Getting from Belgrade to Sarajevo was the most difficult part of our journey across the Balkans. The reason? The weather. We departed from Belgrade at 5p.m on the 25th of May and I had no idea of what we were just about to face on our way to the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We took the highway E70 as if we were going towards Croatia and about 30km before the border we took the exit to Kuzmin. We drove along the Sava River and in just a few minutes we made it to Bosnian ground. I felt sorry for all the truck drivers waiting in an extremely long queue for their turn to cross the border.
If you happen to be traveling by car this is the cheapest country in the Balkans to refill your tank. During our Balkan Road Trip we focused on refilling just in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Bulgaria, where you can refill your tank for the equivalent of 1€/Lt or less.
It was getting dark and it started to rain as we circled the city of Bjieljina. On our way south we passed through the city of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 3rd largest city and home to Europe’s only salt lake. It is also home to the country’s largest power plant. Later I came to find out that Wizz Air flies to Tuzla’s International Airport, and it is the only passenger airline operating the whole year.
I knew that traveling to Sarajevo wouldn’t be an easy task. First of all, there are no highways connecting the capital to the northeastern part of the country. Second, the terrain is very hilly. Third, it was pitch-dark and most of the road offers no light. What I didn’t expect was that I would find myself driving in the middle of the strongest rain I have memory of, up and down the hills for several hours. A nightmare that seemed endless. The only thing trying to cheer me up was the radio, playing a few nice songs, some that I will never forget, such as “Kazu”, a major hit by Dubioza Kolektiv, a Bosnian musical group. Hours on the road and still no sign of Sarajevo. No cars were visible either. I believe people were hiding in their homes waiting for the rain to stop. Either that or they had no interest at all going out at night in the middle of the mountains. Why would someone leave the comfort of their homes on a rainy Thursday night?
Driving against this weather, in these roads, at dark, with a Nissan Micra, was indeed an outrageous experience. If we hadn’t already booked a place to spend the night I would have stopped the car somewhere and slept until the next morning. But I kept going, as slowly as you can imagine. Going through tunnels were the only moments that actually satisfied me. Do you know that expression “Seize the Day?”… Well, I was “Seizing the Tunnels”. The longer the tunnel, the merrier!
It was late in the evening when we made it to Sarajevo. We drove directly to the city center, we dropped our friend at the hostel he had booked and then we went on to search for the guesthouse where we were going to spend the night, but we never did. Our cellphones ran out of battery, and the city was pretty empty, almost no one was outside. The only information we had was that it was named At Mejdan Apartments, and At Mejdan was the name of a small city park right next to the Latin Bridge. I parked the card, I grabbed an umbrella and I went outside. We managed to find the place, I rang the bell, but no one answered. There was a phone number on the doorbell but we had no battery to make a phone call. I tried to find someone outside, but it was already midnight and the streets were practically empty.
Out of a sudden, I saw this weird-looking woman, probably in her late twenties, wearing a training suit to whom I asked for help. She explained she had no credit to complete the call, and she offered to take me to her place where I could spend the night, saying that she lived alone. I quickly refused, I told her I was traveling with my girlfriend and I went back to the car. We kept driving until the moment we found three garbage truck workers, who even though they didn’t speak a single word of English, tried to help us in all ways possible. I gave them the phone number and one of them called the guesthouse. That was the moment we found out that our stay at the guesthouse had been cancelled hours ago because we didn’t show up at time.
I would have parked the car somewhere and slept through the night, but my girlfriend really wanted to find a proper place to spend the night. We drove trying to find a place to spend the night but there were not many options. The few places we found were requesting too much, like eighty or ninety euros. We just couldn’t take it anymore and we were getting desperate. All we wanted was a bed to spend the night or the rest of it.
At 1 a.m was finally found a place to spend the night. It was called Hostel Scandic, it was rather simple, the bed was pretty comfortable and that was all I wanted. We paid 50 KM (25 Euros) for a private bedroom with shared bathroom. Right next to the hostel there was this old style underground Jazz Club with a very interesting decoration. I wish we had arrived earlier, so that we could sit down, listen to some good old jazz and have a drink. If I ever plan visiting Sarajevo, I’m definitely paying a visit to the Pink Houdini Jazz Club.
Seven hours later we were awake and the rain had stopped. We quickly visited the nearby bazaar while we waited for our friend. Right across the street there was this place named Casa United, the only place in the entire city that serves buffet breakfast with drinks included. There is a wide variety of choices and the prices are very good.
There were some places that I still wanted to visit in Sarajevo before departing to Split, the third city in our itinerary, such as the Latin Bridge and the Baščaršija which were located within a walking distance from where we had parked the car. As we didn’t wake up very early, due to the events of the former evening, we could no longer follow our initial plan that included visiting the War Tunnel and a few other attractions.
Baščaršija, the old bazaar area and main attraction of Sarajevo, was built in the 15th century and it used to be the double of the size it is nowadays. The bazaar was burnt down to the ground on the devastating fire of 19th Century and half of it was lost to the flames. Here you’ll get lost among so many shops, bars, restaurants and mosques. The most famous landmark of Bascarsija is called Sebilj, a three-hundred year old wooden fountain which was crowded at the moment I visited, I couldn’t even get a clear shot of the monument.
There were so many souvenir shops in the area that I couldn’t avoid buying some. What I loved about this place was that most of the souvenirs were very different from what we’re used to see. A lot of handmade copper items and bullet-made souvenirs. Among other souvenirs, I got myself a bullet key-chain but it didn’t last very long. Later in July, when flying from Lisbon to Sofia, I got stopped for transporting what was considered “Ammo”. I had to leave it behind.
South from here, and connecting the north and the south banks of Miljacka River, is located the worldwide famous Latin Bridge, the site of the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event which directly triggered the start of World War I. This bridge had its name changed to Princip’s Bridge after Gavrilo Princip, the man behind the trigger who killed the Archduke and his wife. After the Yugoslav Wars the bridge was renamed back to Latin Bridge.
Our short stay in Sarajevo was quickly over and we were now back on the road, heading to the 3rd country in our itinerary, Croatia. Driving up and down the hills, during a shiny day, witnessing the untouched beauty of Bosnia and Herzegovina was an amazing experience that I will never forget. We drove through a bridge crossing the town of Konjic, and a few kilometers west from there we came upon one of the most amazing views. There was this lake named Jablanicko, and on its embankments, there were houses. It was magical.
We were extremely excited about visiting Split. It would be our first time to the sea in 2017. When we used to live in Lisbon we had the sea right by our side and we could see it every single day. As soon as we approached the small town of Tomislavgrad I knew we were close to the Croatian border. We refilled in the closest gas station, we crossed the border and one hour later we were in Split.
Stay tuned for the next part of The Ultimate Balkan Road Trip