Diary of a disorganised traveller part 3 – Sarajevo, Novi Sad and Sofia

As I mentioned in the last post, our travels to Bosnia were never going to be simple due to the five different modes of transport we were using to reach our destination. Things weren’t going too terribly until we arrived in Ploce, a tiny town in the southern corner of Croatia. As we sat in the depressingly  grey cafe entertaining ourselves with talk of our dream meals (a bacon sandwich topped the list), we were approached by the waiter, or palpitating crack addict depending on one’s interpretation. He recited the one meal menu which just happened to be the answer to our prayers – a bacon sandwich. As we waited excitedly for our first piece of meat in what felt like an age, the reality of our order set in as he plonked two ham, cheese and pickle mayonnaise rolls on our table. The sense of disappointment was quite literally devastating. A consumer of both pickles and mayonnaise, I have no idea how the combination of the two can taste so utterly foul. We fell victim to the same criminal condiment in Slovenia and vowed never to eat it again, but sadly, we were caught off guard by the sweet piggy promises of a bacon sarnie.

Things definitely took a turn for the worse when we embarked the train, a rusty old two compartment wagon swarming with mosquitoes. As it hurtled through pitch black tunnels with no lights whatsoever, the no smoking sign clearly made no odds to the passengers (many of whom were ‘train officials’) whose charred embers simultaneously lit the frightening darkness of the cabins and choked us half to death with passive smoke fumes. I usually believe the smoking ban in England to be slightly over the top and a dampener on the atmosphere of pubs and such, but this particular journey changed my mind.

We arrived many delayed hours later on the pitch dark streets of Sarajevo, guilelessly wandering around in an attempt to locate our free car journey to the hostel. We eventually found the very lovely elderly man in question, who had an equally elderly ride to match. He did his level best to fit us and our huge rucksacks in his tiny car, and let me tell you, driving up those steep cobbled hills was a real treat.

The stay in Bosnia was a lot nicer than expected, and Sarajevo definitely has a lot of charm (even if it does try to emulate Turkey just a little bit too much). After a few days in the tiny capital, though, we were ready to move on to our next destination, the town of Novi Sad in Serbia. Best known for hosting EXIT festival each year, we were excited to be checking out a new city that wasn’t a capital (for once!). We got slightly worried when we reached what surpassed Ploce as the vilest European train station, Stara Pazova, waiting for our connecting train to the city. Everyone there was half naked (it was early evening and I was wearing a cardigan) and stank of urine, and as they shouted at us in Serbian from across the tracks, we quietly prayed that the train would come and save us from our torturous surrounds.

On a lighter note, we struck pretty lucky with our new accommodation – even if it was a sweaty 40 minute walk from the station and up three gruelling flights of stairs – as we had a nice apartment pretty much to ourselves for our three day stay. Well, left to ourselves may be putting it a bit strongly, as our lunchtime cooking sessions were peppered by many comical interjections from a friend of the proprietor. Several years of work as an insurance clerk had ‘given him a heart attack’, so he had turned his hand to coming round to his friend’s house to watch TV all day and breeding ‘champion’ German Shepherds with the rest of his time. The fact that one of them had taken a hefty chunk out of his arm just a few days earlier had not deterred him, rather spurring him on so much that he spent the next 15 minutes showing us photos of his prized pooches on Facebook. When I told him I wanted to be a journalist, he quickly dismissed the idea as it would apparently give me a heart attack, and insisted that I should set my sights on creating a guard dog rental company like the one he was planning to start. I politely declined.

With a final goodbye to our canine controller, we headed to Bulgaria. Sadly, a combination of incompetent conductors and delayed trains meant that we missed our connection to Sofia – a 10 hour sleeper that only travelled twice daily. Faced with the prospect of a 12 hour wait and then a 10 hour journey, we dashed (as fast as one can dash with a 19kg rucksack and unwieldy handbag) to the bus station, where we found that a coach was heading for our destination just a few hours later. For £50. Not wanting to waste any more time on our trip, we decided to forget the budget and complete the bus ride (much as it pained both us and our bank accounts). Enjoyable moments included being hauled off the coach at 4am and being motioned to change vehicles in several different languages, and using the filthy squat toilet in our only stop off that we had to pay actual money for.

Mercifully, the sun was (sort of) shining as we made our way to our next abode, but my mood definitely soured after a 45 minute wait in a bank that had promised to change our foreign currency and then refused at the last minute. Bulgaria was not as fantastic as we had hoped, and our slight preoccupation with not getting pickpocketed was definitely a distraction. For once we had really nice roommates, although one did snore so loudly on the first night that none of us could sleep (the same guy who tried to convince me that I had contracted dengue fever after an attack of the bed bugs).

A couple of days later, we waved a not so tearful goodbye to Sofia and the dozens of she-male prostitutes that lined the streets and headed for perhaps the most exciting destination on our travels – Istanbul.

All I will say for now is that my ‘bed’ is a mattress on top of a table. Until next time…

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