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.
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.
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.
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.