe soft up and down of grown-over sanddunes. The width of the clear blue sky sprinkled with solid-looking clouds. The fresh air and the smell of the sea. The wind in my hair as I speed up on the bike. There is no route planned, no final destination, nowhere to get to. Just moving along through the landscape that I find so beautiful in its simplicity. I don’t need mountains. I just need a wide sky.

The bike trail leads us away from the immediate coast line, inland. Trees line the freeway we drove down when we came into Zandvoort by car. Bike trails are on either side of it. Yes, Holland is bike country. There is a path heading away from the street, and out of curiosity, we take it, unsure where it will lead us. A few hundred yards into it, we come across a small bike park where we place the bikes and make our way along the path on foot. I look back as we leave our bikes, locked together, almost looking like their cuddling. So symbolic. It looks like I am definitely not travelling alone this time.

Bikes, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWalking on sandy ground, but through beautiful wildlife, I find everything to be very green and leafy. Generally this reminds me a little of the bike tour I did on te Curonian Spit two years ago, but the forests lining the Baltic Sea there are coniferous. The deciduous plants around here give make the green so juicy, the smell so fresh, not as earthy and wooden as I am used to. The path we follow offers new pretty outlooks and views around every corner.

We find a small outdoors theatre that looks like it may once have been a memorial and goof around behind the stone stand. Not a soul around – although that is not true. There are animals, most notably the toad I almost stepped on walking down the path. It’s a very peaceful place. As we move on, we climb up some stairs, and finally come across this:

Memorial for Resistance Fighters in WW2, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsAlthough information is scarce, we realize quickly that it is some kind of burial ground for victims of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Later, research online will tell us that it is a memorial cemetery for resistance fighters who were shot in these exact dunes. There is almost no background given, and really almost none to be found on the internet either, which I regret. Walking around, Jan and I get into a discussion on war and peace, on the surpremely priviliged position our generation finds itself in in Western Europe, on Ukraine, on World War II, on our parents and grandparents. It is quite intense, and it leaves us more grateful for this day than we could have imagined.

Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsWe linger at the memorial for quite a while before we get back to the bikes and move on. Down into the forest. Out of it. Coming across meadows (although protected by fences, so we can’t throw ourselves onto them). Along the freeway. And finally, when it is almost time to go back into town to return the bikes, we find the sea again.

North Sea, Zuid Kennemerland, NetherlandsThe North Sea. It is indeed much more untamed. It is also very blue and not as grey as I generally perceive the Baltic to be, but I’m not sure if that’s just its mood today. I find the North Sea to be quite moody. It just goes away every now and then, what is up with that! But today, I have to admit it: The North Sea is being really really good to me. The way the light glistens on its surface, and the sand on its beach is as shiny and as rich in different shades of colour as the water, and the sea grass on the dunes moves in the breeze – all of this touches me.

After we’ve returned the bikes – much too soon for both our tastes – we go back to the beach for dinner, and then stay to watch the sunset for as long as our shivering bodies allow us to. It was warm during the day, but once the sun is down it is quite chilly. The light show that nature has prepared for us is amazing though. Nothing can be said against a sea that allows you to see the sun set in it, slowly, every so slowly disappear into the depths of its water, reflection turning the waves into shimmering bodies of liquid light. Magic moments. And I think I am more of a North Sea fan than I knew before.

North Sea, Zandvoort, NetherlandsWhat do you say – North Sea or Baltic? Or is it another one entirely for you?

Travelling Differently – Have I Grown Up?

In the beginning of the year I thought I wouldn’t be able to travel at all this summer due to work committments. It was then when I first realized that I must really have come dangerously close to that dangerous state they call adulthood – obligations tying me down, curtailing my flexibility. Turns out though that I just don’t function when I don’t get out at least for a little bit. So when it came to planning my summer, I figured a few days away would only help me work more productively afterwards. So I started planning – and much more specifically so than I used to. That was hint number two that I may just have grown up.

My love affair with bridges prompts people to give me travel advice. Most of them suggest Venice. While that is on my list, I want to do it some remote February weekend when the city is touched by tourism as little as can be. So it wasn’t really an option for my summer trip. Second on the list of recommendations has always been Amsterdam. And now we’re talking. A new country, one in Western Europe at that. Breaking with my old travel patterns. How exciting!

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam

Once the destination was decided, for the first time in my travel life, I decided to ditch my beloved public transport and rent a car. I had done car travel before, but never abroad, only for short trips inside of Germany. For one thing, I didn’t think trains and busses in the Netherlands would be so different from Germany as to add indispensable experiences to my travel adventure (correct me if I’m wrong!). Secondly, I planned on visiting a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in a while on my way West through Germany, and the car gave me flexibility.

