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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BOSNIA - ROLL YOUR BUREAUCRACY SKILL

TERMS AND DISCLAIMERS

Any time I mention BAM, that is the currency used in Bosnia. It is also referred to as KM or 'marks'. I have tried to use BAM throughout the text but sometimes I fuck it up. You can convert it to your own currency.

I'd like to appologize for the partially random order of this text. It's kind of 'either go do shit or type to you' - so I am compromising by typing stuff quickly. Some day, some crazy fucker who wants to lose a bunch of money may decide to put this into a book. An editor will then be hired who can put this stuff into logical order, get rid of the things I kept repeating and such. That editor will then read part of the text and commit suicide. Then a new and stronger editor will be hired.



SARAJEVO RANT

Everywhere I go in Europe, American music assails my ears. Shit from the 1970's through 1990's you hoped you had escaped from is still popular here.

Drink warning! 'Schoketa' is actually code for 'grape fruit Fanta'. It is meant to teach you not to drink it again but I failed my lesson and accidentally bought another. I suck at this.

All over Europe, shit closes early. By early, I mean between 9PM (21:00) and midnight (24:00). Of all of the places I have been, only the USA has gone onto the 24 hour work clock to keep the machine going. Everyone else seems to work normal hours, goes home and spends time with family and friends. Poor dumb bastards. [Disclaimer: For my numerous non-native English speaking readers, that last sentence is 'sarcasm'.]

Speaking of non-native English speakers, I was just thinking of the fun someone would have running my blog through Google translate. I'm not sure if it would make less sense or more.

In Europe, beware of the beginning of May. May 1st seems to be a fairly universal holiday. Possibly the second as well in some places. A lot of shit closes for those days.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Unless you like high prices and diarrhea, I recommend eating at the places locals eat at.

For your first nights stay in Sarajevo, stay at a pretty good place and insist on getting your 'register with the police paperwork' thing taken care of. See 'Logan attempts to get legal' section below.

In Sarajevo, when you negotiate a taxi ride cost, you pay the negotiated rate regardless of what is on the meter. I always ask 'how much to get to X' when I first get in the cab. The cab driver said '10' and was running the meter. The meter got to 13+ but we still paid 10. Always negotiate first. If you feel bad because the taxis are so damned cheap here, negotiate anyway then tip whatever you want - the driver will be delighted.

Small fucking tips here. Rounding up to the nearest BAM may be sufficient. Adding one or two BAM is sure to get a smile. Seriously - small tips work here.

To greet each other in Sarajevo, they say something that sounds to my untrained ear the same as the Czech 'dobry den'. I've just started saying that - it seems to work. [For any Czechs that say 'that is not how you spell dobry den' - it's how I say it and will make more sense phonetically. If you feel like putting in the right way to spell it in the comments, go for it.]

While it may seem pretty easy to 'ride in the black' or 'ride black' or 'ride the streetcars without buying a ticket', be advised that they do have teams of ticket inspectors which hop on, flash plastic ID cards and will fine your ass some unknown amount (no clue here) if you don't have your ticket. Be ye warned, says I.



CAST OF CHARACTERS

Anouk ("Ann-Uke") - from the Netherlands. I met her at TITO46 hostel. Nice lady. she is writing about (for school) corruption and such in the local press and government. I asked her if this was dangerous for her (ie would she be in a landfill soon) but she assured me it wasn't. She seems passionate about journalism and is going to school for it.



TRAVELER LORE

When Danielle, Matt and Anouk were talking, I picked up some interesting bits of traveler lore from them regarding anti-malarial drugs that people get prescribed. There seem to be three different ones - Larium, Malarone and Planquil. Note, I may have misspelled the names but that is how they sound. The last two are OK but apparently, Larium - which is the cheapest and most readily available can make you go crazy. If you have any kind of potential to go nuts in your genes etc, congratulations this drug can push you right over the edge screaming. And apparently doctors don't bother telling people about this big fucking side effect when prescribing it. I think this information is pretty good because Danielle has worked for the World Health Organization in disease control and such - that's way more than enough credentials for me. Also, malaria seems to be one of those diseases that once you've gotten it, it can keep resurfacing like a bad LSD trip. What a bummer. It will give me something fun to look forward to when I get to visit Africa eventually. I am filled with happiness and joy. As a side note, apparently Bill Gates and a bunch of other rich people are throwing money into looking for an actual cure for some of these diseases like malaria. Good!



