I’m back in Vienna now on my way to Tirana, Albania. Thank goodness for the airport’s free internet. It really helps pass the time.
I took a trip out of Sarajevo yesterday into the Republika Srpska town of Banja Luka. It’s in the northwestern part of Bosnia and is populated mostly by ethnic Serbs. The whole breakup of Yugoslavia left a real mess and the republic next to a federation within a country doesn’t seem to help matters. There is no love lost between the people of either side and the tensions are still very clear. Still, it’s always good to get out of the capital and see how the other folks live.
For a “republic” with high unemployment and a political class that, from all accounts on the ground, isn’t doing its best to help its population, it’s a decent area. Mountainous pastoral views line the roadside into Banja Luka and the city is a developing Balkan urban center. The people were nice although 1.5 hours waiting for lunch to arrive was a bit much. However, I’ve become used to these small annoyances and just carry on – nibbling on the bread from the bread basket and sipping my 2 ounces of mineral water that must be filtered through platinum and gold for the prices they’re charging.
One interesting fact about this region – none of the houses look finished. There may be a nice 3-story house sitting in the middle of a manicured lawn but the 3rd floor is only block and has no finished, painted facade. The reason – you only have to pay taxes on your house if it’s finished. And, even though you’re supposed to be finished with construction within a year, no one enforces the laws. So no revenue, so no roads, so no… you get it.
It was an interesting day watching the mosques turn into churches as we passed from the Muslim to the Serbian Orthodox areas. Of course, to concentrate on this, I had to block out the fact that the driver and car we had hired was going about 30 km over the speed limit on crummy roads. He got his, though. After he dropped us off at the first meeting, our van got booted because he neglected to pay for parking.
After a harrowing drive over a wooden bridge not originally intended for passenger vans and narrowly dodging a lady herding cows with bulging udders, we were off – into the vomit inducing mountain roads.
I need a bigger life insurance policy.
Tirana is next up. I’m totally banking on some good, fresh seafood and Italian wine to take the edge off. We’ll see.
Until then, dear readers!