On the road again – Bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo

We are off to a good start for our trip to Sarajevo. Not only did we reach the coach in good time, we also managed to sit in the correct seats, quite by accident. It was not until a lady got on and sat by a stranger in the near empty bus, that it occurred to us that seating was designated, and we thought to check our ticket. It is written in Cyrillic, so it is no easy task to interpret the information, and even such a small thing as understanding that you have a seat allocation, and you didn’t screw up where you sat, becomes a thrill when one is travelling.

Buses for all around Serbia and places beyond are pulling into the bus depot.I don’t take note of how many bays there are, at least thirty I would guess.  We back out of our bay exactly at 8am – after triple checking we are on the correct bus of course!

An hour and twenty down the road and we are back in Sabac.  I have the feeling we are going around in circles.  It was on account of having to return the hire car that we had tracked back to Belgrade the day before.  No wonder the countryside seems so flat and filled with corn fields.  It is the same country I have been looking at, back and forth between Belgrade and Sabac!

By three hours into the trip we can see hills to the left and ahead of us.  We pass abandoned factories and wind through small villages on a narrow bumpy road, travelling around 40klm/hour. A horse drawn cart loaded with hay crosses the road in front of us.

Was that a horse and cart that just cut us off?

Was that a horse and cart that just cut us off?

My eyes are stinging with cigarette smoke.  The driver has been puffing away steadily and I am only two rows behind him.  Everyone smokes here.  Constantly. The other day a waiter apologised that our table was missing an ashtray.

We are now following the single line train track.  A local farmer stands on it while staring at us driving past.  He has a pitchfork over his shoulder and looks in no hurry. Guess there really is no train.  But there are still plenty of cornfields, just smaller plots as this is hilly country.  Reminds me of all the polenta I used to eat in Yugoslavia.  I hate polenta.  Now it has become something they serve in fancy restaurants in Australia just to look different. Then I think of the first glass of rakija I ever tasted.  It was made of corn stalks and was served to me warm from the still that was chugging away in the farmyard.  Every drop of it stung and burned all the way to my stomach.  I sculled it in one go and put my empty schnapps glass on the table.  It was promptly refilled and I was forced to drink a second glass in order not to offend.  I never let go of my empty glass for the rest of the visit.  I learnt that putting a glass down empty was an invitation to the host to refill it.

A glimpse of the River Drina from the bus

A glimpse of the River Drina from the bus

At 11.30am we reach the river Drina.  (I really should get on and read Ivo Andric’ book.  I bought an easier read onto the bus but have already discarded it as not worth the paper it was written on).  The border guard gets on the bus and takes our passports.  They are returned about fifteen minutes later and we drive across the bridge and pull up at the Bosnia-Hercegovina checkpoint.  Another border guard gets on an takes our passports.  His pistol taps against the seats as he slides his bulk down the narrow aisle way.  Sometime later our passports are returned. We have a stamp!  It seems we are in a place called Karakaj.  Bill is miffed that they do not stamp in an orderly fashion, starting at page one.  Bill is a Virgo, he likes things to be just so.  I laugh at him.

“They just stamp wherever the passport falls open.” I tell him.
“Yeah, well.  What about when you have to find the stamp in a hurry?”
“That’s our responsibility.” I answer.
Bill is still grumbling as he goes back to his book.  He has started on ‘Nor the Years Condemn‘ , the book I didn’t post in Sabac. Jay is still recovering from the fright I gave her that I even thought of doing so.
It has taken us half an hour to move forward a kilometre and now the driver pulls into a petrol station.  The bus fills with the smell of benzine.  Then it fills with the smell of cigarette smoke. The driver has lit up again.
Moments later we pull into a coach bay to take on more passengers.  The driver calls a five minute toilet break.  As we get off the bus, Waddy jokes to me that it may be an experience. – Sure was!  Squat toilet.  First one of this trip.
Now the river Drina is to our left, wide, emerald green and fast flowing.  Even this part of Europe has had exceptional rain. A pretty village clings in a single line to its banks. The church has a tall, slim, minaret tower, shining white under a cloudless blue sky.  Shortly after, there is an orthodox church.  The mountains reach straight down to the river.  The bus drives through one short tunnel after another.  This is pretty country, and it arrived so suddenly after the border.
Another view if the River Drina

