Saturday, April 30, 2016


I have mentioned the drive from Sarajevo to Medjugorje through the mountains and quite stunning scenery, especially as some of the higher mountains in the distance are snow capped.  I should also mention something about religion as it plays such a major part of life in this country. Perhaps I should say 'strife' as well as 'life'.

En route I noticed that for the greater part of the journey there were little villages, one after the other and in each village was a mosque with no sign of a church of any kind. Then as you near the city of Mostar you start to see churches, usually Roman Catholic. I asked Tomo about that and said that 90% of the residents of those first villages are Muslim but when you get near Mostar and onto little villages like Medjugorje they become Christian (mainly Catholic) areas.

Bosnia  and Herzegovina is 40% Muslim thus is a predominantly Muslim country. The next in line at 31% are the Eastern Orthodox Christians who are mainly Serbs and trailing along at the end at 15% are the Catholics who are usually Croats (as is Tomo).

The complexity of these groups living under the one roof, as it were, is too much to write about here but I have read books which describe the tensions that date back for many centuries and which every now and then come to the surface. And some. The Bosnian war was said to have been one of the worst the 20th century could throw up. Now there is an uneasy peace but that's better than nothing.

Which brings me to Medjugorje, this little fiercely Catholic enclave encased in a Muslim country and so close to a predominantly Muslim region.

It is true that there a far too many tacky shops selling religious items. Dozens and dozens of them. But you have to understand that these people are very poor. Indeed the whole country is hopelessly poor and the phenomenon of the apparitions and all that goes with it has at least brought a little prosperity to the place. And if you're here to try to understand what is going on, you rise above the commercialism and either accept or reject what they say has been happening.  This is just one street with its souvenir shops but there are lots more and they all seem to be selling the same items.

I mentioned Vicka (pronounced Veetska) yesterday. I didn't actually get to see her. I took a taxi to where she was doing her talk and spent some two hours listening to hundreds of Italians praying and singing in their own language and eventually gave up, as by that time Vicka hadn't appeared. I had been informed by my hotel reception that there would be an English interpreter. Alas not.

I also mentioned a sixteen year old girl called Marjana (pronounced Mariana). She is now 51. She says she had daily apparitions from 24 June 1981 until 25 December 1982; after that on her birthday, 18 March each year and since 02 August 1987 on the second day of every month. These are held in public and I am looking forward to being among the throng of Italians and others who'll be there on Monday 02 May. I'm told that the crowd will be enormous and there's lots of pushing and shoving but hopefully I'll survive.

They certainly take their religion seriously here. Most of the large hotels even have their own chapel. This is the one in the basement of mine:

In addition they all have icons, pictures, statues and so on dotted around the place, just in case you forget what you're doing here.

Speaking of taking their religion seriously St James church in the centre of the village, which was first dedicated on 19 January 1969 and was meant to serve the few hundred parishioners who lived in the village has been extended...and extended...and extended so that it still looks the same from the front but its outdoor area can seat hundreds if not thousands for Mass. And, wait for it, in the grounds is a row of 64 confessionals catering to just about every major language on earth. You look at a little sign on the front of the cubicle that says the language or languages the priest speaks and in you go. It's quite extraordinary. You see queues of people for each one. This, at a time, at least in Australia when Catholics hardly go at all.

The initial apparitions I have talked about took place on what is now called in English, Apparition Hill. I think it is misnamed and should have the appellation Apparition Mountain. And not just your run of the mill mountain.  There are no pathways as such because the 'hill' is made up of a gazillion rocks. It is quite treacherous trying to walk on them and not fall over. Yet you see old people (i.e. people even older than me), people with canes, people using walking frames and even some in wheelchairs. Where the earlier apparitions took place is marked with crosses and statues. Here are some:

People stumble up this rocky mountain high, sometimes taking hours, to pray in front of one of the crosses or statues.

I tell you all this, dear reader, simply to emphasise just how fascinating this little village of just 2,000 permanent residents is.

