Sunday, 19 April 2009

The road to Sarajavo

Leaving Mostar involved an early-ish start from the old, very square looking train station. While Paul found coffee to fortify us, I went outside to take a photo of the building. This lead to adventures one and two. Mine was seeing a slightly crazy bloke brandishing an umbrella as if it were a gun. I'm pleased that is was not a gun, as that could have been an interesting start to the morning the way he was pointing and "shooting". Inside, with coffee, Paul was making friends with with a toothless Bosnian man. He looked over 40 although I suspect that he probably was only in his 30s and had had a tough life. He was an interesting guy to speak with. He'd learnt his English when the Americans were in Mostar "about 20 years ago"; we presumed that he was meaning the NATO troops. We muddled on over coffee, in a mix of whatever languages we best knew words in, talking about his life, which involved a few years on the streets in Sarajevo during the siege, and the high unemployment that has followed. He said that even though the bombs had stopped, life was anything but normal.

We had chosen to take the train to Sarajevo as we had been told that it was very scenic, and indeed it was as the track went along a river valley and then climbed into the mountains over a series of switchbacks. Our travelling companions were a Bosnian couple who made it very clear that they were Christan by, as soon as we walked into the compartment, showing us the cover of their prayer book with a cross on the front. Later in the journey they were kind enough to share their hard boiled, dyed, Easter eggs with us which was a lovely gesture, and an enjoyable snack later in Sarajevo. The couple also tried to tell us about places and things on the journey, including their home town en route with bombed bridges, and rail carriages full of bullet holes.

On arrival in Sarajevo we organised a hostel at the train station and were then taken at break-neck speed down "Sniper Alley" with a chain smoking taxi driver. We went past the yellow Holiday Inn, home to journalists during the siege, past apartment blocks covered in bullet holes and past a whole heap of police and military vehicles and crews of officers and men in full face covering camo gear.

I think it's fair to say that we did not find Sarajevo an endearing place, although it was interesting. It just felt odd. Maybe it was seeing so many civilian areas that had been targeted, maybe it was the rain and us taking shelter in the Jewish Museum (full of stories of both the recent war and WWII), or maybe it was the fact that our hostel was in the fixed half of a building that was still bombed and burnt out?

They had clearly made a bit of an effort to tart the city up and the old Austro-Hungarian buildings down by the river were bright and free from shot, but other parts of the city looked like time had stood still since the war, with the "Sarajevo Roses" - someone had gone around filling some of the shell holes in the city with red filler - making it look like there was blood fresh on the pavement.

I'm pleased we went, but we didn't feel the need to stay. And in talking with other travellers at the bus station the next morning we certainly were not alone.

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