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From Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina

From Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Before arriving in Croatia, I had no intention of visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina. If I am being completely honest, I could not have told you where Bosnia and Herzegovina was two weeks ago. But after examining the map, I realized that in order to get to Dubrovnik, I had to go through Bosnia. And if I had to travel through Bosnia anyway, why not actually visit it and spend some time exploring. The beauty of not having a fixed plan and itinerary is that I get to make it up as I go. Bosnia and Herzegovina happened to be one of those last-minute impromptu decisions.


Osijek to Slavonski Brod

I did some research online and knew there was a border crossing between Croatia and Bosnia at Slavonski Brod. It also happened that there were frequent buses running between Osijek and Slavonski Brod. The internet also told me that after I reached the border, I would be able to catch a bus headed to Banja Luka, the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bus to Banja Luka information is actually incorrect and wrong, but I didn’t know that at the time. I hop on the noon bus from Osijek to Slavonski Brod. Easy peasy, standard bus ride. No surprises.

I get to the bus station and inquire about this bus to Banja Luka. The ticket lady shook her head.


“There is no bus to Banja Luka.”

Ok… wait. What? No bus.

What to do. What to do. What to do.

She told me that I could get across the border to Brod, where there should be a bus. That works. I’ll walk across the border.

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So I lugged all my crap and walked through Croatian immigration. I was not too sure where to get my exit stamp until a hand rushed out and signaled me from a tiny window in a darkened toll booth. I couldn’t even see the officer’s face, but I gave him my passport and two seconds later, it was returned with an exit stamp.

The two countries are separated by a large river, and the only way to get to Brod and Bosnia was to walk across the bridge. So here I am, my large backpack on my back, the camera bag on my side, and the computer bag on my front, walking across this bridge that is lined with metal plates that you can see through. The drop into the river would have been around 30 feet. I’m not scared of heights, but the fact that I could see into the river while walking across the bridge was not comfortable.

I made it. Thank goodness.

Entry into Bosnia and Herzegovina was simple as well. Two seconds and my passport was returned with an entry stamp. But while English was easily understood in Croatia, just across the border, it was like I was speaking in tongues. A few friendly locals showed me to the bus station, if you can call it that, and it was closed. No buses to Banja Luka.


There was no bus to Banja Luka.

The good thing is that I arrived in Bosnia around 2:30pm. It was still light out, which meant plenty of time to hitchhike. The border crossing was also very busy, and many cars were going in and out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This meant that I might actually be able to hitch a ride.


Hitchhiking to Banja Luka

I sure as hell was not spending a night in Brod hoping that in the morning there’d be a bus to take me to Banja Luka. So thus began my first hitchhiking adventure in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hitchhiking is all about location. The great thing about Bosnia is that there is usually only one main highway. And from the border, there really was only one road for cars to take. This means perfect location to stand and hitchhike.

I positioned myself about 50 feet away from the border crossing, past a stop sign but before a parking lot, where my potential ride could stop.

15 minutes later, I got a ride.

hitchhikeman

My ride was a very friendly Croatian man. He was on his way towards Banja Luka and could drop me off near the city. Perfect. We stopped a few times on the way, once so I could take pictures, once so he could get gas, and once so he could buy some groceries.

After about three hours, he drops me off on the side of the highway, about 11 miles away from Banja Luka city center.

What to do. What to do. What to do.

The downside to hitchhiking is that it is very difficult to hitch into a city once you are too close to it, because most of the time, there will be buses, taxis, or other forms of public transportation.

Still, I tried for about 45 minutes to catch a ride. No luck.

I finally conceded defeat, walked to a gas station, and asked the attendant if there were any buses that would take me to the city center. Luckily for me, the attendant spoke amazing English and informed me that yes, there was a bus to the city center and the bus stop was about a 3-minute walk away.

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I made it to the bus station, threw my stuff onto the ground and sat. It’d been a long, long travel day already and there was still 30 minutes before the local bus would get to the stop.

This is when I realized that I had no local currency. In Bosnia, they use the Convertible Mark (KM). And they did not accept Croatian Kuna. There was no bank in sight nor ATM.

