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Split to Sarajevo

July 4, 2010

Yesterday, I caught a 1230 ferry from Brac to Split, and then a 4:30 bus to Sarajevo. I don’t know how I was so misinformed, but I thought the bus ride would only take 4 or 5 hours. It was midnight when I arrived in Sarajevo.

I did not have any Bosnian currency (marks), so each time the bus stopped at a local cafe, I thirsted for the cokes and bottled waters and longed for the pastries, but could have none.

I caught glimpses of gypsies in the fields, camped around their vans. As we reached Sarajevo, I noticed strange pock marks riddling the buildings–bullet holes.

I had thought the bus station in Sarajevo would be busy and well lit, but it was dark and simple, just a row of parking spaces under signs announcing various destinations.

So, there I was at midnight at a dark bus station. I had planned to take a tram to the hostel, but those had stopped running at 11 pm. But! On the bus with me since Split was a girl who also had a backpack. We instinctively knew. “Are you going to a hostel?” she asked.

I told her I was. She had no room booked, so I suggested she come with me to the hostel and we share a taxi. A man approached us. “I can help you,” he insisted. “I can give you room for 10 euro.”

We thanked him and moved off towards a taxi. I showed the driver the address, and away we went to the hostel.

This morning, I woke up feeling despondent. “What,” I wondered, “has been the point of all this? I’ve just been dithering around on the Croatian coast. I have not seen many sights, or enjoyed enough local cuisine, or made any lasting friendships. What a waste! And back home, my close friends will all be laughing and grilling meats and ears of corn and enjoying magnificent pyrotechnic displays and eating cold watermelon slices and cakes topped with cool whip.”

Mostly, this was all a product of not having eaten in nearly 24 hours (a pizza in Split before I caught the bus to Sarajevo). I set off into the center of the old town, Bascarsija square, what I think used to be a Turkish quarter, where there are cobbled streets and minarets and shops selling handmade rugs and shoes, and copper smiths selling their wares. I found an ATM, went straight to the nearest cafe, and had some pizza. It revived me. My despondent mood dissipated.

I found a bookstore with English books. Because today is Sunday, the tourist information center and most of the museums are closed. So, I bought a pocket guide to the city. In anticipation of all the train travel I’ll be doing tomorrow, and because I’m nearly finished with the book I brought with me from home, I thought I’d pick up a novel. The selection of English books was small and odd–it mostly seemed to consist of college textbooks. I spied a book on contract law. Ha, ha. There was a Dune sequel or prequel or some other sort of spin-off. There were John Grisham novels. I hesitated for a while, but settled with a Grisham book. I know it is not the 90’s, and I know people judge people who read this stuff, but desperate times call for desperate measures (and besides, I was an avid Grisham fan in middle school, so this might not be so bad).

I found the river, and looked for the Latin bridge. The Latin bridge is where Franz Ferdinand met his untimely end–which triggered World War I– at the hand of his 19 year old assassin, Gavrilo Princip. It took me quite a while to find the bridge, though, because I thought there would be signs and plaques and things. There was only a small sign on one end of the bridge describing the dates of its construction and, in a short sentence at the bottom, the assassination of Archduke F.F.

I crossed the bridge to a shady park by the river and opened my guidebook to figure out what I should do next in a foreign city full of closed museums. The Tunnel Museum would be open, I knew, but it was way out by the airport, and getting there would involve taking a tram to the end of its line, then a taxi. A group of Italian ladies sat down next to me, asking each other where the Sarajevo City Museum was. I pointed it out to them but said it was closed.

“Are you a tourist, too?” they asked. I told them I was, but that all the museums were closed, except the Tunnel Museum. We discussed the possibility of splitting the cab fare, and suddenly, they had offered to just drive there in their car, and off we went! They were a retired philosophy professor, an architect, a retired attorney, and an English language teacher. The English teacher and I talked about Berlusconi and his affairs, and Obama, and Michael Moore, and what a shame it is that everyone shuns and persecutes the Gypsies and no country seems to have any adequate support or help to offer them.

