Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bosnia on the third attempt ... but who's counting?

Those who are carefully following our itinerary will wonder why our excursions in Bosnia haven't rated a mention yet. Well, it's a bit of a "best laid plans" story crossed with "Amanda didn't read the guidebook carefully". Turns out a magic piece of paper, curiously known as a green card (ours was, eventually, blue), is required before you can drive your car into Bosnia and Herzegovina. On our first attempt, we arrived at the border on a Sunday afternoon, an hour and a half after the special booths which sell this insurance for 20 Euros had closed. "Come back at 7am tomorrow," was the only thing an otherwise friendly guard could tell us.

Our second attempt was a little sneaky. Take a look at a recent map and you'll see that BiH (the useful abbreviation for "Bosnia and Herzegovina") has a little strip which runs to the coast. I haven't yet checked into the historical reasons for this but from appearances, it looks like they wanted just one beach resort, poor things. Anyway, since all traffic from Split to Dubrovnik has to drive through this strip of BiH, we felt fairly sure they couldn't insist on the insurance. We were right, but we couldn't find the road that would have taken us back inland towards our destination. Probably that was for the best, since we had no idea of the penalty for travelling without the magical green card.

Third time lucky, and we made sure this visit took place when the green card booths were open. It was frustratingly quick to get, but the traffic jams on both sides of the border soon made up for this. And so it was that we headed to Mostar.

Mostar's famous for its recently rebuilt bridge, and for coming up on the news with monotonous regularity about twelve years ago. The scary thing is that in places, it looks like the war was yesterday. The frontline street has damaged buildings lining both sides, potholed and spotty in a terrifying way. There are tourists there, but only a fraction of the number you find in Croatia, and consequently prices are rock bottom and English is much less widely spoken. Mine-clearing is an ongoing activity, apparently, so we did as told and stuck to the main paths.

And just for the record, this was the 40th country I've visited in my lifetime. And they never get any less interesting!

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