Operation Extract Covid Boy is GO!

So, as per the aforementioned Plan, we start getting everything in place and I can’t wait to put fucking Russian-bogan Gold Coast in the rear view mirror! We check out from the hotel and are waiting in the reception area (yay, belatedly back on the functioning internet), for our driver. I get a message in garbled English and immediately think, ‘Oh fuck, please don’t ditch the job!’ Hmmm… my lack of faith in passenger transport companies is showing. Angus and I are carefully inspecting everyone who pulls up outside or walks into the hotel reception. Angus is like ‘Is that him?’, ‘What about that guy?’ But my finely tuned sense of ‘what drivers look like’ goes, nope, nope, nope…and finally ‘Yep! That’s him. He’s got the finely tuned bod of someone who spends their life on their arse in a car eating whatever crap they can pick up on the way – never mind, we are just thankful he’s turns up.

Traffic promises to be a right pain in the arse, but at this point, I don’t care – if the driver had failed to turn up all the rest of the plan falls on its arse and I’d be trying to cadge an Taxi for a 71km trip, in a country that doesn’t have Uber. Part way through our transit, just as we are leaving Montenegro and entering Croatia, Angus gets an email from the Montenegrin Health Advisory letting him know his PCR test is definitely positive and could he please let the know what his symptoms are. I’m not paying much attention to this (and I’m not sure he responded?), but the boys message us on WhatsApp and tell us they got the same email. Oh well, onwards to Croatia we go.

We get to the apartment that we booked near the Dubrovnik Airport around 2pm and Angus immediately crashes in the lounge – He’s happy because the internet is about 20Mb and I’m happy, because I finally get a room to myself with an independent air con system, so we are finally able to take our masks off for a few hours. The view from the balcony was particularly lovely, and while it might be a nice spot to spend a weekend if you were totally self contained, there are zero restaurants or groceries anywhere nearby and once more we are on the second floor so I’m being maddened by flights of steps yet again. Angus finally gets hungry enough to go off in search of someone to order a pizza for him… and our B&B host happily assists him. The pizza was pretty good actually – though I am sick of eating bread (I rarely eat bread or bread products at home and it’s making me feel just ick). At some point in the evening we realise the A/C is pretty shit and it’s actually now cooler outside (wasn’t when we arrived, it was 39C), so we throw open all the windows and try to get a cross breeze going.Next morning, being Sunday, now that Montenegro is in the past and we are in the far more civilised country of Croatia, we call an Uber and make our way to the airport. Out AirBnB host assured us it was a tiny airport and there was no reason why we needed to be there two hours early as the lines are always short. She was wrong and we are glad we ignored her. Angus stood in line with all the mouth breathers in his mask and I waited on the sidelines for us to get to the top of the queue to get some boarding passes for our extremely expensive flights. There was barely a mask to be seen in here which is kinda infuriating… but we kept ours on. Waiting at the gate was an experience I really hope never to replicate. I had the misfortune to sit myself down beside a young Australian guy – roughly about Angus’ age, and I couldn’t help but hear his conversations – firstly on the phone with his girlfriend, and then with his mate. I was disgusted to hear how they were talking. The guy was on his phone speaking with a woman who was obviously his girlfriend, and he was all, “I miss you and I love you so much, I’m being so good while I’m away babe… Brendon, though, Brendon is being a total man-whore, but not me!” He was cloyingly saccharine and sounded completely insincere from where I was sitting, (though that may have been coloured by my inherent dislike of people who speak at annoying loud volume in public spaces). Anyway, he gets off the phone with the GF and starts talking to his mate, who I am going to presume is Brendon. Brendon proceeds to show him a picture on his phone of a table full of good hearty Mediterranean food and was saying, “Man that was an awesome meal, so fucking tasty even though I threw it all up later. Haha!” Urgh… I’m surprised they couldn’t feel the disdain oozing from my pores, but I guess that would mean they’d have to pull their own heads out of their arses long enough to notice there are ‘other people’ nearby. Next thing Brendon is pointing across the gate and saying, “Oh fuck, don’t look, don’t wave, it’s Emily and them, I don’t want them coming over here. Look at them – fucking nerds in masks and shit.” … breathe Robyn, breathe… they’re not my responsibility. Then Brendon with the Food Photo says to BoFriend of the Year, “I can’t believe she’s wearing a mask when she was happy rawdogging you all last week! Hahahaha!” BFotY then jabs Brendon in the guts and says, “Don’t you ever tell anyone about that, ya cunt.” And they carry on a bit more like that as we are boarding the aircraft and they decide not to get up and wait in line like ‘fuckwits’, but to cut in when the girls they are trying to avoid make it towards them. Ugh. Two more gross young humans I could never imagine… I bet their parents are so proud. 😐

