Tymothi: J (tymothi_j) wrote,
Tymothi: J

Belgrade? I'm in Belgrade?

Moral indignation is a technique used by the idiot to endow himself with dignity.

Marshall McLuhan

First of all, I think my last update may have been a bit misunderstood. I wasn't actually upset or angry or anything like that. I was a little disturbed by the cheering and jeering that went on during the film about Knin, but I laughed after Mr Jackass at the reception informed me that he wasn't my "personal walking dictionary". What I was more trying to do was to write semi-cynically, Balkan style. Dry, like Livanjski cheese.

I would have been upset if these things had happened in either America or Canada, and would have in fact been furious, livid, and had even written a letter of complaint to Mr Jackass's manager, etc., etc.

But I didn't opt to go to America to enjoy Americans' proclivity for service. I opted to come here because I like going to Eastern Europe, and am enjoying myself in the Balkans precisely for the reason that life is in so many ways the antithesis of the West.

Which brings me to the last couple of days.

Zagreb got much better by the next day, and I had no problems whatsoever the rest of the time I was there. In fact, I can't even remember anyone else who was even marginally rude the next day and a half before I departed. The best example of the courteousness was a lady in an Optika shop spending nearly 15 minutes rummaging through her wares before finding the specific type of contact lens case that I had requested.

There was also a fairly humorous incident when a Danish guy named Lars, whom I met at the hostel, wanted to go to a Croatian "Strip Club" that we passed.

I'm not a particular fan of such establishments, but not because of moral or feminist reasons or anything like that. I just think attractive girls become much less attractive while they're simulating sex with a pole and pulling their various lips open in front of a bunch of guys they could care less about.

So I went to a strip club for the third time in my life. And it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. There were four "performers". Three of them were what you might call "strippers", but only in the most tangential of ways. They danced around a pole like other places, but all they took off was a scarf that they had had around their waists. And underneath that scarf was just a basic bikini, not even a thong or anything like that. The other girl sang Croatian pop songs with a guy in the background playing a cheesy electric piano. And nothing at all came off of her body.

As I was laughing at the tameness of the strippers, Lars was getting a little frustrated. One of the four girls came over and I asked if he wanted to buy her a "lady drinks", which you could buy for 200 kuna:

Lars: Sure, that sounds good. And what's it all about?
Girl: Well, you buy me drink, and it's about 37 euros.
Lars: And then what?
Girl: Oh, we just talk.
Lars: We just talk?
Girl: Yeah.
Lars. I pay you 37 euros so we can just talk?
Girl: Yes.
Lars: That's crap.

This was when I burst out laughing. Lars was not impressed. Neither with the "strippers", nor with my chuckles. So we decided to go.

The whole experience was about as tame as flipping through a Victoria's Secrets catalog.

After Zagreb, I decided to take a train down to Split, which I'm split on whether or not I like. Split centers around a palace built by Diocletian about 1700 years ago. Though it was quite an interesting structure, all marble, about the size of six football fields, and intersperses with mediaeval and Venetian architecture, it was also just about the most crowded with tourists of any place I've ever seen. So the next morning I woke up at 6.00, and it was much more pleasant to stroll through.

Leaving Split was much less pleasant. I decided to go to Knin, and bought a ticket for a 15.00 bus there. Upon presenting my ticket to the bus driver at 15.00, he shook his head, indicating "no". I pointed to the sign in his bus that said "Knin", and he shook his head again. Then he shut the door and drove off. I found this very confusing.

Back in the bus station, the only thing the girl whom I told what had happened could say was, "Maybe he not goes to Knin." Although his sign said he did. Still, there might be very good reasons for some people not to want to go to Knin. And she gave me my money back anyway, so nema problema.

Being that the next bus wasn't going to Knin until 22.00 or so, I then went over to the train station to see if there were any trains going. And, in fact, there was one at 15.25. The girl I bought the ticket from said that there was a change of trains along the way in Perkovic. I got off the train in Perkovic around 16.00, and looked for a train to Knin. Not finding any platforms indicating this, and not finding a time table, I asked at the ticket counter. There was in fact a connection to Knin, but it didn't leave until 22.30. So, I spent the next six hours in Perkovic.

I take great pride in being able to find something interesting in almost everything. You will never hear me declare "I'm bored." I think people who get bored are merely boring people themselves. It's internal, not external.

But Perkovic is boring. Boring like Jewels say "boring". Perkovic has one road. On that one road in Perkovic is a bland cafe. There are also about ten houses along the one road in Perkovic. And a train station. And nothing else, at all. Perkovic is the most boring place I've ever seen. So after six excruciating hours of reading through the guide to Split I bought, about ten times, I went back to the train station.

A train came in from Knin at about 22.25. I asked the conductor if this was my train. He said it wasn't. There were no more trains to Knin. I was scared shitless I was going to have to spend the night in the Perkovic train station. But I finally found someone who knew that there was a bus arriving from Split en route to Knin, and that I could use my ticket for that. When that bus arrived, I realised it was probably the same bus from Split that was to leave at 22.00.

So I probably didn't even need to ever see Perkovic. And I don't think I'm exactly a better person for having experienced it.

No offence to all the Perkovicskis out there.

