Sept. 30 -Oct. 1, 2015:
Today we left Sarajevo under cloudy skies and rain. We drove to the far northeastern corner of Bosnia, in which has been created an autonomous province called the Republika Srpska (RS), populated mainly be Bosnian Serbs. Although we were somewhat relieved to be leaving Sarajevo with its omnipresent reminders of war, a dark cloud seemed to persist over us as we drove through countryside which saw some of the worst fighting and ethnic cleansing campaigns during the war. We drove by countless homes still bearing signs of shelling, including whole villages that were abandoned, and field after field filled with simple white wooden grave markers.
Although I’ve tried to remain impartial about this war, I can tell you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic to be stopping for lunch in the RS. It didn’t help that after enjoying the modern amenities Sarajevo has to offer, the place we stopped for lunch looked like a medieval town, and the children’s play area had a mock guillotine for the children to “play” with! Even the food was unappetizing, and the poor animals looked to be maltreated.
Finally, we crossed the border back into the northern part of Croatia, and Jim and I literally felt like a stone was lifted from our chests. Weirdly, as soon as we crossed, the sun came out and there were blue skies everywhere. Even the roadside scenery and the quality of the roads got better. This area is known as Slavonia, and it is home to many crops, especially peppers, wheat, alfalfa, oats, barley, corn, sunflowers, and wine, as well as dairy and beef and pork. Grapes for wine have been produced here from the 3rd century BC. This area is known as the Provence of Croatia. Walnuts, apples, apricots, quince, cherries, pears, chestnuts and hazelnuts are also produced here, including the hazelnuts used in Nutella production!
This region/ county of Croatia is called Baranija, and its inhabitants are happy to be the breadbasket of Croatia, although life is very hard for the farmers here. Entry into the European Union has had a tangible negative economic effect on these farming families, particularly since the largest customer for their agricultural production is the company which operates the largest chain of supermarkets in Croatia, the Konzum chain, and which enjoys a virtual monopoly on the entire agricultural chain of supply here.
We stayed at a guest house of the family Skepje in the town of Karanac (pronounced car ran natz), which is also a small family farm. We’re in the upper north east part of Croatia near the Serbian border.
Upon arrival, our wonderful hostess met us in the courtyard with a shot of cherry brandy and some freshly made jelly donuts, which were like puffy clouds of dough dusted lightly with powdered sugar with a dollop of homemade apricot or plum jam on top. YUM!
After settling in, we took a tour of the the farmstead, and enjoyed the setting sun sitting outside our rooms looking into the courtyard. Then we went to dinner at a local restaurant and were serenaded by the band, so we just HAD to get up for a dance!
The next morning, we got ready to learn about a day in the life of a Karanac farm family. We started by walking to the community center, where we met with a young woman whose family is in the dairy business. She told us about how life had changed since Croatia entered the European Union. Mostly, it’s about having a LOT more regulations and paperwork. Then we went to visit an elementary school. As you might imagine, there are very few children left because as young people get to working age, they mostly leave the country to go get a job in the city. Interestingly, many of the children in this school are foster children who have been taken in by local families. They were all very curious about us strange Americans and had lots of questions, and we had a fun time with them.
After we left the kids, we went to the biggest winery in the area, Vina Belje, to see their fields and do a little wine tasting. As in very little; we tasted only 1 wine, which was their version of the popular local white wine–Malvasije. One f the cool things about this town is how close nature is. One example of this was that we saw a stork’s nest on a chimney.
Then it was off to lunch with a local family. They weren’t in the farming business per se, but like most of the families in this area, they supplement their income by selling locally produced farm products. The family we visited grew many different types of peppers, which they made into paprika, dried peppers and canned goods. Our hostess made us yummy stuffed peppers and a killer cake thin layered chocolate cake for dessert. Full and happy, we waddled off to the bus for our drive to the Croatian capital, Zagreb.
Along the road, we stopped in the town of Jasenovac. Sadly, the one thing this town is widely known for was that it was the site of one of the worst death camps in Croatia during WWII. As I told you in yesterday’s post, unfortunately, during the war, the puppet government in Croatia, the Ustaše, mostly targeted Serbians in their ethnic cleansing campaign. There is now a museum dedicated to the war dead. Then, it was on to Zagreb.