Anyway, I digress, we wait at the airport and eventually get onto our Aegean flights and thankfully it looks like our luggage is coming with us.

It’s probably quite a nice view if the windows were cleaned, like ever. Aegean isn’t the worst airline I’ve flown, but it’s definitely not my first choice – our other option though was to fly Turkish Airlines and go Dubrovnik > Istanbul > Istanbul > Athens, so here we are. Athens Airport – greeting us with a n information point that was a decidedly unhelpful Google search page. We didn’t have too much trouble getting through customs though we were vaguely wondering whether Angus’ Covid positive status was attached to his passport at all given he’d had to provide it as ID when he went for the PRC test. At some point while we were in the air, the Boys back in Budva and Angus all receive an email telling them they need to isolate for seven days?! WTF Montenegro??? You can’t PCR test someone on a Friday and then tell them on a Sunday they can’t go anywhere… that advice probably should have been given at the time the test was administered! Now the Boys in Budva were starting to make noises of serious buyer’s remorse – they were possibly going to be stuck there for an entire week, and were wishing they’d bailed with us!Customs was okay, I managed to limp through to baggage claim and thankfully our bags had made it with us (yeah, the faith is really gone on that one, thanks Lufthansa!). We then find ourselves ordering an Uber – I still feel dirty every time I do it, but here it turns out most of the Uber drivers here are in branded taxis anyway – so I guess it’s at least one way of knowing exactly how much your trip is going to cost you before you get in the car. We give him the name of the hotel in Athens, it’s about a 35-40 min trip and I sit back thinking I can relax for a bit… we’re nearly there… we’re nearly there Until we hit the highway and I think, shit ‘we’re going pretty fast’ and look over and see the driver is doing well over 140kmph in a 100 zone! I double check my seatbelt and make sure Angus has his on before grabbing my camera to take a snap. I manage to just grab a pic just as HE’S SLOWING DOWN TO 130KMPH TAKE AN OFF RAMP. Fark.. no wonder you only had a 4.87 rating, Besian! Somehow, perhaps by magic or the gods finally taking pity on us, we make it to our hotel without incident and check in. And immediately I feel half my stress melt away – this is immediately followed by a conviction that this is now when I’ll get sick for sure. Running on cortisol and adrenalin for the last couple of days has not been fun; now I’m stopping, that’s when it’ll take me down.

We get into the room and immediately make ourselves at home by moving all the furniture around so that my bed is as far away from Angus’ as possible and our heads about 4m apart when sleeping. We send Mr K a proof of life pic and then back on with the masks and a well deserved nap. In the interim at some point, Mr K has googled up the hotel and found out it has views to the Acropolis, and sent me a message asking if we can see it: Like, literally my head is beneath the window in question, but I had zero energies to get up and check.
We spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights in the Athens Hotel. Angus was feeling quite a bit better and hadn’t had any fever since a slight temp Sunday morning… while I was going slowly mad wondering when I was going to come down with it.

The hotel was good, we had breakfast included in our rack rate but I’m not a big breakie eater so I had my cup of tea and some fruit for breakfast, and I pulled out the old backpacker habits and managed to squirrel away bread, butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs and feta each morning so we didn’t have to worry about lunch. Also got to know Wolk really well (Greek MenuLog) and had some nice souvlaki and grilled skewered things ordered in at dinner times.

