Sunday, September 26, 2010

The journey to Sarajevo

My plan for this holiday was to fly into Zargreb and then fly back from Sarajevo. This is possible with cheap airlines, because they are happy for you to take single journeys. I knew I could get the train from Zagreb to Sarajevo, but I hadn't looked into details such booking a ticket. I was slightly dismayed to see that the train took 9 hours. It started at 9:00 and got to Sarajevo at 18:00. Also various online posts told me that there was no dining car on the train, but that people would sometimes get on and sell food and drink.

I was bit nervous about this, because a number of things could go wrong. Also there are only two trains a day. The second train is a night train. For example if railway clerk didn't understand English then buying the ticket would be hard. As it was he did speak English. We did have a problem when his machine wouldn't except my credit card. Luckily the ticket was only about 35 Euro, so I had enough local currency to pay in cash.

The train was a standard local train with compartments of 6 seats. I have been spoilt in other parts of Europe with access to high speed trains. Luckily the train was only 25% full, so there was plenty of room. The train seemed to stop every 20 minutes or so at really small stations, so it was a real stopping train. It was never very clear that the place the train had stopped at was actually even a station. I usually couldn't see any signs, but people just got on or off. We did stop at some bigger stations with modern utilities such as platforms. My passport was checked at the Croatia-Bosnia border.

Most people just seemed to stay on the train for less than two hours. Only the really stupid people stayed on the full journey.

The 6 seat compartment trains are more social, because you are more likely to have to have to talk to other passengers, if course only if you can all speak the same language. These type of trains remind me of Agatha Christie novels, so I worry that I will get murdered. At one point in the journey we went through a tunnel with no lights on. This is it I thought.

I did talk to one guy who spoke English. He asked if he could smoke in the compartment. I said yes. He would just have gone into the corridor and smoked at the window like 50% of the other passengers, so it made no difference. He was training to be a lawyer. He also told me the train was almost 2 hours late. My heart sank, but at least I was spared the worry of trying to work out whether each little stop was Sarajevo.

After 11 hours the train stopped at a big station that I hoped was Sarajevo, so I got out. There seemed a lot of soldiers travelling in combat uniform, but unarmed. Somehow the train seemed bigger than the one I got on Zagreb. The station was small, grubby and quiet for 20:00. I couldn't find a cash machine, which sucked because I had no local currency. After a 5 minute walk in the dark I found a cash machine at a nearby bus station. The view from the railway station was not promising: a big ugly car park, some big buildings with brightly lit neon signs.

Google maps is not very detailed for Sarajevo, in fact it is totally useless The wikipedia entry for Sarajevo warns of the taxi drivers at the railway station or airport who charge a lot, or run a scam where they take you to the wrong hotel. Given that in previous holidays I have been ripped off by taxi drivers and have spent many hours bitterly cursing them. I was not looking forward to talking to the taxi driver. After I was done with worrying I told the taxi driver the address of my hotel, he said "7 Euros", and mentally I jumped for joy. On the drive from the station, I didn't see many shops or bars. I hope there is a little nightlife here I thought.