07 June 2012

Return from Sarajevo to Belgrade

We gave some thought as to how we would return from Sarajevo to Belgrade.   One option was by plane, but since the only flight I was able to locate left at 6.30 am, that was quickly vetoed.    Then there's a relatively new "direct" train service from Sarajevo to Belgrade.   I say "direct" because it doesn't involve changing trains (with a wait for the connecting train, as used to be the case).    The catch is that although a change of train is no longer involved, the route itself is circuitous.    Hence it takes over 8 hours (with 2 border crossings, as it goes through Croatia), and our experience of the toilets on trains in this part of the world led to this option also being vetoed.

Hence, we took the bus.    Great decision!    Yes, we had to get a taxi out to the Eastern bus station on the outskirts of town in Sarajevo, and the trip still took over 7 hours, but we were rewarded by yet another dose of amazing scenery, this time in eastern Bosnia:    river valleys, mountains, forests, lakes,  rural scenes and so on.  The rivers in this part of the world flow roughly north towards the Sava (which in turn flows into the Danube), but Belgrade lies more-or-less to the east of Sarajevo.    So the bus route climbs over the hills between each river valley (it's a bit too complicated to calculate how many, though), before crossing into Serbia where the route becomes almost flat as it traverses the very fertile flood plains with vast areas of corn and other crops.

Lunch venue

The first part of the bus trip was almost leisurely, with a number of coffee/comfort/cigarette breaks in quick succession, including lunch at the summit of a pass.    Then for some reason, there were only quite brief stops at the various bus stations, where disembarkation was not really encouraged (but possible if required in the interests of "comfort").  Moral:  always take advantage of any breaks offered, because you can never be quite certain when the next one will be!   

Typical scene (but not the main road!)
I should add that the average speed of the bus is not high:    the winding roads are a limiting factor, but so is that fact that on this route, except for the last 50 or so kilometres into Belgrade, the road is entirely single carriageway.   Not only does it pass through quite a few towns with speed restrictions, but it's shared with all sorts of other traffic, including tractors, log trucks and international semi-trailers - and there is not one passing lane!

In relation to the bus itself:   have you ever wondered why it is that people such as Trafalgar tours and the like can promote the fact that they have new buses?   Well, my theory is their hand-me-down buses end up as the regional buses around here (and possibly elsewhere).    Hence, the buses we have travelled on have been very comfortable, but, no, they're not quite in brand-new condition.

So now we're back in Belgrade.   Sue has commented that, when we were planning for this trip, she thought that she had already covered a lot of this territory.  However, even she has has been pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty of this region.

I've ended up with a few Bosnian currency notes to convert to dinars,  By careful management (and perhaps luck!) I managed to dispose of all but 20 cents of our Bosnian coins.   I don't know what rate our local foreign exchange man will give me for our few remaining notes, but hopefully he won't be put off by the fact that they're all pretty well used.    Bosnia has many good points, but crisp currency notes is not one of them.  How the ATM machines manage to handle the old notes that they invariably seem to dispense eludes me.

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