Mostar to Sarajevo, BiH

Mostar train station: You can tell they don’t have a lot of rail travelers here – the ticket window (no self-serve machines) only opens 1/2 hour before the trains depart, which is easier than it sounds since there are only four trains per day. Added bonus: my €5 ticket to Sarajevo is hand written.

I managed to get out of bed by 05:40. Forced myself to take a shower – ice cold – and pack last night, so I was out the door this morning by 06:00. I didn’t bother to walk all the way up to the station last night, so I wasn’t sure which rumour was true: that the train was at 06:00, 06:45, or 07:45 (but everyone did at least agree that the train ride was spectacular, not to be missed, and better than the bus).

So I figured I’d either catch the 06:45 or 07:45, and on the off chance that it really was at 06:00 I’d just take the bus. Turns out it was 07:38, so I had plenty of time to go across the street to the bakery I’d spied yesterday and get one of them fruit pastries. Also grabbed a mystery thing that could have been apple strudel or walnut, which I’m not keen on, but for 35 cents I figured I could risk it. It was apple, and damn tasty too.

While looking for sunset shots last night I noted a burek place (savoury pastry dough stuffed with either meat, cheese, spinach, etc.)(interesting that the standard burek here seems to be with meat, while börek in Turkey seems to default to cheese filling) and a small grocery selling Sarajevo Pivo, so after finishing with the evening photo shoot I had me a picnic on the ramparts of the Stari Most. Cost me a total of KM 3.30 (about €1.15), then another 40 cents for some mediocre ice cream for dessert. Actually it was probably not bad, but I’d just come over from Italy, so I’m a gelato snob now.

I think the single biggest, easiest, and cheapest thing they could do to help revive tourism, which they want desperately to do, is to put up some signs. Like “TRAIN STATION” or “TICKETS” or “PLATFORM 2” (see photo). Just labeling the actual location would be a great start – I’ve seen bus stops only identifiable as such because locals who knew to stand there were standing there waiting. Then they could move on to Phase II with such features as signs with “Train station is thataway ->” further away, in the city center and such.

It’s strange to be rolling along a European rail line in Europe, surrounded by European people and things (cars, houses, brands) then catch a glimpse up a valley and see not a Habsburg yellow church steeple but a mosque’s minaret. Neat.

17:18, Sarajevo: Apparently the people here don’t need towels, they just dry magically. I’ve been all over town, from the train station to the far end of the old town, which is a good swath of the center, and found one upscale “butik” with towels. No big C&A, Kaufhof, Kmart, etc. I just want a cheap towel for the coming cruise and swimming. I already ended up paying €15 for name-brand swim trunks (which I used for a total of maybe 23 minutes as it turns out) in some special sporting goods store. Well, at least they are not see-through!

The laptop is definitely screwed. I tried it on a different electrical system and had the same problem. %$#!

Very frustrating day, and knowing I only have one day to see Sarajevo doesn’t help. At least the hostel is in a great location (“Identiko”, on the edge of the old town) which helps save time. My room is tiny, up under the attic roof (the door is about 1/2 size – I have to stoop to crawl through, and getting the pack in was a real experience) and the bathrooms and shower are a couple floors down, but… €10 and in a fine location. Can’t complain!

Very frustrating day, did I mention that? Got stuck in the wrong restaurant for lunch. Food was ok, but zero ambience, and Diet Coke was the most interesting thing I could get to drink. Idiot guide book basically said the name of the restaurant I wanted was “Grill”, and every restaurant in the area had “Grill” in the name.

I found an internet cafe and tried to get in to research the laptop problem. Went over a 20-min section by about a minute, got charged for the full 20. Would have been out much faster but a) Dell sucks and b) their connection was slow. Recipe for internet cafe riches: charge by the hour and have a slow connection! Profit!

Finally sit down for a beer. “Sorry, no alcohol here. Only coffee, cola.

Finally sit down for a beer under a Sarajevoksa brewery umbrella (they probably serve beer here) and the waiter forgets my order.

20:55: Just lit up the first şişa. :-)  Thought I would wait until I got to Turkey for this, but Sarajevo feels a little like Turkey, and certainly smells like it: smoke, grilling meat, etc. Awesome. Finally something going well today.

20:56: First buzz. It’s good to be a non-smoker: even the mild sweet apple tobacco gives a rush. This is a nice place (Halvat, in a small courtyard east of the old town’s fountain). Their apple tobacco tastes slightly different than the usual. Less sweet, more subtle. Not better, just different, and nice. Only thing missing is somebody to talk to and play backgammon with. I miss the tea houses in Amman with Dersk and with Lars in Cairo.

Lots of local youth here (no old men like in the aforementioned places) and I get the feeling this is a somewhat trendy place. It is tiny inside, and packed with people. Very cool, too – good music, people sitting on different levels, and all on carpets. Funky lamps and of course the smoke of a dozen şişa creating patterns in the light. The courtyard is cool too, although I envy the guys with the brazier for warmth (they later left and made sure I got their seat – much appreciated).