TROLLEY TICKETS IN SARAJEVO

A couple of interesting things about these. First, I'm not sure if they also work on buses or just the trolley. I have no idea and haven't encountered someone who can explain it to me. Or I forgot to ask them. Either way, like most places in the world, travelers here seem to avoid the buses. They are a bit confusing and such. The city isn't really that big. If you want to get around, trolley and taxi are fine.

A one way ticket is about 2 BAM. The daily ticket is 5 BAM. They sell one trip tickets on the train but naturally you can't buy a fucking day ticket there. Instead you have to seek out a kiosk. I'm not sure if it is just a special kiosk I know of or if any tobacco seller can hook you up with a ticket. Naturally, these tickets are filled out by the person who sells them to you so that you have to report to the kiosk every day you decide you want one. This is very strange because for the one trip tickets on the trolley they have a machine there you feed the tickets into and it stamps them. I don't know why they don't make the tickets for the day the same design (they're totally different) so that you can feed them into the stamper. That way, you could stock up on the tickets. Buying the first daily ticket is quite a challenge because the tobacco sellers I've spoken to don't know any English (or German) nor seem inclined to try any. They tried to sell me a lot of weird random ticket stuff but fortunately I knew the price of the day ticket (5.40 BAM) and wrote it down. That got me the correct ticket. Now, I can keep this ticket and show it to them if I decide I want another one.

On top of this, they have very cheap month long passes that....You're not able to get. Pretty much the paperwork involved makes this a 'local's only' thing.

In a lot of places, the tram (streetcar) is a good way to see the city. Here, they seem to have too few street cars and too many people wanting to get on them. You can see the city like that but...



MONEY EXCHANGING

Every other country I've been to in Europe has 'currency exchange' places. Not so here. They have a shit ton of banks. I have no clue why. Maybe there are some sort of weird 'favorable to those with special needs and money laundering' rules that allow so many banks to flourish. I'm really not sure. So, I learned from other travelers that you need to go to a bank to exchange currency. This is partially true. You can exchange some currencies at banks - others are a problem. Like the Hungarian (HUF) money I had. Eventually, I found one that did this currency - Raiffeisen. Their symbol is crossed black wrenches on a yellow field. I have no idea why. A couple of notes on this - first, plan on it taking awhile. There is a half hour or longer line in this bank. They are really popular for some reason. Second, in order to exchange money, you need your passport with you. For most people, this shouldn't be a problem - you should carry around your passport with you at all times. In many countries, it is the law. Just carry it in a completely pain in the ass place to get to so that it doesn't get pick pocketed. I keep mine in a place that takes 30-60 seconds to get to. It may take considerably less if they just tear it off of my cold dead corpse.



RETURN OF SARAJEVO RANT

I went to a restaurant that the locals were eating at. The menu consisted of drinks and three other listings. 'Big portion', 'middle portion' and 'small portion'. No clue as to what it was. As I am an adventurous soul, I decided this sounded good to me. Since my (inner) stomach has shrunk to European size, I ordered the 'small portion' and waited to see what it was. With the exception of sea food, I can eat about anything. What I got was some greasy looking pita bread, some sort of dead animal meat cooked over fire, diced onions and two 'death peppers'. Any time you get a couple tiny peppers on your plate, you can be reasonably sure that they are 'death peppers'. They were. I liked them. The meal was 5 BAM and it filled me up. It was delicious but I can't think of anyone who would call it 'healthy'.

Afterward, I tried Bosnian coffee (2 BAM). It reminded me of Greek coffee in that it was very bitter and you aren't suppose to drink the dregs. You pay for it if you do. It was served in a small carafe thing with a tiny cup. There was enough coffee for two tiny cups and it came with two cubes of sugar. I was told that you are suppose to put a cube of sugar into your mouth then drink it. I tried that but it was way too much sugar for me and you couldn't just sip the coffee. If you did, you were stuck with a lump of half dissolved sugar in your mouth. Not good. If you added the sugar to the cup itself, you couldn't stir it or you'd bring up the dregs - which you're not suppose to drink. Kind of a lose - lose thing. If you give Bosnian coffee a pass you're not really missing out on a lot IMO.

