We spent our first full day in Sarajevo yesterday. Our morning tour took us to the heart of the oldest part of the city and we got an overview of the city's rich history and saw firsthand the places that became infamous during the civil war of the 90s -sniper alley, the old brewery situated over stores of fresh water where people braved snipers to fill containers with the only available water. The city was completely cut off from the most basic supplies during the three year siege.
Jeff being interviewed on TV
On stage at Army Hall
Downtown was filled with people - mainly tourists, we were told. Sarajevo is reminiscent in some ways to the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A city nestled in a valley surrounded by beautiful green mountains. The population is estimated at 400,000 but no one is quite sure since there hasn't been an official census in over 20 years. Prior to our morning tour, Jeff and I went downtown with Dragana for another morning television interview, this time with the conductor of our host choirs for last night's concert. It was a benefit concert in support of a local orphanage. Choir members donated funds and Jeff and I were able to purchase a new computer to present at the concert. The American ambassador was in attendance. Each choir sang a program on its own before joining together to sing My Lord What a Morning and a traditional Bosnian song. By the end, the audience was singing too - everyone was on their feet. A wonderful musical and personal exchange. The concert was held in the Army Hall in the old part of the city.
In a few hours we will head to Zenica for a joint concert with the Zenica Youth Choir.
A LONG day... arrived in Sarajevo at about 8 p.m. (three hours behind schedule). Spectacular scenery, with hour after hour (after hour) of severely winding mountain roads. Gorgeous, and happily, Singing City members do not get bus sick (hehe). We stopped someplace in Bosnia for a massive lunch (roast lamb and veal, potatoes, great salad, beer). Border crossings were nuts.... huge wait to leave Serbia, turning in passports, etc.... then a 2nd huge wait to get into Bosnia, again, turning in passports. Once in Bosnia, we began to see signs of the war... bullet holes in countless buildings, bombed out shells of buildings, etc. Clearly Bosnia is in worse shape financially than Serbia (which is hardly strong, to be quite honest). I believe that unemployment is something like 40% here.
Backing up... yesterday in Belgrade.... amazing. I appeared on live national TV in the morning with a real blond Serbian bombshell interviewer. Was fun. Our concert in the evening... unbelievable. Packed to the rafters and, since it was Serbian Orthodox, no chairs. Our audience STOOD in the incredible heat for the entire concert. The church was visually and acoustically breathtaking.... so inspiring. We were hosted by the Belgrade Choral Society, which was founded mid 19th century. Their choir members cooked all day for our post concert reception in the parish house of the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church (big time, for sure!)
The choir nailed the concert, truly.... I was so pleased and honestly, it was the best jet lagged choir I've ever had the pleasure to conduct! The audience went nuts, especially over our attempts at singing in Serbian.
The reception.... well!!! Loads of Serbian Rakia (plum brandy) and, I mean loads.... I survived one shot of the stuff with the head priest then escaped to Serbian red wine... kind of a soft, semi dry and quite drinkable wine! Then they brought out platters of roast fish, salads, bread, etc.... great. One by one, choir members hit a wall, thanks to the Rakia (geez, what lack of discpline!) At 11:30 I left with a small group of wimps... we did stop for amazing Serbian ice cream en route to the hotel. Others went out on the town, visiting the Bohemiam quarter, hearing live music, etc.
So, now, Bosnia... seems to be mostly Muslim now and in the countryside at least, very poor. Sarajevo still shows loads of war damage, though our hotel is located on the outskirts, in a newly built area.... BMW dealer and a McDonalds right next door. So, somebody has money and I suppose McDonalds is a symbol of success.... The hotel is quite modern, filled with Muslim tourists.
I'm waiting for a meeting with the choir director whose choir we meet tomorrow... then another live TV appearance in the morning. I'll be the most wrinkled guest, that's for sure!!
ANYWAY.... that's it from Bosnia.... and oh yes.... Happy 4th of July!
We arrived in Belgrade yesterday afternoon after a long, but uneventful, journey from Philadelphia via Franfurt. We were greeted at the airport by Dragsna, our courier for the trip. We did not waste any time. Upon leaving the airport the coach stopped to pick up our two tour guides for the afternoon. In spite of blistering heat, we walked to a famous fortress in the middle of the city and spent time learning about its long and troubled history. We also visited a massive and beautiful, though unfinished, church.
After checking into the Hotel Moscow and taking much needed showers, we ate a fantastic meal chockfull of local favorites at Opera restaurant, conveniently located a few blocks from our hotel.
A weary and well-fed choir made its way back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. Today has been a day of leisure - still very hot - but much to explore. Jeff and I went with Dragana to the local television station for an interview. We were on a poplular morning show talking about Singing City and our concert tonight in Belgrade. TV is really not at all intimidating, especially when you don't speak the language!
A couple of blocks from the hotel is a wonderful outdoor farmer's market. Stall after stall of beautiful fruits and vegetables, costing far less than what we pay in the States.
Look for more posts - we are excited about our first concert tonight, hosted by a local choral organization. I'm told they are all at home preparing an after-concert reception for us. Tomorrow we will spend a good part of the day traveling by bus to Sarajevo. I'll post again as soon as I can.
Singing City arrived in Belgrade Monday afternoon July 2, safe and sound and a little weary from our two flights! From the airport we went directly into a 3 hour long city tour. Whew! I'm not sure whether anything could have prepared us for Belgrade's sights or the vastly complicated history of this city and the region. Our guide pointed out that Belgrade was severely bombed four times in the 20th century, surely something of a record. Sitting as it does at the confluence of the Danube and Salva rivers, it is directly in the path between central Europe and Turkey... one begins to understand why this has been the site of so many invasions, so much violence over the centuries.
In spirte of everyone's physical state, we managed to soak up the bus tour and the two walking tours - first visiting the enormous unfinished Orthodox Cathedral, then a second walking tour through the pedestrian zone and up to the ancient fortress that overlooks the Danube. Quite amazing, really. And, yes, it is very hot here!! Somehow, seeing the temperatures advertised while in Philadelphia didn't quite begin to capture the intensity of the sunlight here in Belgrade.
Our guide was a charming young man who was a college student at the outbreak of the civil war. When asked how people of the region felt about Americans I felt he was dipolmatically evasive.... in a nutshell, he expressed that the Serbs had been promised one thing by NATO and the US but at the end, did not get what they were promised. He expressed that many here were angry at the bombardment of the city by NATO and the US, with extra anger reserved for Secretary of State Albright. Well, we'll see what we glean over the coming days.
As to our reception, everyone has been charming and friendly. We have learned that we are only the 2nd American choir to visit Belgrade... and the first to go to Saraajevo.
This morning Lauren Anderson and I had the pleasure of appearing LIVE on Serbian national TV. Wow... I don't think we bombed, but it sure was interesting! Tonight is our first concert, hosted by the Belgrade Choral Society (its members are hard at work cooking the post-concert dinner as I write this!!) More on that later.