Another view if the River Drina

All along this part of the route, there are half completed houses, often just a two storey structure of rough brick and a concrete floor, waiting for windows, doors, and cement rendering.  It is hard for us to tell whether they were damaged in the war and are being rebuilt, or whether they are new constructions being erected as money permits.  Often in this areas people work abroad and send money home for house building.  There is only one house that we can certainly identify as riddled with bullet and shell holes.  Others are scrawled with graffiti , but we cannot understand whether the message is political or vandalism.
The bus is climbing steadily now, reaching higher into the mountains.  We try to snap a few shots for the record. We just passed a sign saying ‘ski centre Igrista”.  We have not noticed any warning signs advising drivers to use ski chains in winter, but it would be necessary.  The road is steep, narrow and windy, with no margin for error.  The hillsides are heavily wooded, with occasional glimpses of villages on a distant ridge.
We stop at the top of the mountain for a brief sandwich lunch and a chance to refill our water bottles from an ice-cold fresh spring.  The air is refreshingly cooler than anything we experienced in Serbia.  As we descend the other side of the mountain we are surprised to find ourselves in dairy meadows.  Here and there Jersey cows lie on the side of the road. Jay wants to break into a rendition of “the hills are alive with the sound of music.”  I don’t encourage her.
Bosnian mountain scenery

Bosnian mountain scenery

Dairy meadows of Bosnia

Dairy meadows of Bosnia

People have been getting off the coach for some time now.  The bus pulls off to the side of the road and locals dismount and disappear to who knows where.  A huge man gets on and sits just behind the driver, where no-one else has been allowed to sit.  He seems to be a work colleague. He talks loudly and non-stop for the next hour or so.  His voice is in the back of my dreams as I snooze a little.

Finally we are in the hills above Sarajevo.  It is a large city, much larger than I expected, and it sprawls across a valley far below us.  We pass a few houses with their rears blown out and charred roof timbers, and then a large cemetery of white crosses.  Other signs of the siege (1992-1996?) are not obvious.

The bus winds around back areas of Sarajevo and more people get off until there are only a handful of us left when in pulls into the bus depot in the Serbian part of town.  A line of cabs is waiting to meet us.  We jump into a Mercedes – I am not saying a new one mind you.  There is no air conditioning and the window handle is missing from Bill’s door, but after eight hours on the bus, we just want to get to our hotel.  We drive back in the direction we have just come, fifteen kilometres towards the Moslem section.  The driver points out things to us as we go, for example, the border between the Serbian and Moslem section.  He tells us he was forced to fight against his will, but does not tell us in which capacity.  Our hotel is in the picturesque old part of town, and he leaves us at the wrong end of the street.  We have to drag our suitcases about ten minutes, (cursing that we gave him a tip) and then find the hotel has no lift, so we have to drag them up the stairs as well.  It is no mind, the room is clean and modern.

We are in the Bascarsija area.  A lively part of town, with stall holders and restaurants that look as if they have dropped straight out of Turkey.  We notice men smoking hookahs.  Some women are veiled, but most are not.  We cannot get an alcoholic drink in the immediate street that leads down to a mosque, but we can a short walk around the corner.  Sarajevo is a city of contrasts, and we enjoy our brief introduction.  We look forward to knowing more of it tomorrow.

Thursday 19th June, Garrulous Gwendoline, Sarajevo, Bosnia.

2 thoughts on “On the road again – Bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo

  1. Pingback: “The Good Life” Episode 4 – The Importance of Volunteering | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Pingback: Getting Back to Where I Once Belonged . . . | The Reluctant Retiree

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