Now, in most of the European countries I've been to, I've said on this blog that you take your life in your hands crossing the street. In Sarajevo, you don't even need to cross the street. I've lost count of the times I've seen (or been surprised by) a car doing 40 KM/hour forward or backward on the sidewalk. I'm not even joking. You have to 'walk defensively'. Cars do NOT owe you the right of way. Some of the self satisfied 'I can walk where I want to' people I've seen in the states would be statistics here. Unless the sidewalk is physically too narrow for a car, you aren't safe from them. Even if you are safe from the cars there are motorcycles and mopeds for bonus fun. They are fast and fairly reckless. I'm really surprised there aren't more random blood stains on the sidewalks.



LOGAN ATTEMPTS TO 'GET LEGAL'

In Bosnia, it is apparently the law that you are suppose to register either within 24 hours of coming into the country or 48 - reports vary. Reports with the police vary. People seem unsure on the number. Or what happens if you don't register. The hotel or hostel you are in is suppose to register you. Unfortunately, I didn't know about this when I first entered the country and the people at TITO46 (hostel) were making excuses and changing their story when I asked about it. I have zero tolerance for stupid shit like this so I decided to go to get myself registered. Matt and Danielle were also anxious to avoid possible legal complications - they went with me for part of the trip but after a couple hours of 'fun and adventure' decided to just rely on the hostel owner to sort it out. I am not so trusting of the double talking hostel folks so I pressed on.

There was two taxi rides (at 10 BAM each), a couple of long street car rides and a bit over half a day burned because the people at the Hostel were fucking it up. Part of the problem was that I had gotten completely erroneous advice on where to go from the horrible old woman at Hostel Ljubicica. Always be very suspicious of a place you are given directions to if they can't provide you with an address - especially if they claim to send them documents every day. More on this fun filled Hostel Ljubicica later...

If you ever need (god forbid) to register yourself, go to the "Office for Foreigners Ministry of Security", Pijacna 8. That's the address. [It's near a big blue 'BM Hotel]. I got it from the US Embassy which even my US passport wasn't enough to enter the bunker like building. They are still hunkered down behind concrete and bullet proof glass, but they try to be helpful through the telephone... [If you need to call the US Embassy and don't know how to search for it on the internet, their phone number is 033 704 000].

I eventually got to the "Office for Foreigners Ministry of Security" and discovered it to be a guitar shop. I'm not even kidding. After talking to the people who ran the guitar shop I discovered you had to go out of the building, around back and up a couple of flights of stairs. This was not the huge bureaucratic organization I was envisioning. Instead, it was one man and a telephone. He was helping another man fill out some paperwork. The other man to me seemed unremarkable other than sporting a larger than normal mustache. After the mustache man was gone, this guy washed his hands, opened a window and lit a cigarette. "Gypsy." he said by way of explanation. Wow, they hate them here too. I then explained my situation to the man in the office. I said "I wish to register in accordance with your laws with the police since I am a foreigner." After some consideration, he said "Why?". I blinked a couple of times. "Because I don't want to break the laws of this country?" was what I came up with. He considered this as well then gravely nodded. Apparently, my answer was good enough to proceed. At first, he tried to convince me that he was not the person I needed to see. From my earlier extensive run around, I was ready for this one. I said "The US Embassy which called you told me to see you. The hostels told me to see you. The police told me to see you." Sure, part of this was fabricated but it did get him to admit it was indeed his job. The US Embassy had indeed called him. He then asked for the phone number of the pension I am staying at. Fortunately, I had gotten a business card from them in case of emergency. He then called them up and had a 'conversation'. I couldn't tell if he was talking to them or yelling at them. It may have been both. During the long conversation, he gestured at me in short, sharp gestures as though the people on the other end of the phone had some way of seeing it. Whenever he did, I nodded gravely despite my complete lack of understanding what was going on. This seemed to satisfy him and so he yelled at them more. I smoked. He smoked. Eventually, he hung up (slammed down) the phone and told me, "You no trouble. They - I make trouble. They give you paper morning 10." I got his name and phone number written down and told him I would call him if they didn't give me my paper by ten in the morning. He seemed to look forward to the prospect of yelling at them again. Given how much trouble they had caused me, I am hoping a stiff fine for rabid incompetence will be in order.

