After sitting on the runway at JFK for almost two hours, the first leg of my journey (New York – Düsseldorf) to Tuzla was finally underway. I somehow managed to make my connecting flight to Vienna, which was a miracle considering that everyone around me had missed their departures to Berlin, Zurich, etc. As the kid on a class trip reading a huge history textbook put it, “Wow, you’re going to make your Anschluss!” While I thought this was pretty funny, the Austrian friends I stayed with in Vienna for several days did not.
I spent three lovely days in Vienna recovering from jet-lag and catching up with my friend Morgan who has been teaching English there for the past year. Morgan helped me lug my massive backpack across town and back, and by Thursday evening, I was on the 6 PM bus to Tuzla.
As the only female passenger, the bus driver helpfully escorted me to the front seat of the bus. This way I could enjoy the TV blasting what appeared to be Bosnian MTV and the myriad cigarette breaks my co-travelers came to the front of the bus to take. Apparently on a non-smoking bus, you can just come sit on the bus steps and smoke away.
The first few hours of the trip were gorgeous as the bus made its way through the Voralpen (the smaller mountains prior to the Alps) and we were soon at the Slovenian border. The Slovenes get to enjoy all the benefits of being in both the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Zone, while other countries of the former Yugoslavia continue to deal with frustrating visa requirements (more on this later!) and border crossings. Croatia has seen such a tourism boom in the past few years that the border guard there did not even feel the need to examine, let alone stamp, my passport.
The bus lights came on as we were crossing the Sava River and I was awake to see the “Welcome to Bosnia and Herzegovina” sign, shortly followed by a second sign welcoming me to the Republika Srpska. The Bosnian border guards were so interested in my passport that the bus unfortunately began driving before I got it back! This situation, however, was quickly remedied when I started to have a mild panic attack in the front seat. Don’t worry Mom and Dad – I have my passport!
There are two easy ways to tell that you’re in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) instead of one of the other countries in the Western Balkans. The first is that the road conditions deteriorate very quickly. It took over two hours to go less than 100 kilometers. The houses are the second sign. In many towns we drove through, every second or third home was completely destroyed, and most of the rest are still undergoing the process of renovation almost 15 years post-war. Even though I’ve been to BiH before, the amount of destruction is overwhelming to see and offers a stark reality check on the slow progress back to normalcy in this country.
I wrote in my first blog that Beba would be on time at the bus station. This would have been true had the bus not arrived an hour the arrival time printed on my ticket. Thanks Eurolines! In any case, we eventually found each other and by 5 AM I was in my new home above the BOSFAM office. More from Tuzla to follow soon…
Posted By Alison Sluiter
Posted Jun 26th, 2009