So here we are staying until Wednesday when the transfer hell will start all over again.

Kotor, Montenegro

We had a gorgeous drive from Trebinje to Kotor today – the scenery is gorgeous around here… it would be a lovely area to explore without being on a tight schedule, I think! Gorgeous! The colour of the water here is just stunning. And here we are at Kotor again. When I was here in 2016, I was kinda disappointed that we weren’t going to Dubrovnik that trip, but now I’ve been there and am back here – I think I prefer Kotor. It’s like a mini-Dubrovnik, similar feel, winding little streets packed with delightful cafes and kooky little shops – but less overtly touristy (I mean, still plenty touristy but less ‘in your fucking GoT loving face!’, touristy).

I remember trying to take a photo of this when I was here last time, but there was always so many people streaming in (this is the main entrance to town under the fortress walls) that I didn’t manage it. I love the old stone work and the carving… I like to think of the hands that crafted these hundreds of years ago, not ever knowing they would stand the test of time the way they have. Oh, and the weird little permanent Christmas shop that I noticed last time I was here, seems to have survived the pandemic! Seriously would not have expected that… was tempted to buy one of these hand painted wooden Santas to take home to show them some support, but I remembered myself and how much I fucking hate Christmas and resisted the temptation admirably. 😛 So after a little wander around, I found myself an out of the way cafe in one of the back windy streets and treated myself to some bruschetta and a spritz so I could just watch the people going by. Kotor is definitely a fun place to be, I’m not sure I’d suggest staying here for a few days, unless you were using it as a base to explore the region, but it is quaint and lovely. Some of our group were mad enough to go for a walk up the fortress walls in 36C heat… there’s quite a bit I’ll do for a photo op, but that ain’t one of them! Have to say, the cruise ships really kinda spoil the view. They should make them anchor around the corner and tender in to port… (like we did when we were on the enormous Regal Princess!) .You can make out the walk that goes around the walls and then up to the mountain to get the views over the city… there’s a small church up the top and apparently it’s not particularly noteworthy, but fuck that walk in this heat!

Usually Simon was full of useful information about the towns we were visiting and the local history etc. On the way into Montenegro, he told us the one thing he said the Montenegrins are s truly proud of was how lazy they were held to be! He said it’s a reputation they revel in, and are absolutely proud to be as lazy as humanly possible. He read us these Montenegrin Commandments (which were on postcards everywhere) and said people here are will do just about anything to get out of doing work…

So in the spirit of embracing my inner Montenegrin, I decided to spend the remainder of our time in town relaxing with more spritzes for the people watching! Having raced around like a mad chook last time I was here, it was nice to be able to just chill and enjoy the scenery.

After our visit to Montenegro, we were back on the bus – poor Kris was stuck in traffic for ages – 50 mins to move 4kms – so we were a bit behind schedule. And it was off to Budva once he managed to get to us.

The drive there was equally beautiful as we wound our way down the coast. Still in Montenegro so no time wasted in border checkpoints.

Budva is a completely unknown quantity to me, having never been there before and knowing very little about the place… but this is what the ‘Budva brochure’ looks like:

There’s a gorgeous old town happily situated on the mouth of the bay, but unfortunately due to our late arrival, we weren’t going to have time to go explore that. The hotel we were staying in was right down on the beach in the ‘Budva Riviera’ which sounds super exotic…. until you realised it’s full of cashed up Russian bogans and it’s fucking Spring Break out there! Our hotel was the dodgiest one on our entire itinerary… when we checked in, we were given a key, remotes for the AC and a television and strict instructions to check everything was working before everyone head out for dinner. When we stepped into the room, it was obvious that people had been smoking in there and there was a super strong smell of bleach – never a good sign! (Undiluted bleach I late found out because my PJ pants fell from a towel rail to the bathroom floor and it stripped all the colour from them – not happy, Jan!).

