As many of you know, I am doing a roadtrip through the Balkans. After having flown into Belgrade, we are driving by car back to Germany.
Two days ago, I arrived in Belgrade to catch up with some good friends, which includes a Serbian local. After two days of good food, great company, beautiful fortresses and trying to understand the context of the war in the 90s and the evidence of all the NATO bombing, I can confirm that the country is an accurate reflection of all the kind and clever Serbians I know.
Yesterday afternoon we headed out of Belgrade and started driving towards Sarajevo. While the navigation system said 5 hours, we knew it would be much longer than that. I was especially nervous about attempting to cross the border between Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina without a valid Bosnian visa (not to mention that I had a 3 day visa for Serbia…would I have to camp in no man’s land, I wondered?). I was aware that I could enter Bosnia & Herzegovina with my Schengen residence permit. But you never know with these things!
My first taste of Bosnian hospitality and friendliness was at border crossing, where the immigration officer looked at my passport and said, “Shehrina Nahid Kamal?” I nodded and said cheerfully, “Yes, that’s me!” He smiled and said, “Are you sure?”
From there he started to chitchat about how he had really wanted to go to Brazil to watch the World Cup but couldn’t as he had to work, then asked my partner if he had ever been to Bangladesh. When we asked him if the tap water was safe to drink after the floods, he looked at me and said, “You should know…Bangladesh is quite experienced in this area!” He informed me that even though I didn’t have a visa but only a Schengen visa, it would take a few minutes to process my paperwork. Could we please park to the side while he takes care of it?
I have not faced friendly immigration officers too many times in life. I was already overwhelmed. Once we finally crossed into Bosnia & Herzegovina, I couldn’t believe how painless it had been. I loved the country already.
The drive to Sarajevo felt very long, mostly due to how hot it is this time of year. But we made it in 4 hours. We had no defined expectations of what Sarajevo would be like, but what we saw took our breaths away. It is a city nestled in a valley, with red tiled roofs on either side of the small river. Frequent minarets of mosques jut out of the buildings. It appears more of a fusion between East and West than Istanbul, and can very well be a cross between Heidelberg and Istanbul. I’m in love with the city already, and partly due to the friendly faces and conversations we keep having everywhere we go.
We are off to see a couple of museums this morning to understand the history of the war and will be on our way to Mostar, which is in the Herzegovina part of the country, and Kotor, Montenegro later in the day. More to come.