The Sarajevo Tunnel Museum is outside of the city center, near the airport. It is not quite a proper museum, either. It is a house where the tunnel began, and the “museum” is run by the family who owned the house when the tunnel was built. During the siege of Sarajevo, when the city was surrounded by Serbian forces and under constant fire, the Bosnian army deployed engineers to construct a tunnel from the besieged city under the airport tarmac and to the free Bosnian territory on the other side. Journalists used the tunnel, civilians used it to bring food back, the Bosnian army used it to ferry munitions, and electricity and telephone wires were strung through the tunnel as well. The tunnel was three feet wide by five feet high, 875 yards long. We watched some news and documentary footage of Sarajevo’s buildings burning and being shot at, civilians scrambling down balconies and dodging behind cars. We bent over double and crawled through a preserved section of the tunnel. When we emerged, we stared at the edifice of the house, marred by bullets; we looked across the field to the airport, where planes were taking off, and tried to remember what we were each doing in 1992. I was seven years old and had no idea Bosnia existed.

I don’t normally go in for museums, and this museum, lacking official government support and funding, was very basic, but, I thought, worth seeing.

My companions wanted to try some famous meringue and cakes from a cafe in town called Metropolis, so we drove around searching for it. The cafe was not easy to find, and when we did find it, they were out of the famous cake, so we had gelato, and the ladies had espresso. They drove me back to the old city center and we parted ways–but not before exchanging email and facebook info. How nice they were! How generous of them to invite me along, and ask me questions, and treat me to gelato. As they circled downtown in search of the cafe, I kept thinking to myself how surreal it is, the way things work when you travel, and how nice people can be.

Now I am back at the hostel and feel like a tool for only staying in Sarajevo for a day. Tomorrow, I am catching an 11:30 am train to Belgrade, and from there I will catch another train to Thessaloniki. From Thessaloniki, I hope to get a bus to Igoumenitsa, and from Igoumenitsa, there is a 2 hr ferry ride to Corfu. Then, at last, I will meet up with my friends. This may sound hellish and inefficient, and it probably will be, but I guess that’s what you get when you don’t plan things. (I will not go hungry this time, like I did on the Split-Sarajevo journey. No, this time, I made it a point to buy provisions.) And anyway, I really like train travel, so I think it shouldn’t be too bad.

I could keep traveling on by myself for a while, but honestly, the allure of meeting up with friends is strong. I don’t mind being by myself and making new friends, but it is emotionally draining to constantly be meeting new people, and never at ease with old friends. Maybe this goes away the more you do it, but for me, the first night in a new place is a bit lonely, and the first morning somewhere is a bit intimidating, and the prospect of many more lonely first nights is not as appealing as spending a week on a Greek island with my friends.

Traveling is exciting, but at its core, it can also be lonely–every relationship is fleeting. As soon as you get comfortable with people, or with a city, it is time to go. If I travel again, I’d like to go with a friend. If I travel alone again, I’d aim to stay somewhere for a very long time, and maybe work there. None of this, though, is to say that I haven’t loved this first leg of my trip, because I have.

Anyway! Today is 4th of July. It’s 9:30 pm in Sarajevo, which means in the US, it’s 3:30 and you’re probably all packing your coolers, deviling your eggs, and getting ready for the festivities. In honor of the holiday, here are some things I miss about the US:

-PEANUT BUTTER. what the hell. How do people function without a portable, spreadable, dippable, filling, sweet and salty protein? It goes on bread, bananas, or your finger. It does not go bad. It is the perfect traveler’s food and I curse myself for not bringing some with me.

-Bottomless cups of coca-cola over crushed ice.

-not having to ask the folks at the grocery store to weigh the bananas at the deli counter, but just being able to weigh them at checkout. I constantly forgot to weigh them in Croatia, and was constantly being reminded, sternly, by the cashiers.

-sweaty house shows and dance parties, standing around between bands in semi-circles in humid, leafy backyards while people smoke and talk and drink cheap beers from sweating bottles.

OK, that’s it. I think you’re fairly well caught up on my doings, now. I am going to attempt to upload some pictures.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Missy Chance permalink
    July 13, 2010 9:10 pm

    Mika you need to find time to post or tweet – we want to hear from you. We’re at the beach!!

  2. July 23, 2010 3:23 pm

    Do you not remember the last time you were abroad. Peanut Butter must ALWAYS be packed : )

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