Wannabe Serbia

Today we are in Serbia, well not really its more like wanna be Serbia while we are in Bosnia Herzegovina, the city Banja Luka and the area called Republika Srpska. This is Bosnia but beside the custom who gave us a very long and concerned look until he found a stash of beers in the trunk (that made him smile) we haven’t seen any bonsiaks, Bosnian flags or anything that could give an hint that you are in BIH. There are however plenty of flags here, Republika Srpska which is very similar to the Serbian flag, all signs are written in Cyrillic and yea, this is Serbia light.
We also saw the first trace from the war today. Some houses who were bombed and some with facades covered in in bullet holes but maybe that one who caught me the most was probably all the abandoned houses from the ethnic cleaning, now it feels like we are doing the real deal.

Before we left Slovenia we heard some warnings about flooding. We heard the rumors before and a warning is always nice but it was kind a more than we expected. In sweden we had a nice, hot and dry summer while on the Balkan, they wasnt that lucky. Corn fields laid under water, hay was floating around in what looks like lakes and the roads where protected by sandbags. We had no problems driving through and the roads may be narrow but they are in better condition the the swedish ones. The highway do cost money but as long as they keep this standard I have no problem to pay some extra.

The city Banja Luka is quite small but cosy. Filled with outdoor seatings, bars and cafe’s. Vi also found their stadium and by 1 part luck and two parts cleverness we succeeded to get inside and take a look, unfortunately no match today.


Towards Sarajevo

With sorrow in my heart we left Podgorica after enjoying an awesome breakfast, on the terrace, in the sun, listening to the sound from the river. I’ll guess sometimes its totally worth to stay at nice hotels and this hotel, it was one of the nicer. After an short interview with PR-manager or something like that from Montenegro’s football association and even if I wasn’t interested at all I could ask a question or give a statement or two we hit the road towards the border to Bosnia and Sarajevo.

According to the maps its only 23 miles from Podgorica to Sarajevo and while we drove through Montenegro we were stunned how beautiful it was up in the mountains but once we crossed the border to Bosnia the road changed drastic. It was still very beautiful but they were narrow, winding, high edges on the tarmac and on the sides, it was far far down to the bottom and of course no crash barriers at all. We even saw a couple of places where the tarmac had been washed off by all the rain. Kind a spooky and those 23 miles took way much longer than we thought it would and “finally” we found those bad roads everybody has been talking about.

In Sarajevo the next shock came, we got stuck in rush hour and it took like one hour to get from the outer suburbs to city center, then our GPS told us to turn right but to the right there was no street..well there was but it was so tiny that it must be for pedestrians and bicycle only. We drive around and search but find nothing so after a while we were once again back at the intersection where the GPS told us to turn right. Scratching our heads and not understanding anything I jump out of the car to see what kind of street it is and guess what, it is an street for cars and the GPS showed us the correct way all the time, bummer! However I’m happy that we drove a tiny Citroën because it was tight, very tight. I doubt that if we had a normal Volvo or BMW we could have used those streets in the old city of Sarajevo. Today however its not any nice hotel, instead its more of a hostel with 2 rooms, and the owner live upstairs so in other words are we living just like the balkan is, sometimes luxury and fine, sometimes a little bit more simple.

War tourism

Yesterday evening we started on the museum about the Srebrenica massacre and that was that evening, what a party pooper. Why do I never learn that genocide is never fun?!?

So today we continued our war tourism and to be effective we walked downed to the tourist information to get a map over the city and it ended up that we hired a guide/driver instead. Well almost the same thing and even if I’m kind a skeptical towards this kind of guides, Jasmin which was our guide was really good and didn’t try to sell us a lot of crap. Instead he really showed us where he grewup during the war, gave us  hes point of view how it fell, why it happen and whats the situation is right now. He also showed us the famous tourist spots like the jewish cemetery, OS-village, the bob sledge track, snipers alley. We visited ruins where the “serb” snipers were located and shoot into the city. I put serbs in quites mark because it wasn’t serbs who bombed the shit out of Sarajevo even if the whole western world think so. I also met an very old man with an very polite goat in the former olympic village. Even if we didn’t spoke the same language we spoke the universal language of cigarettes and after a while Jasmin came and could help us translate and here we got our first warning; watch your steps because there is still mines all over the forest. Both me and Per chilled with our exploration after that and we have still both our legs left.

Into the city again and visit the only little life line who existed during the siege, the tunnel under the airport. Its a really interesting museum and clearly shows what people can do when they have to. The tunnel was 800m long, was digged by hand under the airport which UN-troops kept and made it possible to import food, weapons and other necessaries during the whole siege. The tour ended into the hills again with a cup of great, strong bosniak coffee and a view over Sarajevos older part, wonderful.

We also had time to visit the older parts of Sarajevo, well actually we live in the older parts so we don’t have much choice. Its really cool to see how how the city started in the east and the more west you go the more modern the city gets. You can really see the difference between the time periods and Sarajevo is not an city who belong to the west or east, its a total mix of everything. Now its time to head out in the Sarajevo night, we have a date with Amira who hopefully will tell us more about how it is to live in a city like this.