Anyway, ‘outside’ there was party sounds in every direction. Turns out that Russians own 80% of the real estate in Budva, so that is the primary language spoken here, they are noticeable everywhere with their shaved heads, shiny tracksuit pants, white singlet tops and big gold chains and ubiquitous cigarettes. Though it turns out due to the war in Ukraine, there are not as many Russians travelling here this year as normal, so a lot of the hotels and resorts have had to market really cheap holiday packages aimed at young people all over Europe to put bums on beds this season… so it is kinda chaotic out there.

I had low expectations of a good nights sleep – and those were met admirably by music from several parties reverberating through the hotel until the wee hours.

Budva… oh fuck.

We get up this morning and I can’t wait to get the fuck out of Budva. Had an awful night’s sleep between the music and the rattling air con. Go down to have some breakfast and Angus is feeling a bit under the weather – I assumed it was just the ‘sniffles’ that was going through the bus; one of our travel companions, Josh had been sniffling for a couple of days and had tested for Covid twice, but was thankfully negative.

Angus tells me that he’s not feeling great and I ask him what he wants to do and he decides to go off and ask Holly for a RAT test. Every tour bus seems to have at least one Holly – she’s an ICU nurse from Victoria and she’s been a wealth of information for the various aches and pains that people crop up with when they’re travelling. Our Holly is amazing, she’s been dealing with Covid patients in the ICU since the pandemic began and she’s just the most caring and wonderful young woman I think I’ve ever met.

Anyway, Holly gives Angus a test and well fuck wouldn’t you know it, it’s positive. So Josh goes back and tests again – he’s now positive too. Turns out a third young man, Darren is also positive, and then we get to watch the paranoia ensue…

Company policy is that they can’t continue on the tour. And I understand that entirely the company and the guides have a responsibility to the entire group and can’t knowingly have sick people travelling with the healthy ones… but there are at least another 6-8 people with he same sniffles and cough on the bus, but if they don’t test and don’t tell the leader, then they get to stay. Damn, but I wish we hadn’t tested him until Tirana or Skopje, because now we are off the bus and if fucking Russian bogan-land, Budva!

(*Oh why was he wearing this t-shirt today!)

Poor Simon then has to call his director and find out what to do with us – there’s no way I’m leaving Angus sick in fucking Budva on his own, so I’m off the bus too even though I have no symptoms and am feeling fine. They said they will find us rapid accommodation in a nicer hotel than the one we stayed in last night! Thank fuck for that! So Simon sets off on foot making phone calls and racing into reception areas.

It takes him about an hour before he finds a place that can give us two rooms and we say some quick goodbyes, but are sadly and unceremoniously dropped off at the new hotel to wait and see what is going to happen from there and the tour leaves without us.

So we find ourselves, me and these three Covid positive young men, sitting around a hotel reception area from 0900 until a possible check in time of 1200. :/ Mostly they’re just sitting there sweating and enjoying the decent wifi, while I’m already plotting how to to get the fuck out of Budva! My reasons for wanting to flee were multiple, but the biggest ones were – we are stuck in a small party town that (from quick googling) has limited covid facilities in their local hospital, has a population with some of the lowest vax rates in Europe and if Angus got sicker or I was already sick with it just not symptomatic yet – the last thing we need is to be stuck in a town where the primary language is Russian, the second, Croatian and all the English speakers we’d met spoke worse English than my French or German! Yikes.

While waiting for the hotel rooms, we discover that insurance claims will need PCR tests before they’ll cover any covid related healthcare of travel changes… so the boys all trot off to go get a test which thankfully was just over the forecourt at the front of this enormous resort hotel we’d been taken to. Eventually the rooms are ready and everyone is kinda exhausted, the boys are in various states of illness, a bit feverish, very fatigued and coughing a little here and there. The resort is so huge, we have to be taken to our ‘villa’ (and I use the term loosely) by golf buggy. So we load all onto this thing and get there only to find out we are on the third floor and there’s no lifts!

Shit, fuckity, shit, shit!