It is absolutely extraordinary.

Friday, April 29, 2016


I enjoyed my one night in Dubai. Although I don't drink much these days I do like to sit at a bar when I do have a drink and I did so at my hotel. I struck up a conversation with a guy called "Keith" who turned out to be on leave from a  contract job in Afghanistan. We had a very interesting conversation as you can well imagine. He is English, from Telford if I recall, his old life just slightly different from dodging bullets in Afghanistan. And he did say there was 'incoming' about once a week.

Leaving Dubai was an experience. I can't recall so much security. At every turn it seemed you had to go through some form of security or another, even taking off your belt, your watch and anything else that might go 'ping'. I hurried through before they asked me to remove my Y-fronts.

I was a little apprehensive about travelling with FlyDubai. I had read so much negative stuff about them. But they were just great. A man was taken ill on board and had to be deplaned, then they had to find and remove his and his wife's luggage. All in all it cost us 90 minutes delay but I was quite impressed at how well the crew handled it. They were very caring and attentive.

Well, arriving at Sarajevo International Airport couldn't be more different than my experience of Dubai. The plane landed, the doors were opened almost immediately and the luggage was taken off the plane in a matter of minutes. I estimate it took no more than five minutes to deplane, go through Immigration, collect our bags, pass through Customs and be on the road. It was quite extraordinary.

I was met by my driver, Tomislav ('Tomo' for short) a bit of a bruiser who spent 15 years of his life working as a bouncer. He has a 'proper job' but moonlights ferrying tourists between various airports and the hotel I'm staying in. I really liked him and we got on well which was good because the drive to the hotel took just under three hours. Accordingly, I had a grand tour of the Bosnia and Herzegovina countryside.  It really is a beautiful country. It is 80% mountains and virtually our entire journey was through mountain country. The country is poor, the housing not a good standard but if you look beyond to the hills, the river and so on it is all rather beautiful.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has the greatest number of unexploded landmines in the world but fortunately there are none around Medjugorje so once I settle into life here I will go on my long walks.

I don't think any place I've ever visited in the world ended up being quite what I had expected and Medjugorje certainly comes into that category. That is not to say I was disappointed at first impressions but it was not what I had envisioned. It is still a small village but it is a village which, since 24 June 1981 has had an estimated forty to fifty million visitors. I understand from Tomo that the permanent population is only about 2,000.

So what's it all about, really? I have spent hundreds of hours researching the phenomenon of Medjugorje, read various books, viewed several documentaries, a movie, dozens of YouTube videos and countless webpages of information and have my own beliefs about it but I am intent on keeping my two feet on the ground while I'm here. I'm not seeking to prove or disprove anything even if that were possible. So I'll just describe things as I see them.

A little historical narrative is called for though. On 24 June 1981 Ivanka Ivanovic, then 15 years old, and Mirjana Dragicevic, a 16 year old were together as always. Usually inseparable from them was Vicka Ivanovic, another 16 year old. Ivanka and Mirjana decided to collect Vicka and go for a walk but Vicka couldn't make it. The other two went off without her up the hill known as Crnica. At about 5:00 pm they were on their way down again. As they passed a place called Podbrdo, something made Ivanka look up. In the distance she could see a luminous shape, the shadowy figure of a young woman, apparently hovering same way off the ground. "Mirjana, look there, it's the Madonna" Ivanka said excitedly. Mirjana, though she could see that Ivanka had become pale with fright, refused to look where her friend was pointing. "Don't be idiotic," she said, "why on earth would the Madonna appear to us?" But the sight of Ivanka's face had scared her and both girls ran quickly back to the village.

Within the first three days (of these apparitions) some six children aged from 10 to 16 said they had apparitions of the Madonna. And they have continued to do so right up to the present time.

Tomorrow one of those 'visionaries' -- Vicka -- is giving a talk locally and I hope to be there. It won't be in English but I'm told by the hotel staff that there'll be interpreters.

