02 June 2012

To Banja Luka

The bus trip from Belgrade to Banja Luka went without a hitch. It was easily booked at the Belgrade bus station a couple of days ago, the bus was reasonably modern and left spot on time at 9 am, and arrival in Banja Luka was just a few minutes after the scheduled arrival time of 3 pm.   It included 2 coffee breaks (at least one of our fellow travellers couldn't wait to get off the bus each time to have his ciggie(s)) as well as 2 border crossings.   The border crossings are explained by the fact that the quickest route from Belgrade to Banja Luka for the first part of the trip is via the Belgrade to Zagreb motorway.  Hence, we had to cross from Serbia into Croatia then from Croatia into Bosnia Herzegovina.   Each crossing involved an inspection of our passports both by the state we were leaving from and  the state we were entering.

The coffee breaks presented something of a currency challenge.  The first one was in Croatia, and we passed up on the coffee because we didn't have any local currency and didn't want to get a pocket full of Croatian currency by way of change if we paid by euro.   The second stop was in Bosnia.  It was at this point that it dawned on me that I hadn't acquired any Bosnian currency before leaving Belgrade (which I could easily have done).   And I knew that the bus station in Banja Luka was out of town and a taxi would be needed.  The upshot was that we paid for our coffee in euro and received change (at a fairly dismal exchange rate) in Bosnian marks, which ended up saving the day when we arrived in Banja Luka.    Here, we were deposited at the bus station set down point which was at the back end of the bus station, no where near any exchange booth or ATM machine - but right next to the head of the taxi rank!   I suppose the taxi driver would have accepted euros, but I think we would have ended up paying an even higher price than the  fare that we were forced to negotiate.  In short, although euros seem acceptable in most places in an emergency, I am reminded of my rule (honoured in the breach on this occasion) not to arrive in a country without having at least a taxi fare in the local currency in my pocket.

All this leads to the point - where to stay in Banja Luka?    I had done some research, and had narrowed the choice down to a couple of hotels on the basis that they were centrally located.  However, we hadn't got around to booking anything before arriving.   In the meantime, Sue had been making enquiries of her own - of relatives in Belgrade, fellow passengers on the bus and so on.  I'm not quite sure of the exact wording that her question followed, but in hindsight, I think it must have been, "What is the best hotel in Banja Luka?"   The answer on most occasions was, "The Bosna".  This had featured on my research, as being the most expensive hotel in town.  Oh well.

Trendy tap in hotel bathroom
Hence, her question to the taxi driver at the bus station was, "How much to take us to the Bosna?"    I suspect that the identity of the hotel influenced the slightly high fare we were quoted!
On arrival at the hotel, we inspected the room, taking note of Trip Advisor's suggestions (a) to ask for a no smoking room; and (b) in the interests of a quiet night, to ask for a room on a high floor away from the open stair well.    As to a "no smoking room", well,  in Bosnia there's no such thing, but the room we have has an opening window and is well aired, so there's almost no lingering smell.   As to (b), our request was accommodated, which was fortunate because there's an extremely loud party still proceeding at midnight on the mezzanine floor (which we can barely hear, but would be troublesome if we were closer).  I suppose it's a wedding, although there is a conference of Serb cardiologists in the hotel - if the noise is from one of their functions, then I hope they're geared up to handle any heart attacks among their members!

Christ the Saviour cathedral

 However, the hotel is good.  It's centrally located as well as being opposite Christ the Saviour cathedral, where Sue attended Friday evening vespers.

We've had an absolutely fascinating first few hours in Banja Luka, so more about this in a future post.

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