My feet and knees have been giving me loads of extreme pain for days (the fibromyalgia was super stirred up, I think a combination of cobblestones and sitting on the buses for hours) so the idea of having to traverse six flights of stairs to ‘pop out for food, water or supplies’ was just a dirty big ‘NOPE!’… so my determination to get us the hell out of Budva asap was now seriously accelerated.

The guys all get into the rooms around midday and all immediately crash and sleep for about six hours – time I put to good use planning our escape. It’s a Friday and the weekend is looking bleak. But I figure I have an internet connection and a credit card and I can make this work… until it turns out the internet in the rooms is for shite and I can’t get things to load after I left the reception area!

While they were sleeping – we had received a message from TT saying they had managed to secure the rooms until Monday for them, and would work out what happens after that. I had asked the guys if they were planning to stay until Monday or did they want to transfer the fuck out of there with us? They were both pretty noncommittal and seemed happy to take the free accommodation on offer, but there was no way I was hanging around to see how things panned out.

So onwards with the planning and… Poo, bum, piss, fart, bugger and fuck – right when I really needed it the most, there’s no fucking internet. I have two SIM cards – one from the UK, which mostly works in EU countries, so not Montenegro, and one from AUS which is supposed to have coverage in Montenegro, but the reception in this resort was barely 1 bar of 3G and the hotel wifi was so slow and was dropping out so much as to be nonexistent. I ended up waking Mr K at 0400 in Brisbane to help make some bookings for me.

Plan B involved:
– Booking a driver to get us from Budva to Cilipa (near the Dubrovnik airport) after check out tomorrow morning.
– Finding an airport hotel to stay for Saturday night.
– Take the most affordable flights I could find to Athens.
– Convince Travel Talk that seeing we had paid for accom up until the end of the tour, and were not using the hotel in the party hard town of Budva, could they please cover the hotel in Athens.

Simple right? We managed to book a driver to take us to Cilipa which cost AUD$220, then booked an Airbnb place which was €130 for the night near the Dubrovnik airport, and then flights from Dubrovnik to Athens on Sunday morning with Aegean at completely arse-rape, last minute prices of €349 each! Ouch! But Plan finally in place I managed to calm my tits and get ready to go to sleep.

At some point while I was dealing with all these logistics, poor Angus had gotten up and his appetite had overcome his symptoms and he decided to head out (six flights of stairs!) to find some food. He found local Italian restaurant that did take always about 400m from the room and when he walked in, the waiter insisted he take his mask off! No shit, they do not want anyone reminded that there might be a deadly virus circulating still.

And it was on this note and we eventually crashed for the night… thankfully from this enormous resort, the party noises seemed much further away, and bless it’s cotton socks, the air con was working better than most but we had been in masks all day and because of the proximity, (we had pushed the beds apart as much as possible in the small space), we were sleeping in them too.

Tomorrow – we will see how tomorrow pans out… because it has to be better than today’s clusterfuck.

Mostar – No jumping!

