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This study trek is open exclusively to current and former students of any of the Harvard undergraduate or graduate schools and colleges, and their partners. The ex-Yugoslavia Study Trek, formally called “Reconstruction and Reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia” aims to be the cultural, social and political introduction to this region. The trek encompasses 3 countries, including Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Start: Belgrade, Serbia ; End: Dubrovnik, Croatia
3 Hours Before Flight Time
You have just landed and have taken the shuttle to the hotel to check-in and get settled. The guide will shortly meet you and the rest of the group in the hotel lobby for a tour of Belgrade and your first introduction to the region through the biggest city in the former-Yugoslavia.
First off, you will be taken to the Kalemegdan Fortress, where the city of Belgrade really became an urban center in medieval times…and where it gets its Serbian name Beograd, meaning “the White City”, from the white walls of the medieval fortress. Kalemegdan today also encompasses a gorgeous park with stunning views over the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, highlighting the strategic position of the city. Some of the major sights you will see in Kalemegdan include one of the icons of Belgrade – the statue of “The Victor”, and the outside exhibit of the Military Museum, including old, decommissioned armored vehicles and tanks.
The tour will then proceed to the Patriarchate, the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in order to gain an insight into the influence that the Church has had on Serbian identity and politics.
While on the topic of religion, the tour will also cover the St Sava Cathedral – the second largest Orthodox church in the world. This immense and beautiful structure is still being completed – with its mesmerizing crypt having been inaugurated recently.
The next stop will be the House of Flowers, also known as Tito’s Mausoleum. Here you will begin to unravel the myth and the man that was Josip Broz “Tito” – Yugoslavia’s President for life. The museum houses a lot of the gifts Tito received from world leaders and citizens of Yugoslavia, alike. It helps shed light not only on the man himself, but also on Yugoslavia under his leadership and the Non-Aligned Movement, which he helped create. Along with stories from his life, you will also see scenes from his funeral that was among the best attended of any leader in modern history.
Finally, we will end the evening with a traditional dinner in the historic Skadarlija Bohemian Quarter. This cozy cobblestone street captures the charm of Belgrade as it once was: traditional décor, home-style food and drink, and lively local music.
You have just had breakfast and the bus is waiting to take you to the Serbian Parliament building, hosted by a government official. Our “guide” will brief us on how the Serbian parliament works, and will take us through the building that houses some beautiful and symbolic artwork.
After a break for lunch, it will be time for our first discussion panel. The panel will have multiple high-positioned speakers from Serbia’s political, social and economic circles. This panel will allow us to get a multilateral view of Serbia’s past, present and future – and its position in the region and the world.
Members from the Harvard Club of Serbia will join us after the panel for casual drinks at the hotel.
As you enter Bosnia & Herzegovina, you will have your first longer stop in Srebrenica. Known for one of the most publicized massacres to happen during the breakup of Yugoslavia, Srebrenica now has a memorial center and museum. Here, we will hear the personal story of one of the survivors and current memorial center custodian. While versions of events and reasons for them are still somewhat disputed by the belligerents – everyone agrees that one of the worst war crimes of the Yugoslav civil war took place here. The event is also symbolic of the powerlessness, indecision or lack of will of the international community to act.
In the evening, we will arrive in Sarajevo and have a free evening and dinner at the hotel.
Upon waking up, we will visit the unique city of Sarajevo. Much like Belgrade, Sarajevo also bears the scars but also the beauty of a tumultuous and rich history. The city is nestled among rolling green hills and mountains. With such a rich and multicultural past, Sarajevo is known as the Jerusalem of this part of the world.
Despite its scars, Sarajevo is a city where the inhabitants’ “Sarajevan” identity trumps most other allegiances (national, religious or political) – and so it’s not uncommon to see Muslim, Christian and Jewish children intermingling and celebrating each other’s holidays together. Indeed, you will witness an eclectic mix of architectural styles and cultures as you walk though the city.
You will first visit one of the iconic parts of Sarajevo, Bascarsija, an important reminder of the city’s Ottoman heritage and the city’s historical center. The bazaar and the city center are filled with carefree Sarajevans having typical Bosnian (or Turkish) coffee.
Along the tour, you will see the Skenderija Bridge – designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel. You will also see the Latin Bridge from Ottoman times, at the end of which are immortalized footsteps at the exact location where Gavrilo Princip stood as he took the shots that ended Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s life and catapulted Europe into the First World War.
