Borders are funny places, we have found, few countries signpost the border, or any towns over the border, you tend to be worried that you are going the right way and then all of a sudden a huge border post rises up in front of you.
We spent the night in a town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia, it was another odd little town, very shabby, the bomb sites didnt help, but it was more than the legacy of the war, the whole place felt dark and depressing. One of the things that we have really noticed about all of these former communist states is that people dont smile at strangers, people in cafes and shops that you have to interact with, there are no polite smiles, no social smiles. I dont know if that is as a result of the wars or a legacy of socialism; there seems to be a lot of mistrust. We were not on any tourist route and so there were no campsites and it was definitely not a place that felt in any way safe enough to camp in an unsecured location. So for the first time we found a hotel.
We got a huge family room, with breakfast, in a good hotel, for ony 45e It was nice to stretch out in a double bed all to myself!
The next morning I girded my loins for another border crossing. I felt like an old hand after the whole Bosnian experience and figured I knew what to do to get into serbia. Our plan was to spend at most one night in Serbia as we needed to head for Budapest for the festival. However the best laid plans of mice and men and all that.
We got through passport control, again with much scrutiny and yay..our first passport stamp...customs told me I needed to buy border insurance..which I knew all about now. So I parked on the Serbian side of the customs post, technically in serbia and then walked to the office to be told that they wanted 110e for a one month border insurance. That has the buying power of about 500e in that region. Sadly I declined, it wasnt worth it for just a quick drive through the country, so we had to turn around and go back through the Bosnian border controls (where they stamped our passports this time)...feeling like criminals..lol...So it was the fastest country yet and the border police were nice....
Plan B, Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, along with Serbia, that was 4 countries in one day, they are all fairly close to one another at that point so it was OK, longish drive, we arrived in Hungary while it was still day and for the first time the customs people were interested in looking inside of the van. But getting waved on we were finally in Hungary....for the festival!!
Bosnia is lovely, green and with plenty of small fields and mountains just like ireland, but no matter how much you know about its recent history, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of bombed out homes. Most of the houses that we saw were newish and largely unfinished. it seems to be the way of things in this part of the world that you save for a load of bricks and cement, then build part of your house, save more and build more...build as you go, so there were a lot of scary looking balconies on upper floors with no railings and more of the buildings were unrendered than ones that were rendered.
In common with much of the rest of the places that we have seen, everyone has a veggie garden, but then i guess if war was in your recent history, you would assure yourself of food supplies too. We even saw hay being saved with scythes, and everywhere large haycocks. In many ways it was like Ireland of 3ö years ago..certainly the tractors were as old as that. And the cars! ifyou want a real vintage beatle or a citron 2CV, this is where you should be. There were car graveyards everywhere and people ones too. But the saddest thing of all are the many many old women that you see begging in the streets. You just think what those women were promised under socialism, then the dissolution of the USSR and the war, now capitalism and rampant consumerism that they cannot afford.
The first city we reached was Mostar, I didnt have any great expectations, many scars on buldings and many bombed out buildings, We arrived at night and the old town and the bridge (rebuilt after the war) was simply the most enchanting place I have seen so far in our travels. It was completely beautiful, atmospheric, all floodlighting and dimplya lit resturants, such a romantic spot. If any of you want a romantic get away, come here'! We ended up staying the night in a 24 hour (security guarded..they knew we were in the van) car park, beside a bomb site. in the middle of the old down, a juxtaposition so extreme, it was head spinning.
The next day we left early and hit the road for sarajevo. Another pretty town, but I am afraid Mostar stole all of the Bosnian thunder. We parked (illegally I think...I reckon Rositas numberplates have saved us from a few tickets!) and had another wander through the old town, this was a lot more touristy, but still lovely. all minarets and churches, competing to see who can have the tallest building..and hot. We are loving the sun.
After Sarajevo we drove towards the border, driving through the countryside, still largely untouched by tourism. Eventually arriving at a little border town of Zvorn
We were reluctant to leave croatia as it was so gorgeous, but I wanted to see sarajevo before we started to head north towards Budapest for the festival, so it was onwards to the border.
Bosnia and serbia in my head was mostly connected with the war, I did check that it was safe to travel there these days, I wanted to see what it was like now, post war. I also wanted to see Sarajevo with all of its history. We reached the border and seemed to get through the passport control OK, mind you we must fit whatever definition of undesirable that they have in bosnia as they looked at our passports very carefully, scanned them, checked every page and waved us through. I thought we were home and dry, until we reached the customs post when after a lot of flummoxery, and language problems I realised that my car insurance wasnt enough for driving there, but that I could buy border insurance, however border insurance could only be bought at a different border post...that only takes a minute to type..but believe me it took a really long time with some slightly intimidating officers to figure it out....in the end there was a suggestion that we could pay something there..I am not exactly sure it was in the category of a bribe..and then we could be on our way. me being me of course decided I wasnt having any truck with bribes and so we turned around and headed to the other border post.
Now you would imagine that when you get turned around at a border that you just simply get waved through...wrong..you have to line up and go through the whole proceedure again, for the country you have just left...so back through croatian border control, drive to a new border outpost and then it all started again. This was a much bigger place so I parked and approached a likely looking customs chappie, asked him if he spoke english, he said he did, he listened and then said he didnt speak english and waved me away! Like I said we fit whatever description of henious criminals that there is in Bosnia, because when I approached another chappie..police this time, he put his hand on his gun..and I dont mean that figuratively. In the end despite being very cranky that I disturbed him, he spoke english and told me that he was on the croatian side and that I needed to go and find someone else....arrgh
In the end I found the right person and the whole palaver ended up being resolved by a princely sum of 14e ! clutching my border insurance in my hot little hand, we were on our way.
Bosnia is interesting..sad....but let me post this and tell you about it in the next one. I have already lost a long post through some technological ineptitude