ABOUT THIS TRAVEL
10 days in BOSNIA-KOSOVO, december
Since the end of the war the thought of visiting
ex-yugoslavia was lodged in my head. I wanted to see the post war reality... I wanted to
realise a situation so near my home, but seen only through the TV reports. Christmas
holidays were approaching...hence, this was the chance...and, as usual, I caught it!
In my opinion travelling means to get in contact with people, and this can happen only
using the public means of transport; this is what I did.
Well equipped against the coldness in the
mid-december I left alone with my booknote from the station of Milan to Zagreb (Croatia).
Still prosecuting by train I reached the "east looking"
"capital" of the Srpska republika in Bosnia: Banja Luka. Then I got to the
charming Sarajevo, whose mixing
culture I fell in love. After a shocking divert to Mostar, I headed to the cute and
cold Prizren in Kosovo and finally
ended up in Phristina, from where I flew back to Zurich.
Since the first day I was surprised by the kindness of the people I met. Every
single person has been helpful, trying to help me nevertheless the language barrier.
People were eager to speak to me, and every movement meant a new friend. They offered me a
coffee without any other interest that showing me their welcome.
Nobody complained about taking pictures and nobody denied me a smile. I've not had any
kind of problem, even travelling during the night in Kosovo.
I went there to see the war damages and I discovered the
kindness of the people, an unexpected richness: the people. Maybe I've been just
lucky, but, anyway, this has been my experience.
PS: thanks to Goram for the company and the
helpfulness in Sarayevo and to James for pushing me to visit Kosovo...it really was
HITCH-HIKING IN MOSTAR...
UNREAL CHRISTMAS DAY
ATMOSPHERE IN MOSTAR
A TOUGH NIGHT TO ENTER
HITCH-HIKING IN MOSTAR...
It was Christmas day the one I arrived in Mostar
with James, a nice and funny irish guy who was travelling alone for some months in the
east of Europe. Just we got off the bus I saw a huge christians cross rising from
the top of a mountain facing Mostar. "I wanna get there", I thought. After a
while we were heading to that cross, cutting through the fields, when we stumbled on
mine fields. We tried to skirt them but we realised our only chance was to follow the long
hairpined road. Ok....let's hitch-hike!
It didn't take that long till a jeep stopped a loaded us. He was Tony: a french father and
english mother restaurant owner born on Sweden and lived in Libia, Italy, Croatia and
finally in Bosnia. He was simply a wonderful person and, el of luck, was heading, right,
to the cross to "meditate", as he said. I trusted his confidence driving on
unpaved roads through mine fields... anyway we didn't blow up ;-) He took us along
the war line where tanks and bunkers still were lying over bullet case layers. It seemed
unreal, but definitely it wasn't and I saddened thinking that in the place I was stepping
now, not more than seven years ago people were shooting down each
UNREAL CHRISTMAS DAY ATMOSPHERE IN MOSTAR
When I arrived in Mostar I didn't
immediately realised the atmosphere till I crossed the river and got to the christian part
from the muslim one. In fact the river separates the two religions: on the east side there
were the minarets towering, a very lively atmosphere, every shop opened and many people
walking. While just few hundreds meters towards west, where there were steeples instead of
minarets, the silence was prevailing; every shop closed, few people in the streets, left
out the continuos pilgrimage to the remains of the "presepio" built with the
original statues of the '500 century, burnt by three muslim guy two days before.
Coexistence of different culture is tough, really tough.
TOUGH NIGHT TO ENTER KOSOVO
I was walking in the evening in the Sarajevo
outskirt when I saw a bus parked in the darkness with the sign
"Sarajevo-Prizren"; "..uhm.. it looks strange,... anyway Kosovo is my next
leg hence I gonna get it", I thought. When I asked to the driver he looked so
surprised I wanted to take that bus. He was sure I was mistaking bus and asked me several
times about my destination. At the end he wasn't really convinced but anyway let me in.
First of all I didn't understand why he was so surprised, why there were just three
people inside apart me and why the bus was leaving from that unknown dark place for a such
long trip (about 13 hours). Anyway the most important thing was to cross the border
without visa problem. I didn't have any visa and I knew I didn't need, but you never know.