More to follow.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


I know it's not an impressive shot but it's nonetheless an impressive building. A sort of Tower of Babel.

More photos to follow now the bugs have been annihilated.  Marvellous what a spray of Mortein can do.


Well Day One was not that eventful as the travelling part was only a few hours. However, I did get my first ride on a A380 which is somewhat memorable. I don't know why they call them aeroplanes -- they're more like flying buildings. Villages even. But despite their obesity they really aren't that much different from their smaller brethren. Unless you can afford Business Class you still have to travel like sardines, just in an oversized can. Giant economy size as it were.  I did manage an exit seat, silver tongued devil that I am but even so, I didn't get any sleep.  Just couldn't get comfortable. But I did manage to see quite a few good movies. The crew were good, though the service a little chaotic. I think that was because the company (Emirates) scrimps a bit on staff. They had an awful lot to do for all those hundreds of people but they did do it with good grace.

The plane dumped me at Dubai International at 5:20 in the morning, which leads me to Day Two.  What an airport! You have to take two trains, the second for some distance, just to get from your aircraft to Customs and baggage claim. The airport itself is as big as some countries I've visited. But it all runs very smoothly and I was through in no time.  Everyone I've come across or had anything to do with at all has been very friendly by the way.

Now staying at Holiday Inn Express Dubai Airport which, as its name suggests, is very close to the airport. It's nice enough as far as airport hotels go. I chose it because on my two overnight stops I'm not in Dubai for very long. I just wanted to get some sleep before continuing my journey in each direction.  Again, the old silver tongued devil managed to be allowed into his room at 8:00am when the check in time is 2:00pm. That was rather nice as I sure needed a shower and to clean my teeth. After 14 hours on the plane I felt as though green moss was growing on them. The minuscule toothpaste and brush were thrown in the bin. You'd need to be an under developed dwarf to be able to use it.

On this leg, I have some hours to spend in Dubai so I bought a day pass on the Metro system and took a long ride on it. Just about everywhere you go here you say (or at least think) Bloody hell!  The Metro system itself is fantastic. A la Singapore there's no eating, drinking or chewing gum so it's spotlessly clean. It runs efficiently and regularly and, of course, it's quick and it's cheaper than taxis. And the stations are something else, a masterpiece of design even to my unartistic eye. Speaking of design I love the architecture here. All very earthy, even the skyscrapers.

I didn't have all that much time so I got off at the station for both the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall.  I did take some shots but for some reason my tired brain won't let me in on, I can't upload them to this blog. I will continue working on it and hope to have photos next time. If not, you'll have to use your imagination.

The Burj Khalifa is said to be the world's tallest building. It must be because I almost strained my neck trying to get a picture of it.  I dearly wanted to take the lift up to the top but the cost, like the building, is astronomical, considering you are only paying to use a lift.

I don't usually check out malls but this one has to be seen to be believed. It's roughly the size of Tasmania and it is surrounded by a 'moat' that must be dozens of hectares. There is a huge fountain which lights up at night. I regret I won't get to see it.  There were even scuba divers there today. For what reason I don't know.  Inside the mall itself is a huge aquarium complete with sharks, manta rays and thousands of other sea creatures, an ice skating rink, a rainforest restaurant, waterfalls...nothing like any mall I've ever seen.

United Arab Emirates is such a fascinating country. I read recently where there is no real division between Shi'a and Sunni Muslim and it's apparently okay to deal with Jews providing you don't broadcast the fact!  The other unusual thing is, despite the fact it is an Arab country, Arabs make up only one-eighth of the population. While you do see quite a lot of chaps in white flowing dress and women with their faces covered, they are wildly outnumbered by foreigners. Of course there is a high population of South East Asians and people from the Indian subcontinent. Who else would lay bricks on a structure that is 160 storeys high. Someone has to get their hands dirty.

I wish I had more time here. There is so much more to see and do.