FRIDAY 2ND NOVEMBER 2012
MOSTAR TO SARAJEVO TO ZAGREB
Farewelled Dada‘s family early and joined the bus for Sarajevo at 7-45 am. Whilst waiting we had tea and a beggar sent her children to us for money. Unfortunately for them you have to be hard and not give as we have been told many such mothers belong to syndicates and they use the pleading eyes of the children to do the begging work. Apparently they can earn up to one hundred euro a day. A couple of locals we spoke to told us the beggars have a bad reputation as recently the council built apartments for them to live in and they sublet them. I suggested to a fellow traveller from the US that they looked like gypsies but I was soon informed they are Romas. Calling them gypsies in the US is politically incorrect.
My strategy when boarding a bus and I want the front seat (if there is no seat booking) is to stand at the front door even if it’s not open whilst Bev deals with the stowage of our bags under the coach. There is a charge for each bag. If there weren’t passengers would bring more than one bag, turning the coach line into a general carrier of freight. As soon as the driver opens the door of the bus I zot in and take up the front seats on the off side. This position allows me to get reasonably clear photographs of the scenery ahead and to the right. If the best scenery is on the driver’s side we sit behind him.
Today’s bus was special because the driver and attendant didn’t smoke and they were dressed in dark pinstriped suits and ties, very classy indeed.
In 1972 Bev and I drove the road we travelled today and we easily recognised a couple of spots as in my original diary I had detailed notes and sketches. I recognised a bridge near where I did an oil change on the Beetle and I distinctly remember the tunnels through the towering mountains. The trip was without doubt a nostalgic event for us.
I saw a train heading for Mostar which got me thinking that the woman at the bus station who told us yesterday there were no trains anymore may have told us this to keep us from going by train. She wanted us on the bus owned and run by the company she worked for.
As we approached Sarajevo the damage due to wartime shelling started to become obvious.
The bus arrived at Sarajevo around 11-30am. We checked our bags into the garderobe at the train station and went walking. At this stage we were not sure if we were going to stay overnight or continue to Zagreb. The best plan when undecided is to have something to eat, a cuppa and dwell on your next move. We searched high and low for a café and because we couldn’t find one not polluted with cigarette smoke we ended up going into a small convenience store and buying tomatoes, cheese, carrots, bananas, beer and bread and headed for the local park. The park was not the most appealing. There were no seats and the monuments were covered in graffiti and also it was beginning to rain. We went down a side street and took shelter under a deserted building and had lunch. Over lunch we worked out that the lane way running past the building was in a sniper’s line of fire. There were numerous bullet holes in the walls along the lane.
We bought the beer but didn’t have it until later on the train; we thought it inappropriate drinking beer in public view. A lot of people passed us while we were having lunch and not one smiled or acknowledged us.
After lunch we wandered around looking for something that might attract us into staying a night or two but nothing grabbed us so we decided to push on by train tonight. I know we sold Sarajevo short because talking with an American whilst waiting for the train he told us of some things that may have been interesting. It’s like this sometimes. You just want to keep moving and we were attracted to the prospect of an overnight train trip. Maybe another time for Sarajevo!
In 1972 Bev and I slept in the car in a carpark in Sarajevo so we can say we have stayed at least one night. In 1972 we arrived in Sarajevo in the dark and we couldn’t find anywhere to camp so we parked the Beetle discreetly between a wall and a van, laid the seats back and had a pretty reasonable night. Fortunately it was a public holiday so there were no cars in the carpark. When Bev needed a wee she was able to tuck in between the wall and the front of the Beetle with total privacy. I thought after Bev returned that I had a pretty adaptable girl as a travelling companion. Next morning the temperature was well below freezing and there were metre long icicles hanging from the guttering above us and the whole inside of the car was coated with ice. Condensation from our breath that had settled on the interior of the car had frozen and when it melted the inside of the car became very damp indeed. We drove out into the countryside from our carpark bivvy, made a fire and cooked porridge. I took wood for the fire from a nearby brush fence. As I said, it was well below freezing and so cold that the wet tea towel froze instantly while drying the porridge pot.
After our freezing breakfast we drove back into Sarajevo and visited the spot where the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in June 1914.
At the time of the assassination the region was wrought with tension. Alliances were drawn up whereby various countries would come to the aid of each other in the event of being attacked. Following the assassination of the archduke, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia because the gunman who actually fired the shots that killed the archduke and his wife was from Serbia. Once the Austrian-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia the full extent of the alliances became known. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were allies which meant that if any one of the three were attacked, the other two would come to their assistance. Britain, France and Russia had a similar agreement. In addition, Russia had an agreement with Serbia to come to its aid if attacked. Commonwealth countries came to the aid of Britain, Turkey sided with Germany and so the world was set ablaze. The outcomes of WW1 ran over into WW2 even though it was said at the end of WW1 it was the war to end all wars.
The assassin was a member of the Black Hand group. The reason he was successful was because the driver of the archduke’s car was not told there had been of an itinerary change so he continued on the scheduled route. When he was told, it meant stopping the car and reversing and it was during this operation that the gunman managed to fire the fatal shots.
The site where the archduke died was marked with a concrete plaque when we visited it in 1972. Today there is a wooden cross with an inscription ‘May peace reign’.
Because there were no maps of the city available at the bus or train station we really didn’t know where we were going. During our wanderings we came to the conclusion that Sarajevo must have been a grand place to live in years gone by. The following photographs show what I mean.
