Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Monday, April 4, 2011


The bus from Dubrovnik crawled through the most spectacular countryside, starting with pristine coastlines to rugged mountains. One of the most confusing things about travelling through what was once Yugoslavia is the constant border checks and passport inspections as the independent countries carved out their territories. For example, the bus went through Croatia, then Bosnia, then Croatia again and then finally Bosnia - again. Confused? To make matters more complicated, there are Croatian Bosnians and Serbian Bosnians as well as Bosniacs. A lot to take in for a six hour bus trip.

As soon as we'd crossed into Bosnia (the second time) the mountains were as picturesque as anything you'd find in Switzerland but every now and then, the bus would pass signs of a country that was not long ago plunged into war. Houses remained destroyed and abandoned, graffiti reflected hatred towards Serbs, factories were still not repaired or rebuilt. It was as if the war had only finished last year - not fifteen years ago. I'm still not sure why the buildings are in disrepair and it's not the sort of subject I'd feel comfortable bringing up with people here, but I can only imagine it's because there's not enough money and resources to fix everything and also, I imagine it can't be too easy to just move back into your old house for fear it might still contain live explosives. 

I got to know a group of Spanish guys on the bus who were on their way to Mostar. I'm so unfamiliar with this part of the world and I feel a bit ignorant passing through such places without knowing anything about their cultural or historical significance. It looked like a beautiful place though. What would be really beautiful though, would be if the bus driver said, "right - we're going to stop somewhere that serves food and there's an ATM so you can withdraw local money.". No? OK. I'll just wait six hours until we get there. I could blame myself for not bringing Bosnian money with me but the fact is, in this part of the world you can't exchange money outside of the country's borders - so I had no choice but to starve. I'd really like to know where the Spanish guys got their sandwiches from though. 

Finally the bus arrived in the outskirts of Sarajevo and from what I could see, if the bus driver had asked if we wanted to turn around and go back to Dubrovnik, I would have agreed. The suburbs were nasty and delapidated. To make matters worse, the bus didn't go all the way into the city. It stopped at a suburb. "Is this it?" Before I knew it, I was put of the bus with my luggage, no local money and a group of child beggars pulling at my sleeve. Ah crap. I think I'm back in Morocco. I eventually found an ATM at the bus terminal and as one Bosnian mark is almost similar to one Australian or American dollar, I withdrew one hundred marks. I figured that'd be enough for two days. Only the machine spat out a 100 mark note. What the he'll was I supposed to do with that? No one would be able to change that. Showing that sort of money to someone in a shop or taxi is like pointing a gun to someone's head. You get the same reaction. 

I had a brilliant idea. The train station was next to the bus terminal and eventually I needed a train to get out of Sarajevo so I'll buy the ticket to Belgrade now. It was perfect. It cost about 35 marks and it meant I could take the tram into the city which couldn't have been any easier as I was at the end of the tram line which meant it wasn't crowded. I got off the tram right near my hotel and noticed how nice the city centre looked compared to that bombed out wasteland where the bus dropped me off. As soon as I checked in, I left my luggage in the room and went in search of......burek! 

I refer to this part of the world as burek territory. A burek is a type of greasy pie which usually contains meat but sometimes cheese, spinach or pumpkin. It can be found all over the Balkans but especially in places like Bosnia, Serbia and Albania. It's a great fast food meal but probably not very healthy. Typically, it was also the first thing (and last thing) I got my hands on in Sarajevo. I think I've now had enough bureks to last a lifetime but I've got a few more burek countries (Serbia and Macedonia) to go through yet. 

My first impression of Sarajevo was "it's nice but why did I book a hotel for two nights instead of one?" I could have easily seen the whole city in an evening and been on the Belgrade train the following morning. But the next morning walking around the city centre and especially around its old area, the city started to grow on me. It's surrounded by enormous mountains and the suburbs crawl up the mountains like vines. Also, it's predominantly Muslim so there are a lot of mosques, giving the city a kind of a look that's a cross between Switzerland and Syria. The people look very European on their way to the mosque, making it a unique place in the Islamic world where most believers are dark haired and of a darker complexion but here in Bosnia, most people are quite fair. Blond hair and blue eyes is not uncommon. 

In the end I was glad I booked the hotel for two nights as it's an excellent hotel with free wireless which meant I could catch up on a few things in the evening. I'm at a bit of a standstill as I get closer to the Middle East. The whole region is looking tense and one of my destinations is Syria, which is not looking good at present. I soon have to decide how and where I'm going to study Arabic as it's the next language on my list. The other language is Russian but I'm waiting for Russia to "thaw out" as it's still only April and temperatures are not much better than freezing at this moment. As I travel down south it gets warmer and so I must decide how to tackle the Arabic problem as I get closer. For now, I'll continue to enjoy the bureks as I make my way through the Balkans.

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