Luckily, the bus driver ended up being very nice and allowed me to ride free-of-charge.

And finally, after traveling for 7 hours for a distance of less than 140 miles, I arrived at my hostel in Banja Luka. It was a long day, but I am grateful for all the kind and friendly people I met along the way.


Lessons Learned


1. There is no bus from Slavonski Brod to Banja Luka.
2. The internet lies and is wrong sometimes.
3. Bosnia and Herzegovina uses the Convertible Mark.
4. English is not as widely spoken in Bosnia.
5. You can hitchhike quite easily from the border to Banja Luka.

Have you ever hitchhiked before?

If so, what tips do you have?
If not, would you ever try?

Osijek: A Glimpse of Eastern Croatia

Osijek: A Glimpse of Eastern Croatia

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After Zagreb, I headed to Osijek, the fourth largest city in Croatia. My Couchsurfing host had recommended it to me, and I figured why not. I took the noon bus and 4.5 hours later, arrived in eastern Croatia. As I stepped off the bus, my heart sank. It happened to be a Croatian national holiday on August 5, and all the shops were closed. There was almost nobody at the bus station, and you could almost hear the sound of grass blowing in the wind. It was that quiet.

The first thing that went through my head:

“Am I in the right city? Was it a mistake to come here…”

Well, it was time to give this little abandoned town a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? I pack up my bag and head out in the morning.

My hostel happened to be located in a convenient part of town, quite central to both the city center and the old town, so that was the first good thing. The hostel owner suggested that I walk towards the river and see the pedestrian bridge, so I followed his advice. As I got closer and closer to the bridge, I started hearing loud music playing, children laughing, and people chattering. Wait, there are people here? The town isn’t deserted?!


The Pedestrian Bridge

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The bridge was quite beautiful but the most exciting part was that I found out where the entire city was. Everyone was hanging out at the river having themselves a dance party. It was hot and humid as hell, so it made sense that people would be playing and relaxing near the river.

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After the initial scare of Osijek being an abandoned town, it actually ended up being surprisingly amazing.

I went to eat dinner at this boat restaurant called El Paso, which not only had a great view of the Drava river and served delicious pizza, but for the portion size, was actually quite reasonably priced (42kn or $6.29 USD for one ginormous pie).

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The Slavonian Pizza

My Slavonian pizza had tomatoes, cheese, ham, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, a sunny-side-up egg in the center, onions, and chili peppers. The tomato sauce was served on the side so as not to make the crust soggy. The pizza was pretty darn good, but definitely served the European way: super thin crust and to be eaten with fork and knife.

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Tvrda – the Old Town

I also visited the old town of Osijek, which has well-preserved 18th century Baroque-styled architecture. I also happened to visit on the first Saturday of the month which is when the locals set up stands and sell their antique collections in the middle of the old town square.

osijekmarket

I saw everything from a victrola to a rocking horse to candlestick holders up for sale. It was quite interesting seeing what people had collected over the years and what they were willing to part with. The antique market is open on the first Saturday of every month in the morning and closes around 1pm.

Would I recommend visiting Osijek?

Absolutely. It is a charming little city with not a whole ton to do per se, but you can soak in the sun, relax by the river, swim and frolick with Croatians, and enjoy some beautiful architecture while eating very affordable yet mouth-watering food. I really enjoyed my two nights’ stay in Osijek. I didn’t see anything phenomenal or mind-blowing, but I left very pleasantly satisfied.

Not a lot of travelers visit eastern Croatia as it is slightly off the beaten path, but if you have an extra day or two, I would definitely add Osijek to the list.

Exploring Zagreb in One Day

Exploring Zagreb in One Day

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Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is a beautiful city that can be easily explored on foot or via public transportation. Almost everyone speaks English, and people are very hospitable, friendly, and eager to help out should you have questions or get lost. There are information centers spread throughout the city where you can pick up maps and brochures, or if you’re like me, duck in for some air conditioning.

This is a rough guide of how I spent my day exploring Zagreb.

