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Lost Port-of-Call

Lately I’ve been thinking about Yugoslavia…and missed opportunities. If you’re wondering why this post features a picture of Venice (which was never, of course, in Yugoslavia), that’s part of the story, too.

Sometime around 1991-92, my grandmother decided she wanted to take the family on a vacation, and – since she was nearing the end of her traveling days – she wanted to go somewhere she’d never been before. This was a bit of a challenge, as she had already been around the world a few times. She settled on a cruise in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea: Venice, Greece, Istanbul, Odessa. The ship would also stop along the coast of Yugoslavia for a visit to Sarajevo.

But trouble was brewing in Yugoslavia. Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence in June 1991. Bosnia-Herzegovina made its move for independence in the spring of 1992. In short order, a bloody war was raging, one that would be marked by genocide and other unspeakable atrocities. By the summer of 1992, Sarajevo was under siege (and would remain so for almost 4 years).

Sometime before our August 1992 departure, we received a perfunctory notice from the cruise line that Sarajevo had been removed from the itinerary.

Even without Sarajevo, it was really quite an extraordinary list of destinations for a 13-year-old (me) on her first trip to Europe. Starting with Venice, the entire trip made a lasting impression on me. But over the next four years, as we watched news accounts of Yugoslavia being torn apart and reduced to rubble, we couldn’t help but think how close we had come to seeing it, before everything fell apart.

Humans’ capacity for destruction is, fortunately, matched by our capacity for rebuilding. In the twenty-plus years since the war ended, the former pieces of Yugoslavia (now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and sort of Kosovo (it’s still complicated)) have put themselves back together (independently, of course). The cities have been reconstructed and restored. The landscape has regrown. The Rick Steves guidebook for Croatia and Slovenia is already in its 7th edition. Several of the countries are frequently at the top of “must see” destination lists. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, in particular, is renowned for being a beautiful and, ironically, peaceful vacation spot.

Not all signs of the war have been erased. The guidebooks warn against walking through fields in certain areas, as land mines may still be present.

What lessons can we take from this long-ago lost port-of-call? Seize the opportunities you’re given to explore the world. And if you miss your chance, hope for peace and give it time. A phoenix rising from the ashes could be the mascot of every corner of the world at one time or another.

I can’t include a picture of Sarajevo with this post because Venice is still the closest I’ve gotten to it. It may be time to make the trip at last.

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