Belgrade + Sarajevo

  • Posted in travel |
  • December 15, 2015

We got up at the crack of dawn to fly to Belgrade. We flew Air Serbia, which had the flag of Serbia and Novak Djokovic’s name on it – my favorite tennis player. It was a weird security, check in and passport control area, but we made it through on time. The plane was weird because they had seated everyone in window seats in every row, but everyone had a row to themselves – it felt apocalyptic.

 

We arrived and it was really the first time I felt uncomfortable. Mel hailed a ghetto Taxi – one that has to park in the parking lot a block from the airport, not one that can actually pull up beside the airport with the rest of the taxi’s. The police pulled him aside as we were walking to his unmarked car to ask for his Taxi ID and I’m assuming to somewhat confirm he wasn’t kidnapping us. We walked up to his regular car, I’m assuming it was like the Toyota Corolla of Serbia, and he opened his trunk to which we found his broken taxi sign thrown in there. Comforting… Comforting.  We took the taxi into town and he was a chatty Cathy, giving us suggestions on where to eat and what to see. We passed a mall and he told us it was only one or two stops on the city bus there, and we didn’t need to buy a ticket because it was just a stop or two – advice to live by. His grand finale performance was driving recklessly up onto the curb by our Hostel and almost hitting between 1 and 5 innocent pedestrians that were oddly unbothered by the experience. Mel was naturally micromanaging his on-curb park job.

 

The Hostel was small, in a back alley and was cute inside. It was pretty empty and the front desk lady was the Queen of Too Much Information – telling us about her life, her Facebook friendships, pole dancing classes, etc. She was mad friendly, and gave us bangin’ food recommendations even if she weighed 82 pounds soaking wet. We looked forward to seeing her so we could tell her about our adventures and taking every single one of her Restaurant recommendations. We were el desperado for lunch and hit up the little restaurant close to the hostel she told us to visit. We walked down the grey, grey, grey streets and the restaurant looked like an old saloon, and the combo of fresh and stale smoke really lived up to my old timey expectations. The food was delish, and the portions were far too large and cheap. It was insane. We walked around a bit, I found it sketchy, and it was pitch black by 4:30 and we assumed it was later, so stopped at some pretty buildings and went back to the Hostel.

The next day we set out for the free walking tour TMI Queen had raved about, saying only two people ever didn’t like the tour and one lady was super weird (followed by what seemed like a 4 hour explanation of why this woman was weird). We decided to leave early because all of the street signs were in super not English. We seriously walked around the entire city centre, to find the square we were supposed to meet at a block from our Hostel. We just considered the walking tour 4 hours, instead of the 3 with the guide, because it took an hour to find everyone. We were supposed to see all the “sights” of Belgrade which ended up being arguable “sights”. It was for cereal the Tour Guides first time doing this tour, so he was friendly but dry as can be. We saw the Bohemian Quarter, the oldest house in Belgrade, the Fortress and the view from the Fortress was actually quite pretty. We walked by the Zoo and it was probably the highlight for me. He pulled out this unmarked bottle of some traditional Serbian drink and made us all drink a shot at 11 in the morning before our lazy asses could even have breakfast, so I was buzzed for a solid hour until his boring stories sobered me up. A guy on the tour would not stop asking zee dumbest questions – yes, dumb questions do exist – mainly because he would ask, wait for an answer and then elaborate on that answer because he knew it all along. It was actually pretty cold that day. The tour ended at a school, and he gave us old currency bills before they were (I’m assuming) bailed out. It was legitimately a Bill for 500 Billion Dinar (Serbian Dollars). The inflation was that high at one point… It was insane. We left and went for food (obviously) at one of TMI Queens recommendations and she hit it out of the park again. They say that vegetables in Serbia are meat, and they weren’t joking. I had chicken because I’m a basic Betty but we had sour Cherry Pie for dessert and I have never tasted heaven like that.

