Trapped in Sarajevo: In Which a Mattress Attacks Our Bus

We got up early today to prepare for the long trip home; we ate breakfast quickly, had our bags packed and loaded within two minutes, and hopped eagerly on the bus. Within four minutes of leaving the hostel, trouble broke out.

A political demonstration in front of the Parliament building froze the city, coupled with a foot race with hundreds of runners.

INTERMISSION

END INTERMISSION

Sorry, I had to stop writing for a moment as we negotiated a way out of Sarajevo and had to scramble out of the bus en masse. So anyway, the events going on in Sarajevo today blocked off all of the roads out of Sarajevo, save one. The one road out – a one-way street – had corners too tight for our bus to take. One of our two bus drivers rolled down the window to talk to the traffic operator. When we got some very negative news, our other bus driver Zoli got out and took things into his own hands.

Keep in mind that this trip is already at least 11 hours to begin with, although today it will be longer because we are stopping for food. Zoli went up to talk to this guy, whose pose strikes me as more than a little Nazi –

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“You have to wait,” said the policeman.

“Hour, ten minute, how long?” asked our driver.

“Four hours.”

Oh dear. We’d be arriving back at our dorm after midnight. Zoli tried bartering with the policeman to no avail. Still, Zoli wouldn’t give up. 

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When Zoli backed down a little, the other driver got out. They tried to convince the policeman to let us out onto the main road, onto a side street, anything. But the only road out of Sarajevo really was that one-way. For half an hour, the drivers continued to try to persuade our unhappy watcher. Finally, while Zoli was standing outside still talking to the police, the other bus driver turned to us with a smirk.

“You stay where back?”

“Oh no, we’re not staying in another hotel,” replied Professor Feenstra, “we’re going back to Budapest.” The driver smiled.

“You have flight from Budapest.”

“No,” said Feenstra, “we’re staying in Budapest.” The driver smiled again.

“You have flight from Budapest,” he said determinedly and stepped out of the bus.

Apparently, he wanted to get out of Sarajevo at that moment as badly as we did, maybe even a little more. He told the policeman that we had a flight from Budapest to catch. The police officer hovered in front of the bus for a few more minutes. Finally, Zoli dashed up the one-way road and signaled for our driver to follow. We had finally swayed the policeman.

That didn’t mean that our ordeal was over, of course. The policeman restricted us from going up the road because the turns were too tight for a bus. That was still true, even if we now had permission to try the corners. The driver ferried the bus up the street, parked cars suffocating the already small road. When we got to the corner, the curb was dotted with yellow ridges (to prevent people from jumping the curb), the cars were parked wide, and the turn veered a stark 90 degrees to the left. A perfect right angle is not something that buses are fond of.

“Out,” said the driver. Professor Feenstra didn’t understand, but I did and started to stand up. He stared at Feenstra and repeated himself. “Out! Out!” he said, a little more forcefully but still kind, realizing that he was not being understood.

“Everybody out!”

We fled the bus and waited on a stone stairway as the bus navigated the sharp turn, trying not to pop his tires on the curb’s ridges and trying also to avoid the myriad poorly parked cars. After quite a few tense moments, he made it.

We got back on the bus and drove for about a block before more poorly parked cars nearly blocked us in again. With some skillful driving and Zoli’s frantic streetside directing, we got past that obstacle as well. But the ordeal was not over yet.

Another block away, we came upon this –

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At this point, we were ready to move the cones by hand and just get over the thing. But our driver once again conquered the challenge with his undeniable bus-driving prowess. The GPS told us to take numerous other turns that we just couldn’t make, but now, at least, we’re here –

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*****

The trip home was just as eventful as the trip out of Sarajevo. The drivers’ efforts to find a restroom were, to be honest, a complete disaster that was in no way their fault. At the first rest stop, the door was locked. At the second, we were mistaken and there actually wasn’t a bathroom. When we got to the border crossing between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the security guard wouldn’t let us use the restroom.

The drivers were much chattier on the way home than they were on the way out to Sarajevo on Thursday. It was a pleasant surprise to see them talking so much – Zoli barely said a word on the way out, but even he got to talking for a bit. The other driver, whose name we are still trying to figure out, was a chatterbox for like two hours! He’s a lot of fun, though, so it was enjoyable. 