Knin was one of those places that had some pretty bad stuff happen to it during the war. But it's actually recovered quite a bit, and the ancient fortress up in the hills is very nice. As is the Lašva Valley that it sits in. If you didn't know anything about it, you might not even notice anything bad had happened there, that there were just a few old, crumbling, neglected buildings scattered throughout. Except for the rather heavy military presence.

When I arrived in Knin, it was around midnight or so. I had a coffee, and noticed that there was almost no possibility of accommodation for the evening. So, I climbed up the hill to the fortress, and ended up sleeping on the ground in front of the fortress. Which was a rather odd experience, in and of itself.

From Knin, there was only one bus to my next destination, Banja Luka, Bosnia, and it wasn't until 17.00. So I wandered around the town to get a feel for it and took quite a few pictures along the way before returning to the bus station.

This was when the fun began.

The ticket office had sold way more tickets than the bus could fit, and the driver wouldn't accept all the people wanting to go. Most of them just left and seemingly decided to come back tomorrow, but there was one lady in her 60's with what appeared to be her two grandchildren who was bawling her eyes out about it. I thought it was because she didn't have a seat, so I offered her mine. Another person then told me that it had nothing to do with having a seat; it was just that the bus driver wouldn't drive through the border with people standing. After half an hour of begging and pleading, she and her two grandchildren exited the bus and we left for Banja Luka, quite a bit behind schedule.

Once we had gone through the border, and after I had had my first glance at members of the MUP, there was the lady and her grandchildren waiting for us. I then remembered hearing the word "taksi" a few times, so I assume they ended up taking a taxi across the border, and then meeting up with us then. And because there still was no seat for her, I gave mine up to her.

While I was looking at Bosnia for the first time, whilst standing for the next four hours as the bus was zigzagging through the Bosnian mountains at about 25kms/hour, I got to see quite a few villages and towns that had been hit pretty hard by the war. In particular, Drvar seemed to have been whacked pretty bad. And when we were in some of the rural areas, I noticed a lot of people who looked pretty inbred.

And that's when it dawned it me. Bosnia actually looks an awful lot like the area I spent my teens in, southern Indiana. The mountains are significantly higher than southern Indiana's hills, but the landscape strewn with abandoned, rusting cars, dilapidated houses, and the inbred people are all very reminiscent. In certain parts of America, such as the Ozarks, it's almost identical. If you've ever been to the Ozarks, the Ozarks are Bosnia.

Bosnia's considered one of the poorest countries in the world, and America is considered one of the wealthiest. Bosnia had a devastating war throughout the 1990's. America hasn't had a war on its soil in 140 years. I understand why Bosnia might look like this. I'm not sure why America does.

Back on the bus, we kept passing through all these small towns, and averaging about 25 kms per hour due to the roads hugging the sides of hills. I knew it would be a long time to travel the 100 kms or so between Knin and Banja Luka, but by the time it had been about six hours or so, I began to wonder how much longer it would be.

By the seventh hour, I decided to look for a town name and then check out a map to see exactly where we were. This was when I noticed we were passing through Brčko. If you know where Brčko is, you'll also know it's pretty damn far from Banja Luka. This was when I realised we had in fact passed Banja Luka quite some time ago.

When I entered the bus way back in Knin, the destination board had had "Knin, Drvar, Klujc, Banja Luka" written on it. Silly me, I had taken this to mean that the bus would finish its journey in Banja Luka. And, silly me once again, I had assumed that the bus would be stopping at the bus station in Banja Luka. Silly, silly me.

There was a girl who spoke a bit of English, and she told me that we had long passed Banja Luka. I seem to recall one of the places that the bus stopped and let off a few people having been a largish-looking town. And the place we stopped at certainly was not a bus station. It looked more like a Bosnian version of a McDonald's parking lot. But that was probably the stop for Banja Luka.

Why a bus wouldn't use a bus station, since I am certain there is indeed a bus station in Banja Luka, the second largest city in Bosnia, I have no idea.

But it is, after all, the Balkans.

I had wanted o visit that town, and I'm sorry to a certain someone that I will not be able to send you a postcard from your home town.

The bus driver didn't seem particularly concerned by the fact that I had not paid for anything past Banja Luka, so I decided to sit back and let the bus take me wherever it was headed. After Brčko, we went through Bijeljina, so I figured we were going in a southerly direction. I had considered going to Tuzla, and that was pretty close, so I figured that must be where we were heading. Silly me.

It was a little after this that I noticed the bus make a left at a road sing that said "Beograd" in Cyrillic. It appeared we were going to be crossing the border into Serbia, and then making our way to Belgrade. Nema problema.

When we finally arrived in Belgrade, the bus driver let us off in the middle of all the communist concrete architecture of Novi Beograd. About 5-10 kms away from the bus station.

Since taxis in Belgrade are cheap, I decided to take one into the centre. While chatting with the driver, I told him I was planning to go to Sarajevo the next day:

Driver: You go to Sarajevo? I take you there for 250 euros.
Me: Hmmm, and I'll probably be coming back to Belgrade in a few days.
Driver: No problems. I have friend in Sarajevo. I stay with him and then drive you back to Belgrade. Another 200 euros. But more comfortable than bus.
Me: You're right. I'll think about it.

So here I sit in Belgrade. And I'm contemplating taking a taxi to Sarajevo and back.
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