After a while the bus left and any my doubt disappeared when it entered the Sarajevo bus
station where many people were waiting for it with their ticket bought at the bus station
ticket office. I understood that the bus driver was cheating the bus station selling
directly the ticket for a cheaper price in advance. Maybe the three people on the bus with
me at the beginning were driver's friends, that's why he was surprised... maybe he thought
everybody knew about his cheating, that it was written even in the lonely planet ;-))
Anyway my travel started and in few hours the bus reached the bosnian border. Some guards
got on and checked the passports. Looking at mine the guard didn't understand
anything about the visa, getting nervous asked me something, but when I answer
"Govorite englesky?? (do you speak english?)" he threw the passport against me
and got off the bus. It restarted and immediately stopped and the serbian border. I was
worried they pushed me back claiming a visa. As usual the guard got on and collected all
the passports. After half an hour the driver came to me and asked me to follow him. When I
got off I froze up; it was 2 am of a cold winter night in Serbia, but shortly I reached
the warm container of the border guards. As I thought they wanted a visa, but I
stood the ground saying I didn't need. I had to be confident if I wanna got in Kosovo. At
the end they told me something I didn't understand, I signed some documents, paid 5
euro and got a piece of paper written in cyrillic . 10 hours later I was in that charming
Definitely it's not a tourist highlight and you
won't find it crowded by tourist (anyway no places in Bosnia are really touristy
(luckily)), but I met so many helpful people that could be one good reason to visit the
It's the main town (politically you cannot define it "the capital") of the
Serpsk Republik in Bosnia, hence you won't find any mosquee or any muslim walking in the
streets, as opposed to Sarajevo, but just orthodox churches and grave yards (at least at
the time of travelling: 12/2002) but also a quite modern and nice downtown with many green
areas. In the town there're no evident signs of the war unless the frequent black
Banja Luka is characterised by a communist style with its cold massive grey
buildings and with his "ukrainian style" market, as appeared to me , being
there in some cold foggy charming winter days.
I think it's really worth visiting Banja Luka once you are travelling to/from
Sarajevo, so that, comparing these two realities you could perceive the complexity of the
Bosnian-Serbian situation: they are two different world in just one country.
- Unfortunately Banja Luka is very expensive
cancerning the accomodation for a traveller, the cheapest I found was 40 euro/night
(12/2002) (shit!! my budget fucked up in one day ;-), but, at least, the hotel was
-At the time of travelling (12/2002) just one
train connected Banja Luka to Zagaber and to Sarajevo, hence plan carefully your travel!
At the time of travelling Mostar was divided in
two parts: the east part was the muslim one with lot of mosques and the respective
minarets rising up from the town. The west part was the catholic one from where a high
concrete steeple (the highest, I've never seen) dominated the town. Read my story about
the atmosphere I found in Mostar in the christmas day (unreal
Unfortunately the east part, the oldest, was bombed during the bosnian-serbian war, and
the bridge, symbol of the town (mostar; most=bridge) blew out. Now they are rebuilding it,
but it'll take long time. Have a look to the old postcard and you'll realise the tragedy
of such loss.
I recommend to see the view from the top of the hill where the huge steel christian cross
towers. I got there hitch hiking (hitch hiking in...),
but be careful follows the street because of the mines. From Mostar it'll take two hours
on foot, but it's worth.
Once again in Mostar I found helpful and kind people.
If you had the chance to visit just one place
in Bosnia it should be Sarajevo. When I got there by train I knew a kind bosnian
guy, Goram, who, taking me to visit the town and hanging out in the night, told me about
war events and how they changed his life: I got impressed. He turned out to be a nice and
interesting company during my stay in Sarajevo; thanks Goram!
I was charmed by the culture mixing in the town, called also the "european
Jerusalem", in fact you can find an orthodox church near a mosque, a catholic church
and a jewish synagogue. Moreover Sarajevo is settled in a beautiful valley surrounded by
mountains. At the time of travelling (12/2002) the town still showed evident signs of the
war: shell holes on the building facades, on the ground and huge burnt buildings as the
parliament (see pics below). But many people were employed in the reconstruction and in
few years, I think, these signs should be disappeared from the buildings, but not from
the people's minds.
While I was travelling through Bosnia I met an
irish traveler who advised me to go to Kosovo, in particular to Prizren, because of his
beauty. I went. He was right. Read how funny was getting there (a tough night to enter Kosovo)
Prizren lies at the bottom of a mountain; the oldest part of the mountain is built on the
slope, while the other one, separated by a river, spread out on the flat. At the time of
the travel (12/2002) all Kosovo was controlled by KFOR (Kosovo FORce), it means in Prizren
there was a continuos flow of amphibian tanks, jeeps, soldiers and many places in the old
town were fenced by barbed wire. Moreover the upper part of the old town was damaged by
the recent war, despite all this, I fell in love with Prizren!
It was a rainy cold winter day while I was there and everything was surrounded by a light
fog. I found it really charming. Mainly I found out so nice and helpful people; I've not
had any kind of problem wandering through the town taking pictures and speaking with
locals...it has been simply great!
-at the time of travelling (12/2002) if you come
from Italy (schengen country) you don't need visa; you just pay 6 euro, but you have to
stand the ground to persuade the border guards about it!!
-Due to the fact that thousands of soldiers live
there, Kosovo has got expensive: the cheapest accommodation in Prizren were 20 euros.
-Try to communicate with people learning some
words in albanian, but don't use serbian-bosnian words, they won't be welcomed!
-Do not carry with you at Prishtina airport the
old bullet cases you may have found in the way or bought as souvenir, you'll have problems
as happened to me, and I had to drop them there
-Avoid visiting Prishtina: there's nothing
special and taxi drivers who take to the airport swindle people asking 15 euros saying
it's a 20 Km trip, but it's just 9 Km long! Unfortunately there are no other means of
transport to get to the airport.
-At the time of travelling (12/2002) railway was
closed, but I heard they were going to reopen it
-At the time of travelling (12/2002) all the
serbian border was closed: you could entry Kosovo just from the south (Macedonia) or from
Montenegro, as I did.