How could all of that happen? What's the postwar life like? Is it possible to return to normality, anyway? These questions bothered me for quite a while. To find an answer, or at least fragments of it, I decided to use another Balkan tour to go to Bosnia. Situation in 2001 was rather stable, but for safety reasons we only opted for two places in Bosnia. Unfortunately we hadn't had the time to include a trip to Republika Srpska - thus, the picture is by far not complete. Not surprisingly, we couldn't answer question #1. We found out a lot about #2. As for question #3, we found some answers, but the result was far away from being satisfying, not to say shocking.
Most Europeans, Americans, Canadians and Japanese do not need a visa - a passport is enough. It goes without saying that the passport must be valid for at least three more months after arrival. Australians and some other nationalities still require a visa, so it is recommended to check with the embassy beforehand. Allegedly it's necessary to register with the local police if not staying in a hotel. We didn't, and no one asked for related paperwork at the border.
Yugoslavian money has not been valid for a long time. For a certain period of time, the Deutschmark was in use - as in →Montenegro. In 1998, the Deutschmark was substituted by the so called Konvertibilna Marka (KM) (convertible Mark), the exchange rate was 1:1, and it's still fixed. The plural form is 'Maraka'. One KM is 100 Pfeniga (from the German word 'Pfennig'). There are two versions of each bill - one has Cyrillic inscriptions on top and the Roman version below, and vice versa. Even the portrait is different. Probably printed in a 51:49 parity...
|The Deutschmark is alive - at least in Bosnia|
There are 10, 20, 50 Pf and KM 1, KM 2 coins. Bills come in KM 0.50 (!), 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 KM versions. Naturally it can be difficult to use bigger bills in smaller shops and restaurants. In daily life, KM 1 bills are the most important ones. The exchange rate, formerly tied to the Deutschmark, is now tied to the Euro. I.e. € 1 = KM 1.95.
There is no lack of ATM's in bigger cities, accepting common credit cards and Maestro, Cirrus (formerly EC) etc. cash cards. The usual fee per transaction is € 4. Cash can be exchanged everywhere. In the RS, the New Serbian Dinar, in other parts the Croatian Kuna is widely accepted at exchange booths. In 2001, the Deutschmark was accepted everywhere. I presume, nowadays it's the Euro being the most useful currency besides the KM. Beware: It's almost impossible to exchange KM outside the country. Hence, it's a good idea to get rid of all Bosnian money left before leaving the country.
Prices can be compared to those of →Serbia and →Montenegro. Bosnia is considerably cheaper than →Croatia. However, in some places there's a lack of accommodation alternatives for travellers, i.e. accommodation can be quite expensive compared to other countries in the Balkans. Private rooms are around KM 10 for one person. Food is cheap, especially for self-caterers. Transport is also inexpensive. Prices in →Sarajevo are much higher. As an active backpacker, moving around a lot and eating out in cheaper restaurants, one should allow for KM 30 to 50 a day.
By airplane, bus or train. There are several international bus and air connections to various capitals in Europe. Trains aren't very helpful, since there are only a few connections. Recently, a quite popular connection had been re-opened. It's a direct train from →Budapest to →Sarajevo via →Osijek (Eastern Slavonia) and →Pécsã€€(Southwest Hungary). There's one train a day, travel time is around 12 (in letters: twelve!) hours. There's another slow train to the Adriatic Sea, which starts at the Croatian coastal town Ploče via →Mostar and ends at →Sarajevo. It's only one or two or so connections a day - at least in 2001. Service might have been discontinued!! Check beforehand!
Busses are often the one and only option. They go everywhere in Bosnia and connect cities in the RS with the FD. There are daily busses from →Sarajevo and →Mostar to →Dubrovnik in Croatia. Tickets are not sold in advance (at least not in Dubrovnik). The bus fills up quickly in summer, so it's better to show up early. Countless busses from destinations in Bosnia and neighbouring countries head for Međugorje in Herzegovina, which is a famous place of pilgrimage near →Mostar. There is no bus at all from Sarajevo to Eastern Slavonia (Northeast Croatia). To go there and to Hungary, it's necessary to go to Tužla first. The whole trip to →Osijek costs 32.5 KM (€ 16).
There are numerous border crossings to →Croatia, →Serbia and →Montenegro. Most nationalities do not require a visa for both countries, so one can travel freely. However, border examinations can be fierce and take up to several hours when travelling by bus. All border crossings to Serbia are inside the RS. The border between RS and FD is not visible and can be crossed without passing any checkpoints.
Food and drinks
Čevapćići, Burek and Co - Bosnia offers the typical Balkan diet, heavily influenced by Turkish food. Which means, that if you love grilled meat, you'll find yourself in paradise. For more information on Balkan food, see →Serbia and →Montenegro and →Macedonia). There are many food stalls around, and not infrequently they are better than restaurants. Needless to say, variety in bigger cities is much wider. Recently, nice café's and Italian restaurants etc. have mushroomed.
Bosnia produces drinkable wine. Beer is quite common, too. There's definitely no lack of fire water - mostly limited to the usual Balkan stuff, such as Rakija (also Loza) and Šlivovica, distilled from plums or grapes or whatever the distiller could get his hands on. Very popular with locals.