Monday, 15 July 2013

The Latest Balkan Conflict.

Our train is particularly slow,  bumpy and clanking but amazingly is still the same 3 coaches that set off from Skopje. On arrival in Belgrade our first requirement is basic facilities such as coffee, power sockets, internet and plumbing. The cafe on the platform provides these in spades thanks to the lovely septagenarian, German speaking waitress. We feel as if we have rejoined the world for two hours.

The next train is bound for Bar on the Montenegro coast. It gives us ninety minutes on Belgrade station. The guys who looked outside were unimpressed. The Bar train arrives and it is immediately obvious that it is full and we have no reservations. Der Fuhrer slips the konductor 10 euros and we are on, albeit standing on the corridor connection plates between coaches. No problem - it's only 4 hours.

DD almost suffers premature evacuation when the train makes an unscheduled stop at a suburban station. Luckily a passing railway worker points this out and I am able to scramble back on board. Five minutes later we arrive at Uzice where we are due to detrain and pick up our prebooked road transport. Three taxis were waiting and soon we are hurtling out of the city towards the Sargan8 preserved 76 cm narrow gauge line which winds through spectacular limestone ridges.

We get to the start point and are immediately embroiled in foreign exchange issues. We can buy beer but not train tickets with our puny euros. Persistance pays off as our leader discovers that the konductor is concerned that we are trying to pay too much. We pile onboard,  most of us choosing to stand on the connecting plates between two coaches.

The train is very busy with tourists enjoying a family day out. At each stop everybody gets of the train to look at the views down into the valleys below. The line spends a lot of time in tunnels and traces a figure eight to allow height to be gained/lost. We are descending so the small Rumanian diesel loco does not have too much work to do.

When we arrive at the lower terminus one of the taxis is there and also two other blokes who claim that they have been sent by the hostel in Sarajevo. Both sides seem to be very keen on the 300 euros that we believe is the fare for the trip. Voices are raised and there is some angry gesticulation. The other taxis arrive and the volume level rises, as bags are unloaded then reloaded.

Eventually a compromise is hammered out where the taxis are paid off and we proceed in the Sarajevo minibuses. Very soon we are at the Serbian/Bosnian border where we collect another entry stamp. Once we get going again the pace and style of driving is no less exhilarating as the road winds along rocky gorges between towering limestone cliffs.

In Sarajevo our drivers head off up a hill away from the city centre provoking outrage ftom our leader who is adamant that we have places booked in a centrally located hostel. There are more raised voices until we are delivered to a place in the centre of the old town. War is averted.

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