Middle East and the BalkansMon, Nov 3, 2014
After a long day of traveling from California, with several hours of exploring Frankfurt during a layover, I arrived in Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world which is considered holy to three of the largest religions in the world.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the supposed location of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, and contains the location where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. The building, constructed in 326, is actually shared between several churches. A mosque was constructed in 1193 in a courtyard, on the site where Caliph Omar prayed 637 after accepting the surrender of the city.
Bethlehem is located just a few miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank and administered by the Palestinian Authority. Manger square at the top of the hill is home to the Church of the Nativity, constructed in 327 over the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The Mosque of Omar on the other side of the square was built in 1860 on a site the Caliph Omar reportedly prayed on in 637.
The border of Israel and the West Bank is certainly a contentious one but as a United States citizen it was simple to cross. I quickly came across artwork by Banksy and others expressing opinions on the current situation.
Rain fell nearly the entire duration of my short stay in Turkey. The Hagia Sofia, a building constructed as a church in 537 and later a mosque, had rediculous entry lines so I opted to skip it this visit.
Earlier in the year was the 100th anniversary of assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the casus belli of World War I. Frendinand was shot as his motorcade drove past the Latin Bridge across the Miljacka River in Sarajevo.
The Bosnian War took a huge toll on the country, including a nearly four year siege of the capital city of Sarajevo. Many scars of the war remain. Visiting the remains of the infrastructure for the 1984 Winter Olympics was a highlight of the trip, despite being stopped by Srpska police and the danger of landmines in the area.
From Sarajevo I traveled 12 hours by train through the countryside to Zagreb, Croatia. The train was much more basic than those of western Europe, consisting of two Croatian cars and one Bosnian. There were no concessions on the long journey, smoking was permitted throughout, and the passport check at both sides of the border was not staffed by English speakers. It afforded wonderful views during daylight and an interesting contrast of the Bosnian-Croat Federation and Serbian Srpska, the two separate political entities within the country.
From Zagreb I flew to Switzerland where I spent the remainder of the two week trip.