Moving on to more recent history, and the 4-year siege of Sarajevo during the breakup of Yugoslavia, you will find out how the city and its residents survived, by visiting the Tunnel of Hope and talking to the locals that endured that painful period.
Past treks have rated the food in Sarajevo as being the best – and with good reason. Being such a cultural melting pot gives Sarajevo’s food a particular authenticity and style. Needless to say, beyond our set lunches and dinners – you are encouraged to venture out on your own to find the best “cevapcici” or “burek” in town.
In the evening, it will be time to host our second discussion panel, this time including leaders of political, social and economic life in Sarajevo. This panel is typically more engaged than the first one – as participants have already started getting acclimatized to the region and comfortable asking questions.
On our way to Zagreb, we will stop by Banja Luka – the capital of Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia & Herzegovina) and BiH’s second largest city. Banja Luka is a beautiful and very green city located in a heavily wooded area of the country, and whose history dates back to ancient times with a significant Roman influence. As is the case with other major settlements in the region, Banja Luka also saw its share of interethnic strife and senseless destruction, but also peaceful coexistence and collaboration throughout its long history. We will be welcomed to the city by a government official of Republika Srpska that will give brief presentation, before we continue to Zagreb.
In the evening, we will reach Croatia’s capital – Zagreb. Visibly different in feel and architectural style than Belgrade or Sarajevo, Zagreb feels a lot more Central European. Once you check-in to the hotel – you will have a free evening to explore the city.
First up is a guided tour of Zagreb. The city center is split into the Upper town and Lower town – which meet in city’s main square, the Ban Jelacic Square. You will walk around the famous Tkalciceva Street, which is full of trendy cafés and shops. One of the main attractions in Zagreb is the striking St Mark’s Church, which can be easily discerned by its multicolor tiled roof depicting the coat of arms of Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia and the city of Zagreb. Inside is equality beautiful, with sculptures by one of Yugoslavia’s most renowned sculptors Ivan Mestrovic (the same sculptor that created The Victor statue in Belgrade) and frescoes by Jozo Kljakovic.
We will then take a look at the ancient Zagreb Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century (built on top of an even older building destroyed in the 1200s), but has been drastically altered and remodeled over the years. The tour will take you by the Stone Gate – one of five original city gates that dating back to the 13th century.
Zagreb is very well known for its numerous museums, which you will be able to visit in your free time. This includes the quirky Museum of Broken Relationships, but also more traditional ones like the Museum of Naïve Art and the Mestrovic Museum.
In the afternoon, we will host our final panel of the trek to understand the Croatian perspective of where the region and the country have been, where they are currently and where they are heading. Having a panel in each of the three of the most prominent conflicted entities during the civil war, will allow us to gain a multilateral insight into the conflict and how reconciliation can take place.
Now that we’ve had our fix of politics, it’s time to travel to the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park. One of Croatia’s best-known tourist attractions – the lakes sprawl over two areas: the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. Pristine turquoise waters surrounded by lush vegetation and scored by the murmur of waterfalls is a feast for the senses.
The region where the Plitvice Lakes are located is called Lika – and is the birthplace of many world-famous people, most notably Nikola Tesla. After visit to the Lakes, which typically lasts several hours – we will indulge in a typical lunch in an ethno restaurant specialized in food and culture from Lika.
Later in the afternoon, we will travel to UNESCO Heritage city of Trogir, just outside Split, where we will spend the night.
After brief free time to visit Split in the morning, we will continue our trip to Mostar. This little town is world-renowned for its Old Bridge, which was destroyed in the war, but has since been rebuilt. The bridge is symbolic both of the ethnic tension that existed and still exists to a degree in the city, but also of the collaboration and coexistence that has been the norm for Mostar for much longer than conflict has.
Capture beautiful photos of the Old Bridge and maybe even slip a tip to one of the few brave young men that stand on the edge of the bridge ready to jump into the river below for your entertainment. This tradition goes back many decades if not centuries, where young men would dive off the Old Bridge in an attempt to impress ladies whose hearts they sought to conquer.
We will pass by Mostar’s bazaar, which is one of the several notable remainders of the city’s Ottoman heritage.
In the evening we will make the short trip to the iconic Pearl of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik (also known as King’s Landing for all y’all Game of Thrones fans out there).
In the morning we will have a guided tour of Dubrovnik, one of the best known and most popular tourist destinations in the world. Before becoming part of Croatia, Dubrovnik was for centuries its own Republic – the Republic of Ragusa. It was known for being tremendously progressive, and what the Republic lacked in military strength, it made up for in its knack for diplomacy and international trade.