I actually slept my last night in Serbia. Wow! I got up around 8:00 and had my coffee right away so that it would have time to percolate through me before my eight-hour bus ride. Needless to say, a final coffee off Trg Republike was out of the question! I then dressed and went out to get some vittles for the ride, going to the Maxi behind the National Museum.
It was only about nine when I got in. I finished most of my packing and spent some time enjoying the internet connection before packing my electronics bag and doing a final sweep of the apartment. I headed out around 10:30, with my bus being at 11:30.
I got to the bus station around 10:45, which sounds like I was super early, but I wanted to change some money and also be one of the first on the bus to ensure I’d get a window seat. First, I used the facilities so I could break up a 500RSD note to have some change for the day.
Here’s a woman’s bathroom stall at the Belgrade bus station:
I knew I would eventually encounter these in my travels, but I hadn’t expected it to be in Belgrade! I had no trouble using it, but it felt incongruous to the modern world around me!
In the privacy of the stall, I sorted out my money, keeping 400 or 500RSD in small notes on me for the day, and then took the rest to one of the many money exchange windows. I asked the lady if she spoke English. She said said no very curtly and then started going through her phone. “Euros, please?” I asked her in Serbian and she blatantly ignored me. Okay, fine. I went to the next window and tried again with “Do you speak English?” Nope. But he didn’t dismiss me, so I said, in Serbian what I was pretty sure was, “Please, from dinar to euro.” The guy’s head whipped up and he quirked a smile. I passed him my bills and he sorted them, handing back a few small notes. “45 euro,” he said in perfect English! That was about what I expected to get, so I said okay, then thank you, in Serbian. He wished me a nice trip… in English.
Like in Nish, you need a ticket to go out to the platforms. Unlike in Nish, the system in Belgrade is more antiquated, so you get a token with your ticket rather than a bar code. I had been holding onto my token for dear life since I bought my ticket yesterday! A a security guard got my suitcase through the turnstile while I dealt with the token.
One of the reasons I made sure I had small notes on me was that I was putting a suitcase under the bus and I had to pay 50RSD for that in Nish. So I was thrown for a loop when the driver said, “Shto dinara.” I repeated what he said because I didn’t understand at first. “Da, shto,” he replied. I thought for a second and then trigged onto the fact that shto is 100! Well, 100 is sto in Bulgarian, but close enough. I pulled out a 100RSD note and said, “Shto?” The driver replied, in perfect English, “That’s it, thank you!”
I climbed on board and got one of the last window seats. The bus was packed.
The bus station is right by the river, so we were quickly in New Belgrade and before I could blink, we were out in the country.
This part of Serbia is so flat and there are just cornfields as far as the eye can see. It’s rather like Iowa. 🙂
We made a few stops along the way and eventually pulled into the bus station at Šabac. I’m not sure where the open seats came from as I was sure we were full, but more people sat down!
Serbia feels more prosperous than does Bulgaria. All the Bulgarian towns and villages I visited looked rather alike, well tended, but only at the bare minimum. They were rather shabby or forlorn. The Serbian houses are in a similar style, but have more ornamentation. There are more flowers and greenery and the pavement is in better condition.
Two hours into our eight-hour trip, we pulled into a truck stop for smoke and pee breaks. I was happy about that since there was no bathroom on the bus!
Before long, we were at the Serbian/Bosnian border. Like the Alaska Highway along the Yukon/BC border, we went in and out of Bosnia a few times before getting to the official border crossing.
A border officer boarded the bus and got our ID cards and passports. They were returned in short order with no stamps, so I figured that was the customs stamp. Sure enough, we moved ahead to another queue and had to give our documents back. The ID cards came back quickly, then the passports, this time with a stamp. And that was it. Welcome to BiH — Bosna i Hercegovina!
My first Bosnian mosque and minaret were right over the border.
I was startled by how literal the border was in terms of geographic change. We moved into a lush green mountainous region that reminded me of “my” part of Bulgaria, only more prosperous (but less prosperous than Serbia).