Up bright and early again this morning for the drive to Mostar… the road took us along the Neretva River to Mostar, in the southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.It was a simply gorgeous drive… seriously this was the colours of the water and the sky – I haven’t touched these at all. The water we are told is also very cold year round, which is why we didn’t see anyone swimming in it even where there are obviously points where holiday makers could access the water.Our drive also took us past the most unusual roadside services I have ever seen! This chef is cooking lamb on a rotisseries powered by water wheels! They must get super busy because he had about 9 full lambs on the turn at once while we were there. The meat is only lightly seasoned and cooked for hour – and then they serve it all super fancy-like by cutting open a fresh white bread roll and slapping some meat on it. No butter, no gravy, no sauce, no nothing… it looked like way too much bread for me, but I tried some of Angus’ and it was delicious! Made a mental note to do a lamb roast when I get home before the weather starts to heat up to much! This is the gorgeous Holly, from Wangaratta who is travelling with us – you can see the size of the bread rolls they plonk the lamb onto, which is why I passed. On the way int Mostar we saw many old buildings that were bombed and shot up during the war, Many of them have never been repaired – sometimes because the owners just never had the money and of course the longer you leave it, the harder and more expensive that proposition becomes, but also because many people fled the city and became refugees in other parts of Europe never to return – so it is difficult to prove who owns many of these buildings now. Mostar is a windy little medieval market town – unfortunately full of tourist dross now, though I imagine it would have been a thriving little centre of produce and fresh food etc back in the day. Ah, the famous Stari Most (Old Bridge); a reconstructed medieval arched bridge which straddles the middle of the town and connects the winding alleys of the market with a staircase which leads tot he Koski Mehmet-Pasha Mosque.Inside the mosque:It’s probably one of the smallest mosques I’ve seen, and while Mostar is home to about 100,000 people, most of them do not live in the Old Town area.Angus loving the travelling life.So there is a weird tradition where visitors can come here and jump off this bridge into the really cold water below – tit seems like a stupid thing to do and it really it! The bridge is 24m above the river and the river just here is 5m deep, the reason it’s really stupid is that it’s often about 38-40°C+ in Mostar, and the water is 5-6°C, which can cause people to go into shock, and there’s that whole, jumping off high places can lead to broken bones and death thing as well. Reassuringly they’ve only lost 4 people in the last 10 years… :{ and honestly there is absolutely no reason to do this except it kinda comes with bragging rights – no one, and I mean NO ONE will be surprised to hear that of the visitors log that shows some 3800 people that have jumped off the bridge, 80% of them are fucking Aussies. Brain dead the lot of us! Oh well, the other ‘fun’ to be had from standing around the bridge is watching and waiting to see locals jump. Many of these guys must have been doing this for years… they prime up the crowd, get people chanting, hand around a hat for people to throw their money into to encourage the guys to jump. They then climb outside the fence line and make a show that they are going to jump, and then get people cheering some more before one of them eventually dowses himself in cold water… so as to soften the shock a bit. If you don’t see them throwing water over themselves, they’re not jumping any time soon apparently. Seems to be one local goes in every half hour or so… and there’s no need to be standing up on the hot bridge to see them – I found a nice spot in a cafe with some ciders and saw two guys jumping. Mad as cut snakes.After Mostar we went to Kitivice Waterfalls, which I thought was going to be a National Park or something – but fuck was I wrong! The whole place is like a waterpark without any water slides. Loads and Loads of people all swimming at this massive man made waterhole at the bottom of these gorgeous waterfalls. The water temperature of the falls was quite cold apparently, but the pool below was relatively warm once you got in. I just can’t imagine a place of natural Australian beauty being treated like this – complete with huge decked beer gardens, food stands and kids playground right beside it. It’s impossible to get a nice photo of just the falls. After this stop, we drove onto Trebinje where we will stop for two nights and everyone is very excited about this because it means we can maybe get some bloody laundry done! Lol. 🙂

Sarajevo

Up bright and early from the trip from Belgrade to Sarajevo – the theory being that the sooner we get to the borders (to be processed out of Serbia and then processed into Bosnia) the better. Simon is watching live webcams of the state of the borders on his phone, and he tells us it’s not busy yet.

But all good plans of mice and men are gang aft aglae! We don’t get far out of Belgrade and we run into a wee SNAFU… I say ‘wee’ but it’s gonna fuck up our entire schedule. The cops are pulling over tour buses and going over the driver’s logs to see if they’ve been working more than their regulated hours. Trucks and other commercial vehicles are going past us, but they’ve pulled up three tour buses. At this stage, it’s feeling like the 90s again and we’re going to be pumped for a bribe. But we wait and see… and we wait and see. Poor Chris, our driver, has had to print out a month of driving logs for scrutiny. Next thing we know, Chris is being taken over to the cop cars, we are all asking Simon, how much of a bribe are we going to have to come up with. I’m writing this while looking at the cops outside the bus all standing around looking for problems. And unfortunately they find one!

Chris has recently been on two weeks leave (part of the months worth of records the copy’s wanted) which clearly show the vehicle wasn’t being driven during that time, but it does however show he is logged into he bush – his ID card was in the bus while he is on vacation and that is a no-no. He’s supposed to remove his card when he’s not driving so that no one else can use his log in. No amount of Chris telling them he owns the bus and no one but him drives it is helping and the next thing we know he’s being driven off in the back of the cop car to go to an ATM to pay a fine for leaving his card logged into the bus!

