Crustry Old Women

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I have wound my way up from Albania to Zagreb finally and today was a nine hour bus ride from Sarajevo that left at 0630.  I really enjoyed Sarajevo but one thing sticks out in my mind...what in the world do the people there eat?   I mean there is no fast food like McDonald's (which is a good thing!) or any local joints really.  What few places do exist are really just sidewalk coffee shops. 

From what I could see, food comes in two flavors...cerapi or buriks...both of which I need a break from.  Cerapi is a bun filled with sausages, goat cheese, tomatoes and onions.  At first I loved them but now cerapis have turned mostly crappy since my tastebuds have bored of them.  Buriks are a doughy filo like thing shaped like a breadstick and filled with cheese or meat.  But never meat and cheese together.  Go figure.  I mean seriously, is this all there is to eat there?  Bureks and cerapi are all that sustain my nutritional needs since Podgorica, and my body is craving a HUGE salad and or some vegetables and fruit.

Speaking of fruit, I have finally mastered the label dispenser in the produce section so I am self sufficient now to buy bananas which for some reason I am still craving.  Funny how that is.  I won't go near them at home.  I guess my body is rebelling against three meals a day of bureks with the occasional cerapi thrown in for dietary balance.

The bus ride out of Sarajevo wound through some beautiful mountains and the bus maybe got up to 30 mph the first few hours of the trip.  Everytime the roads got uncomfortably curvy the driver would light up a cigarette and dangle it from his lips while he manhandled the bus around switchbacks that would give even the tiniest Yugo trouble.  I also noticed that Bosnia, Hercegovina and Republika Srpska are where old Volkswagens go to die (and believe it or not the random smoking Dodge Caravan, 1980s vintage).

Of course the driver's noxious smoke isn't all that fills the bus.  Tinny speakers blast out nonstop folk music.  Do these people not want to chill out and relax?  Why of course not.  Not that any zen like aura comes easily anyway when your seatmate invades your space everytime a sharp curve causes her massive girth to succumb to gravity.  Somewhere outside of Banja Luka the radio suddenly flipped to regular music and this is the only time you will ever hear me say ears actually welcomed Madonna rather than accordians and some unknown string instrument.   Banja Luka was also a reststop on the trip and I got out to clean the cigarette smoke out of my lungs with some much more palatable diesel exhaust from idling buses.

I had to pee so I found the WC and a crusty old lady was standing between me and some relief.  Almost all toilets here are the pay variety and I fished out my fifty cents.  I started walking away and she barked out something angily in Serbian.  I was thinking come on lady, my eyeballs are swimming.  I walked back to her and she was carefully writing out a receipt for payment. 

This Bosnian blue hair obviously sensed my urgency, and was taking her time accordingly.  I have never been given a receipt for taking a leak.  There is always a first.  I was customer number 1,125 for that receipt book.  I guess I would be obnoxious, too if I spent my entire working career sniffing various aromas emanating from this basement toilet.

After some relief I stopped by the kiosk to buy some juice.  I had been pacing my beverage consumption for the 9 hour journey and figured I was safe now since Zagreb was just hours away.   I picked out some chips, too and brought all my goodies to the one foot by two window manned by yet another crusty old babushka already staring at me angrily.  I put 2 Marks on the little pay plate (money here never goes hand to hand.  ALWAYS use the plate!!!), and she waived her hands.  All I heard was, "Nezh, nazh, nezh, nazh, no, no, no, no, no, no." 

I just stared at her and she repeated it and the girl behind me started giggling; never, ever a good sign no matter what.  Next thing I know, granny stood up and a wrinkled hand shot through the window and grabbed the bottle of juice.  I was about to snatch that plastic bottle back and tell her we were going to start this transaction over without the attitude.  She repeated the nizh nazh mess and the girl behind me started giggling again.  Out shot granny's hand for the second time and it grabbed the chips.  All the commotion made me drop my change and of course it rolled in seven different directions.  

Now how in the world was I supposed to know that this dip crap little bus station built in the 1960s that hands out hand written pee receipts uses a modern scanner to control the inventory of its food sales?  That's just how it is down here in the Balkans...nothing is what it appears on the surface.  I collected my scattered coins while others from the bus looked on with rolling eye amazement and head shakes.

So here I am in Zagreb after a tortuous overland journey.   It isn't a bad place to chill for the rest of today, and I leave out of Osijek tomorrow at lunchtime.  That means a 5:45am busride from here to there but that's ok because my ticket to Frankfurt-Hahn was just six Euros and my connecting flight from Hahn to Gdansk, Poland was the same.  You have to love Ryanair.

I walked all over Zagreb and enjoyed it.  I think we could all become millionaires if we chipped in to open a paint store.  The city is a gray and black canvas just waiting for a brush to come along.  I am noticing a pattern for all these former Yugoslav (and Eastern Europe in general)...they have nice enough city centers but the outskirts are all identical in lacking any aesthetic charm.  Quite ok with me though.  It gives me something to look at that is different than back home and that's why I travel.

I have met some awesome people from Australia at the hostel so we are going to go on the quest for something other than a burek.  I get into Gdansk later tomorrow night and will let you know at some point how Ryanair and the bus ride to Osijek were.  I am not done with the Balkans though.  Ryanair will bring me back before I wind my way out of Europe towards the Middle East.  I have a few must sees down here when I come back for five days.  Hopefully I can accomplish things my last few hours here without spinning up the old babushkas. 
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