We continued to make stops and pack people on board. Some folks stood for the last three hours to Sarajevo! If there was free wifi and a city sign, I would check Google Maps to track my progress. Here’s Vlasenica, 90KM, or about three hours, from Sarajevo!
And here’s Sokolac, 43KM and two hours away…
The slow going was in part because we were doing a milk run and in part because of the super twisty mountain road that the driver took slowly while talking on his cell phone most of the way… The scenery, when I could see it, made up for some of the queasiness!
One final detour (I forget where, but it was definitely a detour as we went the wrong way for Sarajevo and had to double back)…
And then, Sarajevo, under a cover of darkness. I was stunned to see that the core of the city is in a valley, with buildings climbing up the sides. I stopped counting the number of lit up minarets at six.
Incredibly, the bus had to climb even higher to get to the bus station. By this point, I was sure I was going to die on that bus and that we were never going to get there. But that said, I’m someone who enjoys the journey, especially when it’s new, and the day had really gone by very fast. I was just ready to land.
We’d had a lot of moments during the day when we could get off for a leg stretch or a pee, so when everyone seemed ready to get off at a stop, I was rather in disbelief that we’d arrived. “Istočno?” I asked my seat mate. She smiled and said, “Yes!” We had arrived!!!
My transfer was supposed to pick me up at 7:30 and we were a little early. I thought I might have time to get some food (I’d eaten snacks just before and after the border crossing, but was too queasy to do so again after), but, nope. There was a guy on the platform holding up a huge sign that said “MRS. REA.” I was pretty sure that was me, LOL!
It was indeed my transfer, Dennis, and he was super friendly. His English isn’t that good, but he did his best to point things out and engage in conversation. The traffic was unbelievable and the ride to old town took ages. I’m sure a taxi ride would have cost me a lot more than the 10 euro I was expected to pay him and was so happy I’d gone with the transfer.
I mentioned that I needed food and he offered to stop en route, but I said that if there was something close by that I could walk to, I preferred to get home and go out again. So as we came into old town, he pointed to what appeared to be a pedestrian street and said that that’s where I should go for dinner and that it was a straight shot down from the house (I didn’t realise just how literally he meant down — I should never have complained about the hill in Maluk Izvor!). Oh, and he did ask me what I wanted specifically, so he could send me straight there, but I said I’m not picky and would take whatever I found!
We got in and he explained a few things about the house to me. I passed him 20 euro for the ride and he gave me 20KM in change, telling me that anything I read about being able to use the euro might apply in downtown Sarajevo, but not in old town, so I better get some marks. I’ll hit an ATM tomorrow. The KM will actually be easier for me than the euro as they are roughly equal to BGN, so I’m used to the conversion rate. Then, I was left to settle in.
The apartment feels really huge (I’ll post pictures tomorrow) since it has a kitchen with a door, a bathroom, an L-shaped hallway, a bedroom, and a living/dining/second bedroom! Unlike other places I’ve stayed, this one isn’t bare and has had long-term tenants, so there is a lot of stuff lying around and I’ll have to be careful not spread out too much lest I forget something. The kitchen and bathroom aren’t as clean as I would have liked, but, really, it’s fine and I should be comfortable here for a week once I sort myself out.
I hiked down to the pedestrian street and look forward to going again when I’m not so knackered and famished as it’s a really interesting place! I heard a lot of Arabic and my headscarf was not out of place. I really didn’t want to overthink dinner so I went to the first place I saw the locals queuing up and ended up with a huge lamb donair sandwich for 2KM (about 1.50CAD). It was surprisingly bland (I’m glad I accepted the spicy stuff they offered), but hit the spot, offering a good balance of bread, light meat, and lots of veggies.
To get to the house, I have to open the pedestrian door to a garage, cross the garage, open another door, and cross a yard. Coming up my street, I realised with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t made note of any landmarks around my garage entrance. It was dark-coloured, but so were a lot of other doors. Just as I was ready to double back, sure that I’d missed it, I saw it! I was glad to get in as it was getting cold (the house is actually rather cold right now and I hope I’ll be comfortable tonight).
I cannot believe that I’m in Sarajevo!
Or that it takes eight hours to go from Belgrade to Sarajevo on a bus…