Day 58 – Wednesday 21st of August – Belgrade to Sarajevo (388km)
388 kilometers. It is not that much when compared to other days. I had been riding long enough and found roads that were bad enough to know that I could not afford to be too optimistic when calculating distance and time, but I was confident that we could make it to Sarajevo in good time to visit the city. It is a place with a history that is harrowing yet strangely fascinating at the same time, and I was very much looking forward to see with my own eyes a city I had read so much about. Alas, it was not to be.
I had already mentioned that among the things that we got stolen in Tallinn were the chargers for the camera. I had three batteries and along the trip had discovered that they lasted much, much longer than I thought, but the previous day the last of them was running low, so I was about to be left without a camera for one of the most interesting parts of the trip. After checking out we tried to get to a part of the center where the guy who ran the hostel had told us we might find a shop that sold what we needed, but as it was to be expected, it was impossible on the bike. We gave up and decided to leave as it was already getting late. Right after crossing the bridge, we saw the shopping center the girl at reception had mentioned the day before, so we decided to stop and have one last go at finding a charger. There was only one electronics shop and I was told that the only two things I could do was to try and Google the Serbian distributor for Canon or go to a shop in the center where I could… wait for it… get a charger made. Resigned to not having a camera for the time being, and seeing that it was almost midday, I decided to leave.
Getting out of Belgrade turned out to be as much of a nightmare as getting in, and we lost a lot of time. Once on the open road, things were not much better, there was not a lot of traffic, but Serbians take things very easy behind the wheel, and nobody was in much of a hurry to overtake the trucks, so we made slow progress for the first 150km, until we got to a crossroads where I stopped for fuel and then, following the petrol station staff’s advice on which route had less traffic, took a smaller road to the border. We went to several small cities and villages that looked more as if they belonged in Siberia than in Europe, and the only interesting bit of road came when we finally got to the kind of hills I had been expecting to find in this country, already near the border. I had a bit fun there, but the day was cloudy and I was too cold and tired to really enjoy it, and Nat was freezing. To make things worse, a few kilometers from the border we missed a turning that was not as obvious as it should have been for a road leading to a major international border crossing, since I was concentrating on safely passing an idiot on a silver Polo that had been slowing down a line of ten cars and as we got to an uphill section with a passing lane, had suddenly decided he wanted to drive much faster. As a result of that, we drove for several kilometers the wrong way before finding a place to stop, check the paper map against the GPS, find out where we were and ride back to the crossroads.
By the time we got to the border it was already late, we had more than 150km to get to Sarajevo and we were both cold and tired. However, just as crossing from Hungary into Serbia the vibes I got from the new country changed, things changed again riding into Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this time for the better, despite the looks of the border on the Bosnian side, which was nothing more than a few metal sheds.
We met a couple of Germans riding on a GS650 and chatted to them while waiting to cross the border, which always makes you feel better on the road, then the sun came out and the Bosnian border guard came back with our passports, gave us a friendly smile and waved us past the boom and into a gorgeous landscape. The road from the border was simply amazing – it followed a canyon on the river Drina and I immediately fell in love with the place. After a while we got away from the river and climbed into a landscape of rolling hills. This was the last new country I was going to visit in this trip, and it went to the top of my Most Beautiful European Countries together with Romania. We stopped one last time for petrol and when Nat went to pay and buy a country sticker she was greeted with lots of friendly questions about the trip, the guys at the petrol station had seen all the other stickers on the panniers and wanted to know if she had been to all those countries. I rode to Sarajevo in the sunset, waving back at little kids in small villages that made gestures for us to rev up the bike. A gentle twist of the throttle provoked wide smiles.
We got to Sarajevo as it was getting dark, and I was pleased to see that it was a lot more relaxed than Belgrade regarding traffic. While the streets were busy with traffic, drivers did not seem to be at all stressed, and there were cars and bikes parked everywhere and not a single traffic cop in sight. I immediately found the looks of the city fascinating, it had a mix of Muslim and Western cultures I had not seen anywhere else in Europe, and I had not been stopped for more than five minutes before people offered help with directions. Nat went to check us in at the hostel and then came back with a woman who barely spoke any English at all, who gestured me to follow her on the bike and then set off with Nat on foot at a very brisk pace. I turned the motorbike around on the pavement, started it and rode the wrong way down the street, which did not seem to bother anybody else, not pedestrians nor drivers. I followed her across a small square, a couple of streets and a bridge, while she stopped the traffic with more determination than many traffic wardens I have seen. We eventually got to a small house and she gestured me to ride around the back, where I found a garage door that she opened from the inside to allow me to ride me ride the bike into a backyard and park it right under the window of what was going to be our bedroom for the night.
It had been quite a day, and Nat was exhausted and so cold that she just collapsed on the carpet and covered herself in several blankets while I went out to find some take away food that I could take back to the hostel to have for dinner before going to bed. The hostel was by the river in the old town, so I just walked out the door, crossed the river and found a pedestrian street that was so lively with cafés, restaurants and bars that the only thing I could do was go back to the hostel, get Nat up from the carpet and go out for dinner.