Begin at the main train station.

From the train station, walk towards Ban Jelačić Square, the city center and Zagreb’s main square. On the way, make sure to take some time to admire the city layout, the architecture, and the buildings along the street. If you visit during the summer, especially during August, you will find the city quite empty and not crowded. This is because most people living in Zagreb are vacationing along the coast for a few weeks.

Reach Ban Jelacic Square.

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Zagreb’s main square, named after the Croatian hero Josip Jelačić, has a statue of Jelačić in the center. The statue was first installed in the mid-1800s, removed in 1947 during Yugoslavia’s communist rule, and finally re-installed again in 1990. It is a car-free zone; however, most tram lines have a stop at the square, making it very convenient to get to.

Head towards the Zagreb Cathedral.

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A 2-minute walk from the main square, the Zagreb Cathedral is a must-see as it is the tallest building in Croatia. Designed in the Gothic style, the architecture and stained glass windows are quite the sight to behold. One of the cathedral’s spires is currently undergoing restoration.

cathdral

Visit Dolac Market.

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As you walk past the fountain in front of Zagreb Cathedral, you will find Dolac Market. Vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and sausages under red umbrellas from the morning until early afternoon. There are a few bars and cafes surrounding the market where you can stop in for a drink while hiding from the heat.

Take a stroll down Tkalciceva Street.

From Dolac Market, walk down the stairs heading towards the main square. At the bottom of the stairs, you will turn right onto Tkalčićeva Street. The street is lined with cafes, bars, boutique shops, pizzerias, and fancy restaurants. Even in the early afternoon, the bars and street are filled with people.

tkalciceva

The architecture, though, was my favorite part about the street. The buildings are all painted different colors and are of different sizes and shapes, but somehow, they all manage to look cohesive. Some of the houses look brand new while others appear to be chipping away with age. But it’s the seeming disarray that gives Tkalčićeva Street its charm.

Admire the cityscape from one of the viewpoints.

viewpoint

After wandering Tkalčićeva and grabbing a drink or two, head back to the main square and follow the sign towards St. Mark’s Church. You will turn into a small alleyway, which will lead you up some steps. When you can, turn right and head up some more steps. You will find the first stunning view of Zagreb’s cityscape. You will then see a small vine-covered door on your right. Walk up those stairs and prepare to be wow’d. The view of the streets, the rooftops, and Zagreb Cathedral is simply breathtaking.

Visit St. Mark’s Church.

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A few minutes’ walk from the view point, you will find St. Mark’s Church. My favorite part about the church is the tiled roof, where you can find the coat of arms of Zagreb. The square where the church is located is very beautiful as well. Selfie away!

Last stop at the Stone Gate.

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The Stone Gate is right around the corner from St. Mark’s Church. The gate is the only remaining one out of four that used to connect the lower part of the city to the upper part back in the 1200s. You will find many people lighting candles here and praying for good health and happiness.

There are many other things to do in Zagreb aside from those listed above, everything from museums to parks, lakes, and shopping. I highly recommend visiting this wonderful city and staying for longer than one day if at all possible!

What do you like to visit when exploring cities?

Day One: Zagreb, Couchsurfing and the Story of the Lost Bag

Day One: Zagreb, Couchsurfing and the Story of the Lost Bag

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At Zagreb International Airport.

Three planes and 19.5 hours later, I finally arrived in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

And surprise! My backpack did not arrive. My brand new backpack that I have yet to break in. That was loaded with pretty much all my clothes, toiletries, and life for the next 14 months. The universe was playing a nasty trick but I wasn’t about to let that ruin my trip. I filed a lost baggage claim with Croatia Airlines and hopefully, fingers crossed, my bag will be delivered within the next few days. Until then, I’ll be wearing the same clothes day and night. Let that sink in for a bit…

Next, I had to get from the airport to my Couchsurfing host Lucia’s place. She had provided very detailed instructions regarding which bus and trams to take. And it was extremely easy!

