Tuesday, May 1, 2007


The first stop on our epic trip was to be Belgrade. The train was due to leave Budapest at 11:30 PM on Thursday night. I went to the train station to buy my ticket for the train, and I bumped into this guy. He was really skinny, about 6'2" and spoke English with a funny accent. Well Eastern European train stations are a bit of a hassle and its usually nice to have someone to wait with so I struck up a conversation. Turns out this guy was born in Montenegro (part of Serbia until 2006) and was born in the resort town we were headed. He was to be on the same train to Belgrade that night. Well being the nice guy I am, I invited him over to our flat for some water and a chat. I gave him a few places to see in Budapest and then agreed to meet him on the train. Didn't think too much of it after that.

We left Keleti a little bit late, but had plenty of room on the train. Me, Meredith, and Laura had a cabin to ourselves, though we couldn't turn off the heat and we slept in a sauna. About 3 am that guy I met made his way through the trian and found me. I was half asleep so I just mouthed some words and pretended to go back to sleep. That was the last I saw of him, but pretty interesting guy.

We made it to Belgrade on time, and bought our bus tickets to Sarajevo. Then we were on a quest to find the city's Citadel and Parliament building (at my request). The Citadel was huge and covered this big outcropping where these two rivers met - the Sawa and the Danube. This actually used to be a town controlled by Hungary and was called Nanderfehervar. There also used to be Roman settlement in the flood plane bleow the Citadel. As always there are many more pictures on my shutterfly account.

Strolling through the Citadel, we ran into a man who asked us where we were from. As you may have guessed, Americans are not very popular in Serbia after NATO bombed the shit out the country in 1999 for the genocide in Kosovo. Needless to say, this man went on a rant about Americans (not the last of the trip). The guy was drunk at 8 am, so we didn't pay much attention. Next we found the only remaining Mosque in Belgrade and we just about walked in when a security guard appeared out of nowhere and suggested that might not be the best idea.

After the mosque, we hit up the Parliament. Unlike most of the other former Yugoslav republics, Serbia has quite the building because Tito fueled lots of money here. At this point, we had to get ready to leave for Sarajevo. We were only spending a few hours in Belgrade before our two night stop in the capital of Bosnia. As with all countries over here, the best bathrooms and most reliable food in the morning is inevitably McDonalds. So we camped out and paraded to the bathroom while we chomped on fries and waited for the bus to leave. Mind you each of us is carrying a huge pack weighing upwards of 50 pounds depending on how you packed.

We made it back to the bus station fine, and got seats for the ride to Bosnia. We packed into the back of the bus, which we would find out later was a very bad idea. These bus rides through the Balkans are quite an adventure. Most of the rail network was destroyed during the wars of independence for the former Yugoslav Republics, so buses are the only option. The bus was, in a word, unforgettable.

I was stuffed in the very back seat and the five us were spread over the back bench with the rest of the group spread throughout. Hard to sleep but other than that, not too bad. One friend, Kenric had a seat that they forgot to put supports underneath. Basically he was on a big spring travelling across the hills of the Balkans. Also, the bus didn't have air conditioning, it was about 1000 degrees for the entire 8 hrs. As bad as all this sounds, it was one of the best rides of the trip. The views of the mountains with lakes and valleys constantly running up against more snow capped mountains is indescribable. This characterization of the view generally describes the Bosnia side of the drive. Serbia is mostly flat and poor.
There was one point along the ride when I woke up after sleeping for a bit. I figured I had slept for about 2 or 3 hrs, I look over and Laura says, we've only been travelling for an hr. I just about punched her.
Another great thing about the bus ride, was the stops along the way. Of course the bus didn't have a bathroom, and Serbians love to smoke, so that meant many stops. The bus drivers would pull over at the most random hill-top restaurants and have a full blown meal. At one such stop, Andrew and I used our little knowledge of the slavic language and ordered two pivos (beer). They were insanely cheap, but the lady working the counter stood by us the entire time so as to make sure we didn't take the bottles on the bus with us. That redemption fee was a big deal. We had two such stops along the way before we made it to Sarajevo.
I'll finish up with the bus ride in the Bosnia post.


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