Sunrise, shot from the train, in Bosnia
Today was a day in transit. We have those and they’re seldom exciting, but a necessary part of travel. You can’t get to new stuff without traveling…..so today we traveled.
We started out very early this morning in Sarajevo. We took a cab to the train station for our 7:15 a.m. train. They seem to travel two ways in the Balkans….before the crack of dawn and at the end of the day. Our only other choices for travel to Split from Sarajevo were an 8.5 hour bus ride through winding mountain roads….or a 3 hour train ride, two hour layover in a small Bosnia and Herzegovina town, and a 4 hour bus ride on windey mountain roads. We chose the one with the fewest amount of windey mountain roads.
Our train trip was uneventful, and we went through areas that we went through in the dark previously. The train traveled through river canyons and gorgeous scenery, snowy mountains, and tiny villages. I tried repeatedly to get a photo as we passed tiny rural train stations that we did not stop at.
A worker crosses the tracks at one of the stations
Each station had a station master, clad in a black uniform with a military style hat with a bright red band on it. As the train passed each station, the station master would stand in front of the station, with a clipboard clasped to his chest until the train passed. Then he would return inside. This also felt like a throwback to the old days, a tradition that still exists. I thought it was cool
We stopped in Mostar, where we boarded the train last time, but continued on to the end of the line, a small town called Capljina, which is actually in the Herzegovina part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Total cost for this trip was 24 marks for BOTH of us, or 6 U.S. dollars each. Gotta be the cheapest train ride in Europe.
Capljina isn’t a tourist area. It’s basically just a place that travelers pass through. It may be a little different than it was in communist times, but I’d be willing to bet not much. Soviet style apartment blocks are the norm. The train station/bus station consists of blocky concrete buildings with very sparse and worn finishes and they’re filled with people chain smoking cigarettes and drinking very strong coffee at the café. No benches, no signage, no furniture, just open expanse. Little if anything seems to have changed since the communist days.
The local coffee shop in Capljina
We went across the street to grab some breakfast at a bakery. We had a very good burek (meat pastry) and drinks, then we went to a coffee house across from the train station. Everyone was nice to us, the coffee was cheap (latte and a tea, 2.5 marks or $1.25 U.S.), and everyone smoked like a chimney. A cat wandered around in the café and obviously lived there, oblivious to all the people around it.
It is a time warp, to 35 years ago. Yes, there are regular supermarkets, newer cars, computers, and smartphones. But a very large part of life here seems very similar to what it was decades ago. They forego aesthetics as long as it still functions. When it breaks, maybe they’ll make it nicer then, but until then they will trudge along. From the view of an outsider, if you took away the cars and covered up the store signs, you couldn’t tell any difference from the old days.
We bought bus tickets and are told our bus will not come to the bus station, but to a shed by the train station. It is supposed to arrive at 11:45 and we’re by the shed. We see buses coming and going at the other bus station across the parking lot and start getting paranoid, that perhaps we were told the wrong place to catch the bus. A street kid is begging for coins and speaks a few words of English. He tells us that our bus does come to the shed and we should sit down and wait. I give him a couple of marks for helping us and he seems happy. But at 11:45, there is still no bus.
Buses are the most common form of transport here. There are really big bus stations and lots of travelers use them.
We start walking back toward the other bus station thinking we’ve been told wrong by the street kid as well, and our bus shows up. We rush back to the shed and meet the bus. We stow our bags in the hold, paying the driver for our checked bags. It is an odd custom here, they charge for hold luggage. It isn’t much, one euro or equivalent local currency (about a dollar U.S.) per checked bag. It’s a nice bus with comfortable seats, wifi (not particularly fast), and fairly new. We thought we were going alone, but two more people get on right before we leave. We head off towards Croatia.
We wind up crossing the border several times, 3 to be exact. Each time they take our passports and scan them, then come back on the bus to return them to us. We go from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia, back to BiH (as the locals call it for short) then back to Croatia a final time. After this, we are on two lane coastal roads all the way to Split.
The Dalmation Coast
The Dalmation coastline is gorgeous. Huge rock mountains falling straight off into the sea, with towns and villages in the small strip of land between the two. It is a vacation area and a huge number of the buildings are hotels, rental apartments, and other things to cater to the tourists. Laurie told me that a guy on the bus told her that 20 percent of the gross domestic product in Croatia comes from tourism. I believe it.
While the scenery is gorgeous, the back and forth of the bus is giving me motion sickness. I don’t usually have a problem with that but it was bothering me today. I tried to keep my eyes closed or sleep in order to keep it at bay. Laurie said she would love to drive up the coast at some point and just take our time, and I have to agree.
We did the best we could to grab a few photos. I was fighting motion sickness but Laurie was doing okay and took some good pics. It’s hard shooting through a bus window but she did a great job. She has a very good eye for composition, much better than mine.
Split is fairly tropical, shown by the trees!
Yes, I did professional photography for years, and yes, I’m good at it. I’m good at technical photography, the nuts and bolts of it, how to manipulate the equipment to get what you want. Playing the light, knowing the mechanics of the situation, understanding how to fill a picture with light properly, things like that. If it comes to the technical aspects of photography, I’m your guy. But for framing up a beautiful shot, Laurie is better than me.
We arrive in Split with no hotel. I’m not particularly worried as booking.com said there were over 1000 vacant hotel rooms in town. It is the off season so I’m not surprised. I started to book one once or twice on the bus but started fighting motion sickness and decided I’d deal with it when we got there. We arrive, claim our packs, and exchange any left over Bosnian marks for Kuna. BiH (yeah, that’s a lot to type) and Croatia use different currencies, so when you go back and forth you have to have some of the local currency. We pocket our Kuna and head into the old town to look for a place to stay.
I had a couple of possible places picked out, and had a rough idea where they were in the old town. I walked right to them. One had no vacancy and the other had rooms, so we wound up staying at the Hotel Slavija in old town Split. It’s not incredibly fancy, but it is nice. It’s not a snooty boutique hotel or anything like that. It is well taken care of and well appointed, the staff are nice, it has good internet, and we have a little balcony we can stand on and look down into the pedestrian only streets.
Sunset on Split
Our hotel actually is inside a palace. It’s really kind of like a castle. The old town has a large area that was a palace of sorts. Inside it are many stores, restaurants, and hotels, built right inside the old palace grounds. It’s pretty cool and we wander a bit tonight to check it out. We plan to spend the day tomorrow exploring the old town of Split, then we fly on Saturday.
We ended the day by taking photos of the sunset on the waterfront. We took photos of the sunrise from the train in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now we’re taking sunset photos in Croatia. We have a nice dinner, then have coffee at a sidewalk café, and head back to our hotel. While today was pretty simple, with a lot of repositioning stuff, tomorrow will be more fun.
Split slide show day one