From Zagreb Airport to the City:

When you exit the airport, you will find a bus stop marked with a sign that lists the bus times. This bus will take you directly from the airport to the main bus terminal in the city. And it only costs 30 kuna (kn), or $4.50 USD (1 USD = 6.67 kn). I bought my bus ticket on board from the bus driver. Only Croatian kuna accepted for payment, no credit cards. The ride was very comfortable and took about 20 minutes.

From Zagreb Bus Terminal to the Main Train Station:

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Zagreb’s main bus terminal.

Once you reach the bus terminal, you will want to walk out of the terminal where you will see the tram tracks. To get to the Main Train Station, I took tram 6 in the ČRNOMEREC direction. Not sure about which direction the tram is going? There are large signs on the respective platforms labeling which direction the tram is going. Additionally, each tram is marked with a scrolling marquee indicating its direction.

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Tram lines near the bus terminal.

Cost of tram ticket: Unknown.

As I did not see any machine or person selling tickets, I was uncertain as to where to buy one. I also did not see any locals holding or using tram tickets or passes. So I tried my luck and just hopped on. I essentially rode the trams for free. Do I recommend this? No. You should definitely purchase a ticket. However, as I have yet to figure out where to buy my ticket, I’m winging it as I go. Apparently, it’s common for locals to not have tram passes either, but better to be on the safe side.

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The square in front of the train station.

Couchsurfing with Lucia

After I got to Lucia’s apartment, I decided I was just going to take it easy for the rest of the day. Sure, I could have gone out, but I had been awake for over 24 hours at this point and didn’t feel like it. The nice thing about traveling in one country for a few weeks is that I am not in a rush to do and see everything I can possibly do and see in one day. I also wanted to get to know my Couchsurfing host and ask her some questions about Croatia in general. We ended up watching Croatian pop singer Severina’s music videos, listening to Croatian rap and indie songs, and having a blast talking about each others’ culture and hobbies. Lucia is finishing her last year of university in Zagreb and wants to be an English and art teacher. She is from the coastal region of Croatia and enjoys listening to a ton of KPop. I asked Lucia to recommend her favorite city in Croatia – Osijek – which I have now included into my itinerary.

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Me and my Couchsurfing host, Lucia.

We ended the night by drinking a few beers. A 2-liter bottle of beer costs 23kn ($3.45 USD). I wasn’t terribly productive in terms of seeing things, but I had a good time hanging out with my host and learning a bit about Croatia.

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A few 2-liter bottles of beer.

Expenses for the day:

Bus ticket – 30kn
Beers and snacks – 79kn
Total: 109kn ($16.34 USD)

Have you ever had an airline lose your luggage? How did you respond?

And I’m off to Croatia!

And I’m off to Croatia!

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Today is the day.

My flight to Zagreb, Croatia departs in a few hours, and I am feeling both excited and sad – excited to be embarking on my new journey, sad because I am leaving my friends and family. As of right now, I most likely won’t be back in the United States for at least 14 months. I’ve somehow managed to pack my life for the next year into one large backpack, a laptop backpack, and a camera bag. I’m still debating whether or not to bring along one of the seals…

I’ll be spending 6 weeks in Croatia and Bosnia, then heading to Germany for 10 days, and finally landing in Morocco on September 22, where I’ll be living off and on in between my travels for the next year.

Why Croatia?

Because I’ve never been and have always wanted to go.

Oh, and because my one-way flight only cost me $19.30.

I don’t have a set itinerary yet, which is one of the reasons I love traveling by myself so much. The freedom is priceless. I can do what I want, when I want, how I want, without having to wait for or ask approval from anybody else.

I know roughly what I want to see, but I’ll pretty much just wing it when I get there.

How many days will I be in Zagreb?

Not too sure. As of right now, I’ll be staying with a Couchsurfing host for two nights. If I like Zagreb, I’ll stay longer. If it’s not my scene, I’ll move on. I realize that this type of traveling is not for everyone and would stress some out, I prefer it this way. I have the luxury of time on my side though, and I don’t feel pressured to have a plan every single day because I have quite a few weeks to spend in each country.

Wish me luck!

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