Category Archives: Bosnia

Sarajevo, Bosnia to Zagreb, Croatia by Train

I’d gotten a little bored with Sarajevo and wanted a change of scenery – leaving me with two main options by train, either Belgrade, Serbia or Zagreb, Croatia, in the end Zagreb won out due to having a train that left that night rather than at 6am the next two day (Which is way too early for a civilised human being to be up at a train station).So into another taxi (10 marks, or $8NZD from the hostel to the train station) into a typically sketchy looking eastern european train station at night. 58 convertible marks later and I had my ticket for my first ever international and overnight train journey from the capital of Bosnia to the capital of Croatia.

Trains aren’t exactly fast in Bosnia, the trip – which is about 400km by road (so you’d expect it to be 4-5 hours on normal roads) is supposed to take about 9 hours by train, but due to whatever reasons, actually takes around 11 hours, which if you pay attention to forum posts on lonely planet are supposed to contain 2 hours of dodgy robber types rolling onto the train around the border to rape, pillage and generally cause chaos.   That said, I’d waited until I’d heard back from Sam and Michelle to hear that their trip was a safe one, so I felt a little more confident! I met up with two Bosnian Serbs who were travelling home after a trip to venice who I decided to drink with and share a room on the train.  They told me all the tricks of train travel and how to prevent the fabled robberies – again things felt a little safer having a couple of well travelled, educated people sharing the room with me.. especially after we worked out how to “lock” the door with a shemagh and a womans scarf! That said the two of them were due to leave the train before we hit the border.

After saying goodbye to them at their stop I decided I needed some level of sleep so set about trying to make the seats comfortable enough to sleep in the communist era train with nothing more than a kathmandu travel pillow and an aquired air asia comfort kit.  Lets just say sleep was minimal at best. Upon reaching the border I had my passport checked by 3 or 4 different people, I was really in no state to tell, and my passport received its first stamp in 2 years of travelling on its virgin pages.  The coppers did seem a little confused that I’d got into the country without a stamp, and were even more confused when I told them I’d crossed the Croatian/Slovenian border 5 times, and the Croatian/Bosnian border without a border official even opening my passport. I guess my 90 days worth of visa free travel begins today.

Upon reentering Croatia the difference in economy was immediately apparent, you simply don’t see any damage from the war, obviously tourism and the coastline have made a big impact on the economy.  To put it simply – you wouldn’t realise Croatia was involved in a conflict 15 years ago, but you’d think for Bosnia it was more recent.

Still, I’ll be doing a lot more rail travel, even if it is more expensive than the bus/planes once in western europe, simply for the opportunity to see more of the country and its usually a free nights accommodation.  I’d still reccomend that women do the trip in pairs at least, and make sure you bring padlocks/cables for your gear.  I definately felt more comfortable having my macbook and valuables safely chained to the train using my pacsafe travel safe.

Next up, Zagreb, the city that does sweet fuck all on a Sunday!

Sarajevo, Bosnia – Trains, Hotels, Tunnels & Tours

On the bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar we ran into some girls from Papatoetoe who shared some mutual friends back in Auckland.  They were going to Sarajevo a day earlier than Nish and Corey so I decided to tag along on the train to get an extra day up in the City.

Our train was great value at 15.50 Convertible Marks (about $13 NZD) for the “business class” train (and it was definitely right up there with the Stanstead express train in the UK) getting us seats right next to the cafe/bar.Beers were 2 Marks, or approx $1.80 NZDWe arrived at Sarajevo train station, dragged our luggage up and down a few more flights of stares, had a taxi driver try and convince us we could fit our luggage into his tiny car (we couldn’t) before settling on a VW station wagon with tires that had less tread than a Waiuku burnout car.  10 Euros later we had a tiki tour around town (including the heavily fortified US embassy) and we were at, what we thought was the hotel we were recommended by friends and in lonely plane.  Its location seemed a little “strange” but it looked nice from the outside, check in was a breeze, they didn’t even ask for a credit card or payment when giving us the keys – more about the that later.We went to old town to grab some dinner and do some souvenir shopping for the girls family and friends.  If you are into copper coffee gear, pens made out of bullets and the like, then this is the place for you. Me, I’m into the food, and there is meat and cheap beer (almost) everywhere.  We went looking for the place with the most locals (I think its a local chain restaurant?), and ended up grabbing some food at Mrkva in the old town, loads of meat and some rather “interesting” yogurt.Walking home Michelle spotted the sign for the hotel, but we were a little confused, we were on the other side of town, what the hell had happened, then we saw it in more detail.  The sign said “deluxe”… we’d been dropped off and booked into the…… not so Deluxe one, on the other side of town. Yes, that is a burnt out old car across the road, and yes, we had the delightful sound of dogs barking outside, and dodgy gypsies raiding the trash 20m down the road.   The girls body language says it all!  Still, the place is pretty good value at 77Euros for 3 of us per night, including breakfast, all you can use wifi, proper hot showers that don’t threaten to electrocute you, and decent, comfortable beds, and at 2.30 Convertable Marks (about $1NZD) taxi from the old town, you can avoid some of the sketchy parts of town at night to get there.As you can see, inside it was much better than a hostel room, and well worth it for only 10 Euro extra each per person for the night! Michelle had been reccomended a walking tour/tour of the tunnels  on facebook, so we decided to check it out, resulting in us walking the wrong way through the university to find the office/museum where it started.  Turns out we still hadn’t got our bearings yet.  Still a good way to get around a bit more of the city.

