Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina have a small corridor of land linking to the ocean, and we crossed that on our way to Sarajevo, meaning we actually returned briefly to Croatia before making our third and final crossing for the day! Some minor drama with people hitching across, and we turned inland, winding up a valley surrounded by mountains.

During a brief stop at Mostar, the Belgian hiker W gave us a quick run down about landmines in the region. Apparently they were sown along the lines and thus mark the ethnic divisions pretty accurately.

Arriving in Sarajevo we sussed out the train station, then walked into town and met our CSer O, who owns the oldest bar in Sarajevo.

O told us that during the 1300 day siege of Sarajevo (nearly a year longer than in St Petersburg during WWII), the only way into the city was through a tunnel under the airport. Alcohol was extremely hard to come by, and he opened a bar overlooking the front with a single bottle of cognac. 3 years later the war ended, 4 years after that he no longer ran the only club in Sarajevo, and 7 years after that the front his club had faced was declared 98% mine free. O bought a block of land and started building a house. Since then he has found only 3 more mines during earthworks...

(We later found that in the coastal village of Zadar, locals have been removing warning signs as they frighten away tourists.)

Three years after that we left his bar at 2am and sped up the mountain to see the incredible house he was building there. Three floors, rough hewn timber members, heat insulation, unmortared brick floor, heaps of space, outdoor eating area, and the great view the Serbs had over the city for four years as they failed to capture it.

Next morning O made us an awesome breakfast before we walked to a nearby destroyed fort surrounded by uncleared mines and inhabited by a herd of goats. O told us the standard procedure if you find an unexploded mine; hide it on the enemies' position... He also told us the Bosnian technique for surviving winter with only a single bag of coal. Three times a day, pick up the bag and carry it around the yard.

Fortified by a lunch of cevapi, we explored the old town, a mix of Ottoman and Christian styled single story shops, interspersed with (drinkable) fountains, mosques, and "Sarajevo stars" caused by exploding shrapnel.

We also visited the Latin bridge, from which Franz Ferdinand (and his wife) was shot and the first world war started nearly 100 years ago.

We returned to O's club, outside which he parks his car unlocked, and said our farewells. A short (45 minute) walk across town via a bakery to the station. In the foyer we met B and L, two sisters from England with backpacks and seeping paranoia.

An experienced traveller at their hostel told them to expect pickpockets, cutthroats, corrupt police and harassment on any international overnight service. We teamed up to occupy a 6 person couchette compartment, and spent much of the evening swapping stories and Bosnian/Turkish sweets. I leveraged my enthusiasm for trains to optimize the functionality of the folding seats, and with no additional drama we crossed the border only two hours behind schedule at 3am.

UPDATE: Photos.

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