So, I went to a nearby cafe the man in the office recommended in order to celebrate his yelling at the hostel on the phone with a very light meal. While I was in the cafe I met a man (by sitting at his table) who it turned out works on heating and air conditioning and spoke no English. Our entire (long) conversation was in German. Apparently, kids in school use to be forced to learn German and a lot of people from around here have lived in Germany. Excellent for me. I bought him an espresso (1 BAM) which was really cheap since we were far away from the expensive city center. By expensive, I mean cheap - but comparatively expensive. Although he was waiting on a work colleague, he offered to give me a ride in his car to the streetcar stop but I declined saying the walk would be good after eating. It was a nice lunch (and very cheap - around 4 BAM I think) and a suitable salve for the heavy bureaucracy shit I'd been dealing with that morning.

But when I returned to the hostel, I discovered the fun was not yet over.

In order to increase security, they had changed the locks on all of the rooms. Unfortunately, the locks were so secure that nobody could get into my room. Additionally, the hostel is completely booked - all thirty beds - after tonight. So, now I have a wonderful activity for this afternoon as well. As TJ would say "It's a mutherfucker of a day". At least, I think that's what he says.

So I went to look for additional places to stay while the desk clerk uselessly pounded on my door. The stuff on Travelwiki all seemed to be pretty useless as did Hostelworld and such. Fortunately, from the tram (streetcar) I had espied several likely hostels where it makes a curve near the river. I went to look into them.

I discovered they have 'Pansions' as well. I don't know what makes them different from hotels - you can't rent a bed, just a room. Those will cost you about $40-$50/night. Why would you want one?

So I found two different places I will now detail for you.



HOSTEL LJUBICICA

Before staying anywhere, I always ask to see the room. If they give me a story about how I can't (because it's occupied or whatever) I thank them politely, say I'll be back later and go find a new place. Assume if they won't show you the room that it's a shithole. At Hostel Ljubicica, they were happy to show me the room. It was a shithole. Oddly enough, their brochure shows they are endorsed by 'Lonely Planet' and 'Lets Go Europe'. [Apparently, it either costs extra money for the word 'To' or they are trying to encourage the continent in some way - I'm not sure which.] Hostel Ljubicica has no wifi, is dirty, crowded and on top of that, the old lady who runs the place has a minor scam going. She tells people that the rooms are 20 BAM plus 3 BAM for 'registration fee'. I closely questioned her about this and she assured me that she must register people every day they stay there. You don't - you get registered once when you enter the country and that's fucking it. Plus, I don't believe it costs any money to do so. So, consider the cost 23 BAM for the room. She may be related to Gummy Sue but I'm not sure.

Needless to say, I kept searching. Eventually, I found a place called "Pension Sebilj'. This place confused me a bit because some of the signs called it a 'pension' and some called it a 'hostel' so I went to check the prices. I spoke with a nice guy called Mirza there. The price for a bed was 30 BAM a night - a bit more than I wanted to pay but I entered into negotiations with him and got it down to 20 BAM a night if I stayed for a week. In addition, after I voiced my concerns about gear safety (there are no lockers) he said that he would give me a room to myself despite the room containing 4-5 beds. They are really empty and apparently hurting for business. This confuses me a bit because it is a nice looking, comfortable place and located right next to the labyrinth of streets and shops known as the 'old town' and overlooking the river. He didn't think he'd be able to do this rate when the 'high season'/summer came but if I enjoy the city for a week, I may try to negotiate with him for a rate for the month. We'll see how I like it. In addition to no gear lockers at all, the hostel has no wifi. I did some recon and found a Turkish coffee shop in easy walking distance that has free wifi and no loud annoying music. It will work. Mirza also told me that if I didn't get a registration card from hostel TITO46, he would get me one. That's good but I'm not sure what the officials will do if they notice the dates don't match. We'll see what happens with that.

I'm contemplating a longer stay here so that I have some time to see if I can make the couch surfing thing actually work (it still hasn't yet) as well as to plot my next move. I may end up staying here for a month so to try to get some extra money saved up from the trickle of money that is social security.

After finding a non-shithole hostel to stay at, I went and ate an interesting dinner (23 BAM) of skewered chicken, bread, beer and (gasp) a salad. Keep in mind, that 23 BAM is sometimes less than what I was paying in Blacksburg, VA!

Lastly, I managed to procure a couple more books (25 BAM total, a bit pricey) of the blank variety that I use to make notes in to write this blog.

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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