The tour is the highest rated tour on tripadvisor and its easy to see why.The tours start from one of the more famous locations in Sarajevo, the location where Austro-Hungarian Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, kicking off the War to End All Wars, WWI.We started with the Tunnel tour, which the tour guide gave us a very personal insight into her experiences during the conflict as a child.  Was very intense as she would have been two years younger than me, and living in a war zone as a 5-8 year old.

The tunnels were hand constructed by the Bosnian army (which was really just a volunteer force put together after the conflict started) going under the UN controlled “neutral” airport, and into “Bosnian Free Territory” and was literally a lifeline in the longest military siege in modern history.The tunnel was used to transport humanitarian aid, people and weapons (there was an arms embargo in the region, leaving the Bosnians pretty much defenseless, as the Serbs had most of the weapons factories in the region – so small arms, remember the tunnel is 1m wide by 1.6-1.8m high were the only weapons they could get in). The tunnel was so small that you could only go in one direction at a time, if people met in the middle they would get stuck with their 50+ kg packs.

Apparently it was dug from both directions during construction, though I’m still unsure how they ensured it met in the middle, considering the circumstances.Outside the tunnel the building, which was once a private house, is used as a museum to remember the conflict and the amazing job the tunnel did in providing a lifeline to the city. Its been left in pretty much its original state after the conflict, as you can see from the high calibre bullet holes in the walls.  Apparently in the late 90s most if not all buildings had some sort of firearm damage to them.After the Tunnel Tour we grabbed a bite to eat, and returned for the free walking tour a 4:30 that had been recommended to us. Part tour and part ad for local sights and businesses, it really gives you an understanding of the place, and is well worth it.  It does put things in perspective when the town hall (one of the most important buildings in the city) has only just started reconstruction – 20 years later, and still only on the outside.

Mostar, Bosnia

Yesterday we’d had enough of Dubrovnik, which I found a bit of a tourist trap (everything seemed to be aimed at either the geriatric tourist crowd, or the drunk 18 year old contiki/topdeck/sail croatia kids).  The place on everyones lips for the next suggested stop was Mostar, Bosnia – somewhere which I had never heard of.

20 or so Euros, 140km and 3 hours later and we were on the bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar.We were met at the bus station by the usual accommodation touts you find in eastern europe/the balkans, and managed to negotiate a hostel for the 5 of us for 8 Euros each for the night, virtually next door to the bus/train station and a  minute walk from restaurants and 10 mins to the old town proper.I think hostel loosely translated into apartment with as many beds as you can fit into the bedrooms.  Still it was clean, had a few hot showers, a bunch of irish, kiwi, brits  and a pole staying, so we ventured off into town for dinner and beers.

Waking up I got my first real glimpse that we were in a former war zone.  Above is the view from our balcony window of the neighboring building which is completely riddled with bullet holes as a result of an 18 month siege of the town in 1992-1993. This would be the first of the sobering reminders of what happened in the region 20 years ago, and showed us the stark difference between post war croatia and neighboring post war Bosnia.

Nish and corey decided to stay another night in town, wheras the girls and I wanted to check out Sarajevo the next day, so with 2 hours to spare we ventured off into old town to check out the bridge which the town is named after (I think Mostar loosely translates to “bridge keeper” or similar) and do a bit of trinket shopping.  The bridge was seriously damaged during the conflict as you can see above.  With a serious amount of work and international funding, it was restored to its former glory as you can see it today and is considered a world heritage site.  Its easy to see why. Apparently one of the reasons the towers survived is that their walls are up to 3m thick.  The whole town is an amazing piece of history with beautiful architecture in the form of towers, housing, mosques and churches, and is well worth a stopover on the way to Sarajevo.