FFS guys, can’t we just pay a bribe and be on our way like the other two buses. Simon literally just said to us all, ‘The other two buses, they were lucky, they just pay a bribe and keep going.’ But no, they had to find something. Eventually he comes back and we are back on our way to the Serbian/Bosnian border.Holy shit! The hilarity doesn’t end there! We are barely 15 minutes down the road in another small town and a cop comes out to the bus while we are stopped at a light and tried to pull the bus over again – Chris argues with him, shows him his fine and the receipt – the cop looks pissed off and dismissively waves us on our way! I’m chatting with BigSal while this is unfolding and she hits me right in the flashbacks to ’95 with this one: “All you need is a Susan the Fruit to talk about how interactions with local law enforcement are good because it’s immersive and you can learn so much about the culture you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!” Laughed out loud at that one.

‘Serbia’s finest.’ Simon says dryly as we once more get back on the road. They must have been in the middle of some sort of ‘harass the tourist bus drivers’ week – and now we are well over an hour delayed for heading to Bosnia.

Passing through Sedmica – a town known for it’s gorgeous blue river with water that is a constant 6-7°C no matter what time of year it is. The country side is pretty enough though. Lots of old buildings, some not so old, all equally full of bullet holes and damage though. Eventually we get to the centre of Sarajevo and this bullet riddled, damaged building is where we pull up the bus for a meeting point. :/ Like many other cities, Sarajevo is a divided town, the Old Town which is full of ancient and medieval buildings, churches, cathedrals, synagogues etc and the other side of the river is the New Town, full of corrupt building projects that locals can’t afford to live in – this seems to be a theme – Belgrade has plenty of these project areas too. This beautiful building is a reconstruction of the original library that was on this site in the Old Town – it was badly damaged during the war and while they have been able to rebuild the library as it once was, many of the ancient and medieval texts it housed were lost forever. The Old Town is full of little winding alleyways on cobblestone streets, it’s like a mixture of Turkish bazaar, and Moroccan kasbah having neither flavour of it’s own nor enough characteristics of either??? (That made sense in my head even if it doesn’t to any other reader!). Bosnian’s are mad for their coffee apparently and white they are adamant they make it a special way that is nothing like the Turkish way of making coffee …. to the untrained eye (ie: mine), it looks exactly like the Turkish way of making coffee! This is the Sebilj Fountain – it was built in the Ottoman style in 1753. It’s one of those legendary fountains that people believe if you drink from this fountain you will return to Sarajevo someday – I guess we are all going to be one time visitors because none of us are drinking anything that isn’t coming out of sealed plastic bottles atm!This was the oldest inn in Sarajevo, it used to be a stop for visitors travelling with their horses, and now the courtyard where visitors would be received is now a thriving restaurant and the stables which lined the courtyard are now shops.You can see the huge wooden beams that made up the stable roofs.I’m also in an intense love/hate relationship with cobblestones this trip thanks to the fibromyalgia I was diagnosed with in 2019… my feet are fucking killing me ALL THE TIME, let alone with the uneven surfaces. The hours on the bus are also not helping and each time we get off the bus, I feel like I’m getting off a long haul flight with slightly swollen feet… normal cobbles are bad enough, but these ones in this town are really just rocks planted in concrete worn smooth, so they’re proving extra fun.

In the middle of the old town is a Mosque, a Synagogue and a Catholic Church, we see here again the one-up-man-ship of each party trying to be superior to the other – part of it is about religion and yet weirdly not about religion at all. Some 70% of Serbians are not practicing any religion, but their religion defines their heritage and ethnicities in a way we just don’t’ really get back home. The Croats are Catholic and Orthodox, the Bosnians are Muslim and the Serbians lost as many as 80,000 of their Jewish during the Srebrinca Genocide (this is really contentious, a huge proportion of Bosnians would never use the term ‘genocide’ to describe what happened to the Jewish people in Serbia- but I don’t know what else it’s called when they’re rounded up into exterminated in mass graves). 😐

The result of this, being religious as a way of identifying your ethnicity while not really being a practicing religious person means that the Fazi Husrev-Beg mosque at the centre of the Old Town is very welcoming to everyone. There are still women’s sides and men’s side and shoes are off and scarves are on, but they are not so strict with their prayer times etc.