With the car came a few other side effects, such as the fact that I wouldn’t be needing a backpack. I would be able to travel like a civilized person with a roll-on suitcase! Fascinating! Finally, when all of that was set already, plans were slightly overthrown and it turned out I wouldn’t be travelling alone. As part of a couple, new options arose that would have been out of question otherwise, if just financially. Jan and I decided to rent an airbnb apartment instead of hostelling.

Rental car in Amsterdam

It’s not my most flattering picture, but I realized it’s the only one I have in which you can see the car. I loved its signal red colour 🙂

Yes, I was quite curious how it would feel to be travelling so differently. No overnight busses, but a rental car. No backpack, but a suitcase. No hostels, but an airbnb apartment. And not single, but as a couple. My travel self has so far usually said sentences like „I’m flying into a remote ex-Yugoslav country, just me and my backpack, and I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go there, but I got my Couchsurfing profile ready and some hostel recommendations scribbled in my notebook.“ Now I found myself saying: „Me and my boyfriend have a car and an apartment in Amsterdam rented for four nights, and a hotel booked for a night in Groningen after that.“ How grown-up does that sound?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in love with the backpacking thing, and I’m sure it’s not over for me. But I can’t deny that the comfort and security that this other travel mode generated felt very, very nice. To be entirely honest, I am less tolerant when it comes to drunk hostel dorm mates waking me up in the middle of the night, and spending nights in bus stations because the connection didn’t run is a lot less glamorous and exciting when you’ve done it a couple of times. It felt nice not to have to calculate every expense – because both the car and the apartment are of course things that I never did so far because they were too expensive. The relative luxury of travelling the way I did now was not least a financial one.

Zandvoort, Netherlands

Day trip to the North Sea

It felt really nice to be able rely on the things that had been planned beforehand. And it was absolutely wonderful to not have to take care of everything by myself, but have someone take over the wheel every now and then – literally and metaphorically. Speaking of which, in sum, the Netherlands were not the perfect country to take a car to. Petrol is ridiculously expensive, and what’s more, parking will leave you nearly penniless. Seriously, if I had been on my own I would have been completely desperate in the face of the expenses I had for parking which amounted to a good 20€ every single day except Sunday when parking suddenly was free everywhere. But then again we did beautiful day trips and stop overs on our way through the country that wouldn’t have been possible without a car. I think next time we might try just going by bike. It seems like the perfect way to travel the Netherlands.

Bike, Amsterdam, Netherlands

A bike in Amsterdam, camouflaged in flowers 🙂

I am also happy to report that with all the grown-up stuff, we were still plenty spontaneous. We hadn’t made up our minds as to what we wanted to see in Amsterdam, we had barely decided which other towns in the country we wanted to visit. We didn’t over-schedule our days, but took plenty of time strolling around, getting lost in beauty, and enjoying each other’s company sitting underneath light houses looking at the sea and talking. We never went out for breakfast, but went grocery shopping the first day and finished the remains on the last morning on a bench on Groningen’s fish market. So I didn’t feel like I had betrayed my travel style at all. It has just slightly shifted. A little more comfort. A little more safety. And a lot better company.

Breakfast, Groningen, Netherlands

Breakfast in Groningen – from my lap 🙂

Travel is a very big part of my life. It has made me who I am. It changes with who I become and with who accompanies me. That is just another way in which it is a beautiful metaphor for life itself. Maybe perceiving the way I travelled now as „grown-up“ is actually missing the point. Maybe it is just a new way that seems to fit the person I am, the life I have, regardless of age or status.

Blauwbrug in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

My summer travel destination was chosen mainly for the fact that it promised to hold many, many, many bridges. And man, did it deliver!

Blauwbrug, Amsterdam, NetherlandsAmsterdam was, of course, never going to disappoint me, the fangirl of water, of rivers and canals, and of bridges. I’m afraid my Bridges on Sundays series will contain Amsterdam pictures for a long long time to come. Bear with me. I’m starting you off with one of the prettiest though.