Eventually we burst into a newer part of the city. I was told that it is cheaper to build a new building than restore an old or damaged one. I suspect many of the damaged buildings will remain as they are until a development boom begins and that will no doubt have to be instigated by outside interests. There are however some new buildings and one in particular, the Avaz Twist Tower, is most impressive.
I see the modern buildings in Sarajevo today, especially the Twist Tower, as a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Near the glass towers we stumbled across a modern shopping centre but before I take you there I want to share with you a few street images.
The above photograph is no masterpiece. I have only included it because there is a message. Look at the passive smoking baby. The smoke was coming from dad’s cigarette. I know I have been going on about smokers but I find it impossible to understand why people go to great lengths with regards their personal grooming and what they eat but they continue to smoke.
However I have to be tolerant as I know people in the countries we have passed through so far have been subjected to incredible hardships and smoking is one of their releases from the trauma of the past, but exposing babies like this is something different. During the Balkans war in the 1990s soldiers were paid with cigarettes rather than money so maybe the high proportion of smokers in these countries is a legacy of being paid in cigarettes. The tobacco companies must be rubbing their hands together with glee.
After taking afternoon tea in the shopping centre we returned to the railway station for a five hour wait before boarding the overnight train for Zagreb.
Whilst waiting I decided to go up one floor and take a photo but when I leant over the handrail to take it a security guard spotted me and the next thing I knew I was being interrogated by two of them as to why I was taking photographs of the station. I showed them the image on my camera and when they saw it was a close-cropped shot of Bev, not of the station waiting area, they approved. I now realise if you take a shot like the one tonight it’s best to take two then you can erase one as a gesture of goodwill and you still have the second as a record.
About a half hour before departure time (9.45pm) we made our way to the train and established our territory in a six seat compartment. I stood our bags vertical on the seats, rolled up a jumper to look like a head and put my hat on top to make the bag look like a person sitting in a seat. A couple of passengers looked into the gloom but sauntered off thinking our compartment was full. The result of my deception was we had six seats to our selves so we could lay full length. We both slept reasonably well despite three ticket checks, two police checks and one customs check. The police checks related to the fact that we passed out of Bosnia Herzegovina into Croatia.
The cost of the nine-hour journey was 29 euros ($33 Aus each, which wasn’t too bad when you consider the distance travelled and we had a bed for the night. The train was not like the one shown in the above photograph but an older version. As is often the case, it was overheated but we were able to put the window down and adjust the temperature to suit.
SATURDAY 3rd NOVEMBER 2012.
ZAGREB TO RIJEKA
We arrived at Zagreb two hours late and again we sat over a cuppa and decided our next move. The day was foggy and grey so we decided to move more or less in the direction of Switzerland via the coast, which meant catching a train to Rijeka on the northern coast of Croatia about seventy-five kilometres south of Trieste in Italy.
With a couple of hours to spare we wandered in the vicinity of the railway station. I know I have mentioned this before but having to pay to go to the toilet gives me the willies, not that I begrudge the attendant their share of the money they collect but sometimes you simply do not have the right change. This was the case this morning. I only had one kuna (local currency) and the woman attendant wanted four. I attempted to explain that until we change money that’s all I had. In no uncertain terms she effectively told me to ‘piss off’. So when we went walking I watered a shrub whilst taking a photograph of a monumental hotel.
Whilst waiting here a reasonably well dressed chap approached Bev and asked for four euros. He was short of four to get a train ticket home somewhere up north on the Croatian border. There was no doubt he was genuine, we were pleased to help him out. I often have a recurring dream and it relates to being penniless in a city and not having sufficient money to get home so I was glad we could help the young bloke today, just in case it’s me one day!
The no guns symbol makes me think, when sitting next to a stranger, whether he is toting a gun and under what circumstances he is likely to pull it out and use it.
The train to Rijeka was very comfortable. The compartment even had a 240v power point so we charged my laptop and Bev’s iPad.
A local joined us and I shared the beer we had bought in Sarajevo. I forgot to declare the two bottles I had last night to the customs officer when asked if I had any alcohol. You don’t think too straight at four in the morning. At one stop our fellow traveller hopped off the train and bought some more beers. Sharing a beer breaks down barriers and soon we were communicating in a fashion by showing him some pictures of Australia on the laptop.
The country near the coast was dramatic as the limestone mountains ran right down to the sea. Usually when this happens the coastal waters nearby are deep thus creating a deep-water port.
It was almost dark by the time we made it out of the railway station. A taxi driver approached us with offers of hotels by the sea. All had restaurants, spas and one even a casino. We attempted to explain hotels of this nature were not our scene, that all we wanted was a simple hotel in the town centre. We walked the main boulevard hoping to find a hotel or hostel. I went into one hostel that had a tattoo shop attached but when I knocked on the door a heavily tattooed girl with a Mohawk cut misunderstood my request for a room as a request for a room with a girl. I thought better of the location. Finally after asking a couple of locals they directed us to the Hostel Aston. Bev chatted via an intercom with the owner and he could only offer a mixed dorm with ten beds. We were desperate by this time so Bev convinced him the dorm would be ok. So here we are in a ten-bed dorm. Fortunately the only other occupants are two young girls from Macedonia.
The hostel is clean and the owner and his wife extra friendly. They told us that a double room will be available tomorrow night so it looks like we will be well set here for a couple of nights.
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