It’s a relatively simple mosque with one minaret and a single dome, and was built in the 1500s century. At the time it was built, a very forward thinking engineer/architect suggested they build a public toilet nearby by persuading the imams that they wouldn’t want their workers doing their business all over the ground where their beautiful mosque was going to be – and wouldn’t you know it, the public toilets they built are still there and in operation today, though I’m inclined to think the coin operated turnstiles are a more modern addition.

Ramadan feasting clock – this clock down’s show actual time as we know it – it is set to show when sundown occurs so people fasting know exactly when it’s okay to eat. This is a replica of the famous vehicle that the Archduke Ferdinand was in with his wife, Sofia when he was assassinated , triggering the WWI. Sounds like the entire plot was a bit of a clusterfuck and it was luck that the ragtag team of assassins managed to get anything right. A previous assassination attempt had failed and the various members of the untrained team were sitting around a coffee shop figuring out how they were going to kill him before they got in trouble with their handlers, when the Archduke’s driver took wrong turn and stopped them right in front of the coffee shop in question. One of the assassins opportunistically shot the Archduke, while another tried to immediately kill himself rather than being captured and chomped on an expired cyanide pill that just made him immediately ill, but didn’t kill him… he then ran away spewing his guts up and jumped off the nearby bridge which is barely 4m off the ground and doesn’t have much water in it, so he ended up being apprehended with two broken legs and sick from his failed suicide attempt. And yep, these stupid teenage pricks started a World War. The covered markets in the Old TownCompete with Bosnian Delight stores – not Turkish Delight, mind you, Bosnian… though stuffed if I can spot the difference. After thisThe Catholic Church in the centre of town, which is as big as they could make it in the space that it previously occupied. During the Balkans War (and Iknow this isn’t coming across very well in my pictures) the enemy armies that were attacking Sarajevo would take high positions on the hills around the town… you can see their elevated advantage from nearly every direction around the city. People coming in and out of the churches and shops were at a huge disadvantage trying to move about town to find supplies of water and food.Out front of this church is a pitted piece of concrete which shows the place where some children were killed by snipers. They continue to pain the pitted concrete to remind people of the horrors that happened here.Our guide, said his mother never let him leave the house as a small child in a red t-shirt because it was too easy a target for the snipers… fuck that! I wouldn’t’ have let my kid leave the house at all!

If we hadn’t been held up with the cops for so long this morning I would have possibly tried to go see this exhibit of the Srebrenica Genocide. It is something I am not particularly educated on, and I feel it’s important that people learn about these historical incidents and don’t forget the victims. After our quick (and I mean quick!) walking tour of Sarajevo we had some free time to go shopping, have a poke about and find some dinner. Simon recommended a small restaurant back near the library and instructed us all to try the Cevapi, pronounced ‘cheh-vah-pee’, (basically ‘minced meat fingers), that are served with a doughy pita bread, raw onions and yoghurt drinks. I’m always up for the local food, and they serve them in hands – literally five meat fingers or ten. I opted for a small serve and it was quite tasty – the recipe calls for 80% beef, 20% veal and some salt, so it’s just meat sausage without any skins. After this it was off to our hotel, on the way we saw many many more buildings that were showing signs of the snipers’ handiwork during the war. I don’t know enough about this war – I vaguely remember Milosovich being mentioned a lot in the news, but spending time with Simon hasn’t really cleared it up. With three wearing factions, sometimes each in ally-ship with each other and then spinning on a dime to suddenly be fighting with their former allies, it’s all very complicated. I’m not sure anyone won…