Summery of the Balkan express

So this express trip is over and I will try to do an summery of it, country by country. Of course since I spent a couple of days per country I don’t really know what I’m talking about but its an first impression after visited and talked to people. I´ll start with the overall impression and then continue to the country listed by the order we visited them.

In common for all countries I never felt unsafe anywhere or anytime. We tried everything from some tiny gravel roads to wide highway and overall they were really good, the worst roads we actually found in Austria and Germany which was kind a odd. English works overall without any problem even if you of course will find exceptions with the older population (works better in Slovenia/Croatia than in Serbia) and the euro works everywhere, even if the country has its own currency but keep in my that you probably get a better exchange course if you pay in the local currency.

Slovenia is the country which remind me the most of western europe. The infrastructure are in good condition, the houses are in good condition, maybe since they left Yugoslavia with only 10-das or war. They had the best possibilities to to setup a good society but still they fail. According to Robin who we couchsurfed at in Ljubljana we learned that the suicide rate in Slovenia is skyrocketing and the alcoholism is a huge problem which you may see if you visit any gas station or other shop who sells alcohol during the evening/night. The problem might be that they are not western Europe, however they are not really “balkans” either and they doesn’t share the same culture or history like the rest of the Yugoslavian republics which gives them an identity crises and may explain their problems. Their mountains are thought really nice and i would recommend that you go here instead of the alps for your next ski/bike trip, I think it will be awesome!

Serbia is very, russian. Everything from the society, culture to how people behave. Serbia has a collective feeling that western world did them wrong during the war and like someone said, “Serbia never forgets, never forgives” and I think there is really something in this. Serbia hasn’t really forgiven the western world and while the rest of the republics has been closing in to EU Serbia has been running their own race which made them kind a isolated. It has started to change but its a big difference from the other countries. Belgrade is the biggest city in former Yugoslavia and a big city is always a big city, you can always find something for you here and I will return at some day.

Kosovo is the smallest country and not even a country to some (Serbia) which may be a problem if you don’t plan your trip. Its not a problem to go from Serbia to Kosovo however if you try to enter Serbia coming from Kosovo you might end up in problem. Serbia claims that Kosovo still belongs to them they may accuse you form illegal entering the country even if you just been to Kosovo. In this country however the country with the biggest optimism and they are building everywhere without any regulations. Well, the former mayor tried to restrict some but he got shot on the open street. I would say that Kosovo is the closest to the gold rush in the wild west you can come.

Macedonia didn’t showed us its best sides when we were there. Rain, gray weather and the hotel we booked had faked their address on booking.com so it looked like it closer to the city center than what it really was. Not an good start and after that Macedonia had to work in a uphill. That the city was gray and that they places statues all over the city doesn’t help much.  But there is a couple of low cost flight flying to Skopje so at least its easy to get here and you are welcome to prove me wrong.

Albania was probably the country I had the most prejudices about and not a single one was fulfilled during my trip. It may been because of the pope was visiting Tirana but the city was really clean and nice. English worked really good and I was expecting to see old Mercedes cars but I guess it was just my mind playing tricks on me. The road were really good, people were friendly and even if the corruption is supposed to be extreme I never saw anything. My guess is that in a couple of years Albania will be new the nr 1 charter resort, the beaches and sea are beautiful and once the standards gets just a little bit better, in the same class as Greece or Turkey.

In Montenegro we had the opposite experience than Macedonia. The weather couldn’t be better and the hotel was even better than we thought. Podgorica may not be the best or funniest city in the world but who cares then you can sit  on a outdoor seating and drink a cold beer and enjoy life. The country itself reminds pretty much of Serbia with the major difference that they do anything they can to get closer to EU. A big difference and it makes it way much easier to be a tourist here. If you like nature you big mountains and deep valleys you will love Montenegro!

Bosnia Herzegovina:
Bosnia as a country is a dead according to me, it has been forced to one nation and the country is suffering from it. What many people doesn’t know is that Bosnia Herzegovina is an federation, just like Yugoslavia was (and that worked out so well). It contains three large groups of people (Croatians, Bosniaks and Serbs) . The only thing that consistent is that you never, ever see the Bosnian flag, instead its the flag for Republik Srpska or the Croatian flag and its here you really realize that the wounds from the war i still wide open and infected. Each group has its own president and for any decisions all three must agree and how often does that happen do you think? Amira who we met in Sarajevo described it as “we are sitting on a ticking bomb”.

Croatia has two faces, we have the rich part along the coast which every year get plenty of tourism and gets even wealthier from that and we the poor inland where you still find traces from the war. The coastline is pretty much like any other area in western europe around the Mediterranean and you can find everything you want. If you travel inland it gets poorer and poorer and and you will find abandoned villages and other traces from the war. If you go to Croatia I really recommend that you spend a day or two traveling inland, the nature is beautiful and you should have seen both sides before you can say that you been to Croatia.