The Blauwbrug, or Blue Bridge, is a late 19th century architectural marvel across the Amstel river. It is thus not one of the many canal bridges. The Amstel river is much wider than the average Amsterdam gracht, and thus allows for a more elaborate bridge structure. Elegant looking young business people were crossing the Blauwbrug in the drizzling rain. In its majestic grandeur the bridge differed from the more laid-back, relaxed and proverbial liberal side of the Dutch capital. I took to its beauty nonetheless. Especially since, when standing on it, you had the next gorgeous bridge in eyesight. But I’ll leave more on the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) for another day.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Footbridge in Malbork, Poland

I have lost count of the times I’ve been to Gdansk. Yet I had only once been to Malbork, the favourite tourist day trip from my beloved city and home to the largest castle of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. My visit there was in 1993 with my family and I had hardly any memory of it. The more thrilled I was that during my last stay in Gdansk I got to visit it again. And this picture alone shows why it was worth it.

Footbridge, Malbork, PolandThe wooden footbridge crossing the river Nogat swings slightly when you cross it. But I had to get to the other side to enjoy the view of the bridge AND the castle all in one. Have you noticed how it is all red brick stone? You know I’d love it. Even with a cloudy sky I think the bright red of the castle contrasts so beautiful against the grey, and the dark colour of the bridge is so intense in its reflection in the Nogat’s steady, calm flow. Malbork Castle is an impressive place looking to intimidate the attacker – but looking at it from across the bridge today, it is mostly peaceful and pretty.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Bridge in Međugorje, Bosnia and Hercegovina

I have previously written about Međugorje – the third largest pilgrimage site in Europe, although not recognized by the Vatican. There are places in town that I am sure hundreds of photos are taken of daily. This is probably not one of them.

Bridge, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaOn the street that passes the cathedral and leads to the massive, and I mean truly massive and humungous parking lot, a small bridge spans a dried up ditch. The houses lining the streets are the same as most other houses in any mid-sized town in Hercegovina – shops on the ground floor, apartments on the upper floors. People make a living downstairs and spend their lives upstairs. Almost all the shops in town are souvenir shops selling mainly rosaries and icons.

Međugorje has become a wealthy place because of the pilgrims. Houses have sprung up almost out of nowhere. Maybe it is due to the speed of the towns development that a lot of it looks a little – fake. Like plastic. Like you could nudge a wall and the house would just crumple down like paper mache. This is why I liked the bridge across the ditch. The stone base to the side is solid. The bridge is not old, but it is not pastel coloured or in any way trying to be glorious and shiny. This could be almost anywhere in the Balkans, whereas most of the rest of Međugorje could be anywhere at all in the world. The bridge grounded the place for me.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Bridge, somewhere in Bosnia & Hercegovina

This bridge is random. It doesn’t have a name. I don’t remember exactly where it was or which river it crosses. But look at this beauty: Bosnia & HercegovinaThe bridge is not even entirely in the picture, it is more like I’m on it – in fact, crossing it on a bus – taking the photo. When I went to Bosnia a few weeks ago, I travelled there on a plane for the first time. Approaching Sarajevo, the plane went lower and lower above the green hills, my heart grew wide, and as we touched ground, tears shot out of my eyes with great force. I was coming to collect part of my heart that is tied to that country. Forever. I had to leave it again when I left.

From Sarajevo I took a bus to Mostar. It took me through the landscapes of Bosnia and Hercegovina, and I couldn’t take my eyes away from what opened up for me outside of the window. It wasn’t the first time I was in awe facing the different shades of green in the hills and the emerald colours of the rivers, but I was enchanted yet again. Was it the Bosna we crossed here, or the Neretva? I don’t know. I just know there is a bond tying me to that place as strong as any bridge made from stone, steel or wood could ever be.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Memory as Morbidity – Mostar’s Partisan Monument

I came to Bosnia this time around wanting to relax, to let go, and to find inner peace. I wanted to go somewhere I knew, without feeling the inner pressure of needing to discover a new place and finding out how it works. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking: Today I need to see the following twenty-five things, or else I won’t feel like I have properly visited this place. So I came to Mostar, strolled the familiar streets, noticed how it had changed, but also felt very much at home.

Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn spite of that, I wouldn’t be me if at some point the urge hadn’t occured to dig deeper and expose myself to as of yet unknown impressions. And so I went to a place in Mostar I had never been to, that hadn’t even been on my inner map of the city. I went to the Partisan Memorial Cemetery, or Partizansko Groblje. And I discovered yet another part of Mostar that helped me understand the city and the complexity of the Balkans‘ history.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThe Partisans of the former Yugoslavia are somewhat of a founding myth of the state. I have colleagues who do extensive research on them, and not only their military history, but also their culture – their songs, their manifestos etc. The way it was explained to me, there is a very plausible reason that they are so important. You may know that during the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a non-aligned nation. They were socialist, yes, but they didn’t „side“ with the Soviet Union. That was possible only because the Red Army didn’t free them from fascist rule in World War II – their own people, the Partisans did. Based on their victory, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could come into existence, and was a really well-functioning state until Tito’s death in 1980. But that’s a different story.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI had learned about the monument that it was set up in the 60s, so during Yugoslav times, to honour the Partisans who died fighting against fascists. It is a Bosnian national monument, however, even upon entering it was visibly unkempt and overgrown. I didn’t understand why at first, since the Partisans are such a pan-yugoslav motif of remembrance. But then my friend Majda pointed out to me that the Partisans didn’t only fight German Nazis, but also Croatian fascist Ustashas. Mostar’s local government is made up mainly of ethnic Croats, and apparently some of them are not too keen on remembering the fascist part of their own heritage in any way at all. It is a shame. If you google pictures of the monument in its prime, you will see how beautiful it was.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaNow, grasses, ferns and weeds have taken possession of the originally neatly kept three terraces with their cleanly kept gravestones, and moss is covering the walls and grounds in the shadier places. The gravestones are strewn about haphazardly. It is likely that quite a few of them have been broken – purposefully? Vandalism does seem to be a problem, and there is lots of rubbish hiding in the greenery. I still stand and contemplate the names and numbers I see on the uniquely shaped stones. The lives that hide behind them – what may they have been like?

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI wish I understood more about the tradition or the symbolism behind the strange, uneven shape of the gravestones. Most of the decor of the monument seems to me to contain some hidden meaning that is inaccessible to me. A lot of it reminds me of war, though. Gun barrels. Crenels. Sniper hideouts. For the life of me I can’t make sense of the big ornament in the center of the top terrace.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaAgain the pointy part in the middle looks to me like it might be symbolizing firing guns, but the circles around are a mystery to me. I am still very much intrigued. The whole area reminds me of the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park (a place I have been wanting to write about in forever and may now just have to very soon!), they share a similar kind of aesthetics which is of course grounded in their relative contemporaneity and common ideological socialist background – and the fact that they are both monuments and cemeteries at the same time. Pompous, impressive, very much thought through, carefully arranged with clear shapes and their play on perspective. The Berlin one is a bit more blunt to me, very rectangular, whereas this one is softer with its winding walls and circles. To me, they are both really beautiful in their own way.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis used to be a well, and the water ran down the middle of the terraces to be collected in a pond a few levels below. Now it is filled with garbage and dried up. I imagine that water must have added a yet more peaceful quality to the place. But it is a pretty peaceful place today in the heat of late May – summer has definitely begun in Mostar. However overgrown, the place invites one to laze around, and I do lie on one of the walls in the sun for a while just daydreaming away.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina From up here, it almost still looks as pretty as it used to be. The high grass next to me with the chirping crickets, however, reminds me of the wilderness this is now. It is hard to recognize, but in the circleshaped round down below someone has graffitied „One Love“ and a peace sign in the middle. It’s a beautiful gesture, especially when one also comes across indicators of Croat nationalism tagged on the wall, such as Ustasha signs or this line that says „God and Croats“:

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI do wander what will become of the place, if it will ever rise to former glory. It would be a brilliant place for Sunday strolls. Funnily enough, I even pictured it as a great concert venue – slightly inappropriate, I take it, with it being a cemetery. But now people come to hang out here anyway – is that more appropriate? Granted, there are very few of them. I, however, see myself coming back here when I’m back in Mostar. For some quiet time away from the growing masses of tourists in the old town. But then, I am a fan of the morbidity of forgotten places. I am somewhat torn. I think this is a place that needs active memory culture, that needs appreciation and care. But I also love the way that nature has come to take it back for her own and made it so morbidly eerie.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Spiritual Places in Hercegovina

The reason that Bosnia and Hercegovina is equally as complicated as it is beautiful is hard to explain, and I am the last person to claim that it can even be understood at all. Part of it, however, is how nationalities and religion are weirdly intertwined in the Balkans. Talking about a Croat means talking about someone who is Catholic, a Serb is someone who is orthodox, and a Bosniak is Muslim. A Bosnian Croat is a Catholic from Bosnia, and a Bosnian Serb is an Orthodox from Bosnia. Adding to the confusion quite a few of the people there are not even that religious. They grew up in Yugoslav communism and don’t identify much with their religious heritage that was to define their identity in the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

Travelling in Bosnia and Hercegovina, however, the impact of religion on the country in its political and societal struggles is impossible to miss. At the same time, it is its multiethnic and multireligious history that founds its potential as a modern country that has an amazing amount of beauty to show. Today I want to talk about two places in Hercegovina that have significant spiritual meaning for Catholics and Muslims respectively, and that still are so fundamentally different from one another.

