I’d gotten a little bored with Sarajevo and wanted a change of scenery – leaving me with two main options by train, either Belgrade, Serbia or Zagreb, Croatia, in the end Zagreb won out due to having a train that left that night rather than at 6am the next two day (Which is way too early for a civilised human being to be up at a train station).So into another taxi (10 marks, or $8NZD from the hostel to the train station) into a typically sketchy looking eastern european train station at night. 58 convertible marks later and I had my ticket for my first ever international and overnight train journey from the capital of Bosnia to the capital of Croatia.
Trains aren’t exactly fast in Bosnia, the trip – which is about 400km by road (so you’d expect it to be 4-5 hours on normal roads) is supposed to take about 9 hours by train, but due to whatever reasons, actually takes around 11 hours, which if you pay attention to forum posts on lonely planet are supposed to contain 2 hours of dodgy robber types rolling onto the train around the border to rape, pillage and generally cause chaos. That said, I’d waited until I’d heard back from Sam and Michelle to hear that their trip was a safe one, so I felt a little more confident! I met up with two Bosnian Serbs who were travelling home after a trip to venice who I decided to drink with and share a room on the train. They told me all the tricks of train travel and how to prevent the fabled robberies – again things felt a little safer having a couple of well travelled, educated people sharing the room with me.. especially after we worked out how to “lock” the door with a shemagh and a womans scarf! That said the two of them were due to leave the train before we hit the border.
After saying goodbye to them at their stop I decided I needed some level of sleep so set about trying to make the seats comfortable enough to sleep in the communist era train with nothing more than a kathmandu travel pillow and an aquired air asia comfort kit. Lets just say sleep was minimal at best. Upon reaching the border I had my passport checked by 3 or 4 different people, I was really in no state to tell, and my passport received its first stamp in 2 years of travelling on its virgin pages. The coppers did seem a little confused that I’d got into the country without a stamp, and were even more confused when I told them I’d crossed the Croatian/Slovenian border 5 times, and the Croatian/Bosnian border without a border official even opening my passport. I guess my 90 days worth of visa free travel begins today.
Upon reentering Croatia the difference in economy was immediately apparent, you simply don’t see any damage from the war, obviously tourism and the coastline have made a big impact on the economy. To put it simply – you wouldn’t realise Croatia was involved in a conflict 15 years ago, but you’d think for Bosnia it was more recent.
Still, I’ll be doing a lot more rail travel, even if it is more expensive than the bus/planes once in western europe, simply for the opportunity to see more of the country and its usually a free nights accommodation. I’d still reccomend that women do the trip in pairs at least, and make sure you bring padlocks/cables for your gear. I definately felt more comfortable having my macbook and valuables safely chained to the train using my pacsafe travel safe.
Next up, Zagreb, the city that does sweet fuck all on a Sunday!