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He explained to us the different sounds that animals make in Hungarian – you do know that different languages have different animal sounds, right? He also confessed his fear of ski lifts and explained jokingly how electronic cow milkers work. How are all these seemingly random things connected?

They aren’t.

The drivers weren’t the only things livelier on the way home than on the way out; border crossings were, aside from the aforementioned bathroom issue, even more interesting as well. When we hit the station between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, a huge double-decker bus queued before us in line. All of the people (yes, there were a lot of them) streamed out of the bus and stood in line to wait to have their passports and personal effects checked individually. We asked if we had to do this as well. Zoli said we didn’t, and the other driver piped in and explained that it only happens to Serbs.

Apparently this little country hasn’t quite forgotten which racial groups have shown up negatively their history books so far.  Ouch.

In all honesty, though, I didn’t really find it offensive. Being a supporter of racial profiling, I don’t see a particular problem with it – I understand  how it could bother some people, certainly, but if America was a problem nation for so-and-so country and I went there on a plane (or any other vehicle, for that matter), I would feel uncomfortable not being checked individually. However, please make the distinction between racism and profiling! I am most certainly not racist, and I see no reason for racism. However, it is self-deceptive and pretty ignorant to try to negate the fact that people do look different based upon which part of the world they come from. But let’s not get into all this now.

Once we passed through the Croatia-Hungary border, we went to dinner at a beautiful restaurant. An hour and a half late for our reservation due to the holdup in Sarajevo and the border crossing Serbs, we were still cordially welcomed into the restaurant, where the servers were prepared for us anyway. It was a beautiful building, very large. You know, one of those places where the green cloth napkins are folded up in nice 3D shapes. When we walked in, all of the waiters and waitresses were lined up, hands folded politely in front of them against their black and white dress attire. I was quite impressed. I was also very pleased with the meal, as it was two of the native Hungarian dishes I have not had the chance to try but have always wanted to – goulash soup and palacsinta.

The soup came to us in huge bowls from which we served ourselves – a deep layer of mahogany-colored liquid collected on the top of the soup from all the paprika these Hungarians use! In the soup were large cooked carrot slices, potatoes, a few short spaghetti-like noodles, some smaller clear things I couldn’t place (possibly onions), and some chunks of meat. The broth was strong and complimented the meat nicely. I finished the entire bowl, as well as three pieces of fresh, soft bread which I was dipping in the sauce.

After the soup came dessert, the palacsinta. I have had a meat palacsinta before, and it remains one of the most delicious things I have eaten since coming here. Still, I’ve always been excited about fruit palacsinta – Adri volunteered to make it for me, and I’ll probably still take her up on her offer! But it was cool to have palacsinta from a restaurant too. In America, I suppose we would call a palacsinta a crepe, but Hungarian language’s stubborn habit of seemingly not having any cognates from any language prevents them from just using the word crepe. And in all honesty, a palacsinta is a little different anyway. It is filled with the same sweet cottage cheese as a Turorudi, another native Hungarian dessert. There was a very thin and almost unnoticeable layer of orange, perhaps just a few drops of orange extracts, to mix with the sweet cottage cheese and the delicate pastry covered in fine powdered sugar. It was delicious! So overall, I had a bowl of goulash soup, three pieces of bread, a glass bottle of Coca Cola, an orange slice, and two palacsintas. What a dinner!

Shortly after we left the restaurant, Professor Feenstra panicked because she thought that she left her glasses behind. After she found them a few minutes later, Zoli teased that she should have bought one of the pretty, feminine-looking neckstrap glasses cases that he bought in Mostar. She laughed and said, “Can I buy yours?”

“Eh? 10 dollar!” he laughed.

“You want 10 dollars or 10 euros?” Professor Feenstra jokingly replied.

“Eh…10 euro. A little more money than dollar.”

After that, the other driver (whose name unfortunately none of us ever got) just kept on talking and talking. Considering that he told us at first that, as far as English goes, he knows “egy kicsit” (only a little), his English-speaking skills were quite good. From political corruption to diesel gas mechanics, he knew how to say everything!

And so our drive continued until about 9PM, when we arrived in Budapest (but not before slamming the bus into a giant mattress on the highway!) and unpacked in our old rooms. My first Hungarian Language and Culture class is tomorrow, so hopefully I can sleep well and get a good start on the day!

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