The first one is Međugorje, a small town that lives up to its name which means „between mountains“. It is set between the barren karst hills that turn the gorgeous green colour with thick forests only further North. About 30 years ago this was an insignificant village. Today it is the third largest pilgrimage site for Catholics in Europe.

Medugorje Cathedral, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaIn 1981, six teenagers witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the hills outside the village, and some of them have continued to have visions of her ever since – or so the story goes. Not much is known about the nature of the apparitions, and they aren’t recognized as a miracle by the Vatican, but that doesn’t stop pilgrims from coming here – thousands of them!

Souvenir shops, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaMeđugorje has turned into a huge industry. There are souvenir shops upon souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, a huge sports centre, and a retail industry that might be unmatched elsewhere in the country. People who live here are wealthy, rents  and land prices have skyrocketed. A highway is being built from Croatia where a lot of the pilgrims are coming from. But it is by far not restricted to the neighbouring countries. They are coming from all over the continent, if not all over the world, to walk up the now so-called Apparition Hill, to catch the tears from the weeping Jesus statue (another miracle, supposedly) and to visit services in the Cathedral.

Rosaries for sale, Medugorje, Bosnia and HercegovinaSince there is so much commerce around, I have to say that Međugorje doesn’t feel like a very spiritual place to me. But I very much agree with Bata, my friend who has taught me so much about this country, who says, in a gist: „You don’t have to believe the miracle of the apparition. But 30 years ago there was absolutely nothing in this place, and look what it’s become. I’ll easily call that a miracle.“ Certainly the pilgrimage site illustrates how religious matters can influence the economy and thereby the politics of a region.

Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaThe second place I want to introduce to you is Blagaj. Not only does it hold the ruins of Stjepan grad, or the Blagaj fort, a medieval fortress that was seat to the dukes and counts of Hercegovina region – but also it is home to a beautiful Tekija. Tekija is the Bosnian term for what in Albania is usually called a Tekke or what is found on Wikipedia by the name Khanqah. It is a place for retreat and meditation of members of the Muslim Sufi Order.

Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaAs is the case with a Tekija traditionally, it is set in a place of natural beauty and power. The house is cuddled under the mighty hill that carries the fortress, right next to a cave in the cold stone. Out of this cave flows ther river Buna, shooting out with all its might. The place is called Vrelo Bune, source of the Buna, but the actual source is 19 km away somewhere deep inside the mountain. Satellites have been sent down there to find out about this after divers had unsuccessfully tried to find the source.

Vrelo Bune, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaI love Blagaj. I have been there seven times in total now, and my favourite moments were when I had time to enter the Tekija, scarved up and wearing a long skirt, sit down and listen to the forceful sounds of the river and absolutely nothing else. There is a scent of peace in the air, a quiet feeling of content that settles right in my heart whenever I go. The beauty of the house, in- and outside, is of great simplicity. Not much is needed here. Just an honest and open heart to hear the spirits of the earth and skies, and the voices inside of oneself as they slowly calm down simultaneously with the body. Yes, Blagaj holds a very special place in my heart.

Inside the Tekija, Blagaj, Bosnia and HercegovinaDon’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Međugorje is a bad place while Blagaj is wonderful. There are places sacred to Christianity in the world that really speak to me as well – not least in the Balkans! And Međugorje certainly has that feel, that indiscribable aura. It is just a lot more frequented and, as I said, commercialized which I find a bit unfortunate, but that is certainly a very personal thing. Both places are absolutely worth a visit, and both tell a lot about Hercegovina’s history and its situation today.

What are spiritual places you have visited? And how have they spoken to you?

Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina (III)

Yes, yes, this is the third time I am blogging this bridge for Bridges on Sundays. But it did give the blog its name. And isn’t it fantastic? Starim Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina Stari Most, which I have talked about previously here and here, is not just an architectural marvel. It is a symbol for many things that have taken place in Mostar through the ages. The economical and political significance of a bridge in the middle ages is probably quite obvious, and city life has always centered around it.

When now I stand in this probably most favourite spot for taking pictures of the bridge, at night time, seeing it in the spotlight against the schemes of the hills in the background, my heart is full of love. But it is not because of the beauty, or because I understand the historical impact fully – I could probably never get to a point where that was the case. No, I stand, deeply moved, because this place means something to me that I have no words for. It symbolizes too many things to phrase in even a whole book. And yet so many people just walk idly by, admire it for a moment, only to basically forget it just after having left Mostar. This is not to judge – au contraire. This is to express my heartfelt gratitude that I have been given the gift of loving places as much as I do.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

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