In a word: wretched.
The rail infrastructure in the former Yugoslavia is not exactly at the level of DeutscheBahn or ÖBB or Thalys. Or even the 20thcentury. I had read that in early 2012 Bosnia was supposed to replace their old train cars with modern ones, but I can assure you that has not happened.
As you will discover, these photos were taken before our departure.
Nor do I think Bosnia should replace these trains. The majority of the passengers on the train with us from Zagreb to Sarajevo do not deserve decent rail transportation. The smokers (who disregard the “no smoking” signs) feel perfectly within their right to light up wherever and whenever, even going so far as to stub out their cigarettes on the metal window sills before tossing the butts out of the window. Trash, including whole bags of rubbish, was tossed out the window to litter the countryside. Raucous children come aboard at various intervals begging for money, as well.
Some of the rail personnel do not deserve their jobs, either. The cars lack AC, naturally, but with all the windows open a pleasant cross breeze helped keep spirits up. Nearly all of the windows needed to be propped open; and a nice fellow passenger showed us how to use a partially full water bottle (a precious commodity on the train, as there is no restaurant car, trolley cart, or potable water) to prop open the window outside our compartment. With about 3 hours remaining on our long 9 hour ride, though, the assclown ticket checker (who chided us for having our shoeless feet propped up on the seats but said nothing to the smokers) came through the car, tossing all water bottle window props out and slamming the windows shut. I gave him my best “WTH?,” to which he retorted something in his best (or worst) Bosnian, but what was done was done. A precious water bottle wasted, and windows closed on another 36°C day. Tears formed in Anna Grace’s eyes, but my fearless co-traveler hung in there.
Not all stations had Roman translations, so we didn’t always know where we were.
One of many makeshift post-war cemeteries along our route. There seemed to be one for every village we passed, with more and more of them appearing the closer we transited toward Sarajevo.
All of the Bosnian haystacks were shaped like this. They looked like little hairy gnomes to us.
Relaxing in rural Bosnia.
Despite the novelty of the scenery, we were dirty, tired, and hungry, and could not get off the train fast enough in Sarajevo. The owner of the guest house where we were staying advised us to tell the taxi driver to turn on the meter, so he would know that he could not overcharge us. (I had that sentence printed (in Bosnian) with the guest house address and showed it to the driver.) We had to stop at a Bankomat along the way (no cash stations at the train station); when we reached our lodging the taxi driver claimed he did not have change for the 50Km note I handed him, so Valida, the proprietor, sent him off to get change, telling us, “He will come back. I know his sister.”
The grit and grime of our cattle-class journey disappeared instantly at Guest House Halvat. A small house with only five rooms, but bursting with hospitality, cheerfulness, and everything else that makes a holiday memorable.
With the afternoon light fading and our rumbling tummies growing louder, Anna Grace and I splashed water on our faces and made haste to the old city market and the first restaurant with an outdoor table. There was, thankfully, an English menu, and the kind diners at the adjacent table helped us out (though Sarajevo is known for its hospitality, it was probably my pointing at the woman’s dish that prompted her to help). Soon our table was filled with cevapi, pita, kebab, fresh salad, and icy cold mineral water and Fanta. No wine to be found, as I suspected.
Our table was in a prime people-watching location, and between bites of savory kebab and soft pita, we watched women wearing headscarves in all colors of the pantone set breeze by, most looking cool and comfortable in spite of the head-to-toe coverings (how do they stay so cool? we wondered.); while other young women tottered across the cobblestones in mini skirts and maxi heels. Young children chased pigeons by the fountains, tourists who looked like we (albeit a little less wilted) strolled past and snapped photos this way and that, and before long we heard the first of many calls to prayer. Our few glimpses of this vibrant city were as restorative as the food, and we were excited to call Sarajevo home for a few days.