“So, why did we come to Bosnia?” Chaya asked me as we stepped off of the night bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo.
I just shrugged my shoulders, as it was the only reply that I could muster.
“I thought we were going to Turkey?” Chaya continued.
“Yeah, we are going to Turkey,” I agreed.
“Aren’t we going the wrong way?”
“Yes,” I had to admit it, we were going the wrong way.
Bosnia is west of Serbia and Turkey is east. I have the penchant ability to always go in the wrong direction. I figure it like this:
The right way is the planned way, and I know that I will eventually get to where I plan on going, but the wrong way is always unplanned, something extra, over the top, sporadic, and alive. Plans are never better than when they are saved for latter. Always go the wrong way.
“There are few things better than squeezing into close quarters for a long journey with people who seem as if they are from another planet,” I wrote as I settled into my seat on the night bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo. The Bosnians, Serbian Bosnians, and every other sort of Balkan mix sat snug in winter coats, wooly hats, and their baggage all around me. They talked and squabble amongst themselves, changed seats, found other people sitting in their seats, squabbled, and finally fell asleep when the bus began moving.
Child in the streets of Sarajevo.
I feel asleep too, and only awoke for the restroom stops when I would exit the bus and smoke my pipe with a big bearded Bosnian and smile that I was stepping foot into a new land. I was excited.
The border crossing was so straight forward and uncomplicated that it scarcely even warrants being written about. The bus stopped at the Serbian frontier, an immigration inspector came on the bus and stamped us out of Serbia. Then the bus went over to Bosnia and an almost identical inspector got on the bus and did not even bother stamping our travel documents. I suppose he just wanted to take a look at my pretty picture. I did not even have to step out of my seat once during the entire proceeding. The bus scarcely even stopped.
Now in Bosnia I slept through the night as the bus rolled on through what seemed to be mountains. The only thing that gave the terrain away was the the bus moved snake like through the night. Sometimes the motor revved and sometimes the motor idled, up a hill, down a hill. Then the driver said, “Sarajevo,” and we were kicked out of our places of slumber and into a cold, dark country at 6AM.
I stepped off of the bus into the early morning night and could not even discern the vaguest outlines of a cityscape. It seemed as if we were dropped into the middle of nowhere. Perhaps Sarajevo was the middle of nowhere?
Chaya and I rested in the mild warm of the bus station and waited for day light. What the sun reveled was perhaps even more surprising: we really were in the middle of nowhere. The bus from Serbia drops passengers off in the Serbian district of Sarajevo. The Serbian district of Sarajevo is bombed out, full of bullet holes, and lacks even the slights sign of being an urban center of any sort.
Pregnant Chaya and I began walking in the direction of the city center that a grumpy bus station official pointed out to us. He did not mention that there was more than 6 kilometers that separated us from the city. We walked. It rained. Chaya felt uncomfortable.
We asked directions at a supermarket and a gaggle of women circled around us like clucking hens, but not a single one of them could tell us how to get to the city. “Call taxi,” they concurred.
“I’ll pass.” Both Chaya and I know that taking a taxi in any country is the surest way to risk despising that country. We did not wish to take that chance, for we had just arrived in Sarajevo. We went across the parking lot to a department store to escape from the rain, to find a money machine, and to devise a plan for getting to Sarajevo. As providence would have it, we accomplished all three objectives: we got some Bosnian money, recuperated in a restaurant while I drank coffee, and I found a man who could speak English who wrote out directions for us to get to the city center.
Perfect. We were directed to walk for one kilometer to a tram station and take a train into the city. We found the tram line without difficulty and rode into Sarajevo without paying. It is my impression that people in the Balkans do not pay for public transportation. I looked for a way to pay for the tram, but found that it was not only impossible but unnecessary. There was a ticket stamper in the tram car but no place to buy a ticket. I watched the other passengers, and not a single one of them even looked at the ticket stamping machine or, for all apparent purposes, a way to pay for their ride.
Bullet holes in a building in Sarajevo.
I asked a man sitting behind me where I should get off of the tram to get to the address of a hostel that I had written down. “Last stop,” was all he had to say about that. When he rose to get off of the tram he said, “two more stops,” and I sat through two more stops and then found myself right where I wanted to be: in Sarajevo.
Travel expenses in Sarajevo, Bosnia
Night bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo- $25
Hostel in Sarajevo- $10
Cheese pastry- $.75
Loaf of French bread- $.75
1.5 liter bottle of mineral water- $.75
Sandwich to use internet in cafe- $2
Liter of milk- $1