10 days in BOSNIA-KOSOVO, december 02


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 worth!!!


Funny stories





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 other.    



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.



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 beautiful Prizren.



Banja Luka


  2. PHOTO

  3. TIPS


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 town ;-)
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 tombstones.
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 excellent

-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 christmas..).
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.






  3. TIPS


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.