We walked through the Ghetto to find the bus station to book a bus to Sarajevo and the next one didn’t leave until 4pm the next day, so we we’re bummed because we were bored. We walked back and hung out at the Hostel for bit, and then got Asian food next door. It was an absurd portion for like 4 dollars Canadian. Serbia definitely helped balance out the budget from the other, touristy cities. The next day we walked through the shops and went for lunch – had the most divine cheese board, and then headed to the Bus Station which was impossible to navigate because apparently no one in Serbia needs a sign for anything. Literally no markings, no signs on where to even find the bus station. Saying “the building with the red roof” is not a legitimate direction. We found it, and sat there avoiding getting pick pocketed.

The Bus was actually pretty nice, the route was atrocious. We figured it would be about 4 hours which was actually 7. We left at 4 and by 4:30 it was pitch black and foggy as can be. Apparently it’s normal to stop at every god damn gas station along the way, a tradition I will naaaaat be bringing home with me. Customs between Serbia and Bosnia was weird. A customs agent got on board and just took our passports and left. He brought them back eventually, but no one on the bus spoke English so we weren’t sure how we we’re going to get out of that one need be. We finally arrived in Sarajevo after metaphorically shitting my pants for 7 hours. Earlier in the day, Mel and I kept talking about how people always say “oh it’ll never happen to me!” but somehow it always happens to us, and as we we’re driving beside of the cliffs of doom with no side rails I thought “oh it’ll never happen to us! Oh shit…” but we survived. My blonde hair is disguising the greys I got.

We took a cab from the Bus station and tipped him far too much because we thought the exchange rate was better. Oh well, he can buy his kids some new Air Jordan’s for Christmas on us. We went and got Fast Food from this random place – and I literally ordered “Kentucky Fried Chicken” from the menu and it was so good – better than KFC – they are selling themselves short by calling it KFC.

The next morning over sharer-Mel was at breakfast and met two Canadians… from Spruce Grove and Sherwood Park… they weren’t even travelling together, they had met in Mostar (a city a couple hours from Sarajevo) and ended up travelling together through Sarajevo and were continuing on to Belgrade together too. We did the free walking tour with them that morning organized by the Hostel. The Tour Guide had lived through the Bosnian War and was super interesting. She showed us where Franz Ferdinand was shot and that was one of the events leading to the start of WW1. She also talked about how she lived through the War, her mom was a General and how she would come home smelling of bones. She also showed us where bullet holes in buildings in the city were when they were invaded by Serbia, and how they had to walk through the forest for days and nights, seeing people die and get killed.

After that bummer, we went for Italian and then had a nap. We found this restaurant called Dveri, and it was exceptional. We ordered a litre of wine, which seemed normal due the price but then realized it was bigger than an average bottle… So we were drunk before dinner, but it was an accident therefore acceptable. I got Chicken Curry because I’m young, fun and adventurous and it was SO EFFIN GOOD. We ordered some cake for dessert and it seriously reminded me of my Grandma’s Christmas pudding (family members will understand). I was expecting spongy, Vanilla cake and it was some spiced cake with chunks of unknown fruits/vegetables in it. Whatever, I was still drunk. We walked around the old town a bit, and saw beggers with fake babies – probably the most intriguing business endeavor I had seen this trip. We went back to the Hostel and I watched Bad Santa to get my cold heart into the Christmas spirit ish.

The next morning we hung out at the hostel as long as we could, and then went for coffee, lunch again at Dveri where we had the best red wine ever (for dirt cheap) and I got curry again (so did Mel) because it was seriously a 10/10 – I even rated it on Trip Advisor, and then we went to Gallery about the Bosnian War. It was seriously heart-breaking. We did the audio tour, and it showed us the journey (essentially) of a photo-journalist who covered the war. The Tour Guide the day before said in a lot of ways it was worse than the Holocaust because it was modern time, after the Holocaust (1995), and it took out an entire population (the Muslims in Bosnia). The war was set in a small city on the outskirts of Bosnia, by the Serbian border. Everyone was worried that Serbia was going to try to take it over because of it’s close proximity to the border so the UN sent the Dutch Military there to protect it. The first poster we saw when we entered the Museum was of graffiti saying “UN: United Nothing” because they had done such a poor job of protecting Bosnia during the war. The Tour Guide also said it was different than the Holocaust because many people of the Holocaust were killed in more humane ways – gas chambers, etc. where as the Bosnian War was primarily because people being shot, blown up, executed, etc. The Museum had many interviews or stories of family members waiting for their spouses, fathers, sons to come home. The Tour Guide also said that the worst part was the constant propaganda from high up Officials saying how everyone was going to be ok and taken care of, and then killed. The war took out 8,372 people, mostly men, but also women and children. The Tour Guide said the food was very scarce, and the photos in the gallery attested the that. It was actually quite scary. The photos of mass graves were haunting – the Museum said there times where mass graves were used three times over, so it was essentially 3 layers of corpses killed at different times. It also said that explosives were put in with the mass graves, so if anyone was to go look for their loved ones, they would also be killed.

Many of photos showed body “bags” which were essentially just body parts, very few whole bodies. Many families would have funerals for a skull, or sometimes even just a hat, because they weren’t sure if the entire body of their loved one could be found within their lifetime and they were just seeking some time of closure. Some of the mass graveyards could be seen from the city in Sarajevo, they are up on the hills. It was very humbling and scary. Mel and I were talking about it after and it would be such an odd feeling to feel so helpless, and lose faith in something so comforting like the UN. It’s also hard to believe the lack of media attention towards it – some people call it a war but our Tour Guide said it’s not a war if no one is fighting back and you’re killing innocent people. It really seemed as barbaric as it sounds. Very humbling experience.

We went out for dinner with our new Canadian friends, their new British friend and an American girl who had just checked into the Hostel that night. All 4 of them are in the middle of years of travelling, most of them wanting to be away for at least 18 months. One of the girls from Edmonton rented out the top and basement of her house, and that’s how she’s affording to travel. She said she had been planning this for almost 10 years to be in this position to travel for however long she can rent out her house. Mel and I were talking about it after how we both think we are the black sheep of our families because of how much we travel, but compared to the people we keep meeting, we are seriously uncultured. The two girls, Canadian and American, said they had both left certain places (Turkey and Jordan, respectively) due to family pressures and I thought it was so funny because I wouldn’t feel safe in either of those places right now. The Canadian was in Istanbul when the Russian Jet was shot down by Turkey… that’s pretty bold, even for me! I thought it was funny because I felt unsafe in Serbia and Bosnia and in the grand scheme of the world, they were not unsafe. The American girl kept saying how much she wanted to go to Syria, but she wouldn’t go because there just wasn’t that much to see there now… erm you can see a civil war..?

It was a very eye opening dinner and I have never felt so un-travelled in my whole life. I had no stories, experiences to contribute compared to these people! I thought it was obnoxious to start thinking about where I wanted to go next when I’m not even finished this trip but these people have the a rough travel plan for the next 2, 3, 5 years of their lives. It’s absolutely nuts; I could never do it. I have some much respect for people who sell all of their things, get rid of their car and apartments and travel until money runs out, but I enjoy having a home base and I’ve realized that I enjoy my everyday life enough to be excited to go home to it, and I miss it even if I am only gone for a couple weeks, so I guess I’m doing something right or on the right track!

Side note: I was looking up where we had been and where we were going on the Canadian Travel Advisories and Bosnia was the only one with a warning saying “beware of unmarked explosives and roadside bombs” AFTER WE HAD JUST SAT ON A GD BUS FOR 5 HOURS THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE. That was the straw that broke the camels back and we changed out route. We were originally going to be in Sarajevo for 24 hours and head to Pristina, Kosovo, and then Skopje, Macedonia, all by bus, but we stayed another night in Sarajevo and flew to Sofia, Bulgaria. My ass could not sit on a bus for that long (7 hours to Sarajevo, 12 hours to Pristina, 7 hours to Skopje and then 5 hours to Sofia) in a 3-4 day span. The other travellers kept telling us how much they enjoyed Belgrade and Sarajevo and that’s when I realized I’m pretentious and I’m fine with it. I’m more of a hotel/flying person than a shared, 8 person hostel room, taking a 12 hour bus from destination to destination.

TTYS

RS