Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back in Sombor Serbia After 14 Hour Nighttime Bus Trip

After hours of unsuccessfully researching every other possible option, took the Serb Express (not actual name) from Zadar Croatia last night at 11pm. Trip which takes about 6 hours by car driving Serb-long-distance-style (not nearly as fast as US highway but far more daring feats of passing) took 14 hours including swift passport checks at the border, three pee breaks, and a lengthy stop at Novi Sad to wash the outside of the bus (but not clean the inside.)

Am completely shattered and exhausted as if I took the red eye from San Francisco to Boston with a 4am plane switch at Dulles (something which I have all too much experience of.) American inter-city travel sucks because the distances involved can be massive and there are way, way too many other people traveling at the same time. Although far fewer people travel here and the distances are fairly dinky, given road conditions, driving talents, and the whole past-civil-war thing, getting from Croatia to Serbia isn't nearly as easy as it could and should be.

Our bus was the oldest I've ever been in. I guess the Sombor route doesn't merit the very best. At one pee-break we parked next to a gorgeous bus bound for Belgrade, which looked like a palace on wheels compared to ours which listed to one side, had tiny seats well past their sell-by dates, and permanently fogged-in windows. Thankfully all buses are non-smoking. Not so thankfully, this rule does not extend to the driver.

At about 1:30am we stopped for a snack break at Macola Restaran (oddly, this word does not have a "t" at the end in Serbia or Croatia) which is famous to all frequent long-distance bus travelers here. I counted more than 20 other buses outside at that hour, bound for everywhere from Split to Bosnia. Turns out every single bus driver on a route that goes anywhere near the Macola will do everything in his power to make a stop, dumping his passengers out there for at least a half hour no matter what time of the day or night.


Clever business idea actually: the owner of this otherwise typical, cafeteria-style truck-stop (which also features a small 7/11-style shop and bigger signage for toilettes than the actual toilettes themselves) set aside an area designated for Bus Drivers Only. There the bus drivers are treated like Gods by a 24/7 professional wait staff, uniformed in snappy red vests, white shirts and black trousers, who rush about at high speed intent on bringing the bus drivers every bit of food or drink their heart desires... FOR FREE. Meanwhile many of the hapless passengers wind up buying something if only to pass the time.

Our pitstop in Novi Sad was the other trip highlight. Like all other large towns I've been in both Serbia and Croatia the building trade is booooooming. The hills outside town are coated with new and in-process middle class detached, two-story houses on fairly large lots. Most seem to be built by owner and not as a development yet. I assume land speculators are making a bundle on lots just outside town and bet the same thing is happening outside Belgrade.

Downtown Novi Sad is packed with a zillion mostly 7-10 story apartment buildings, many of which are obviously new too. With about a quarter of a million residents jammed into a smallish urban area, Novi Sad is a bit like shorter, shinier version of New York.

The highpoint of Novi Sad for the bus crowd is the Brand New Bus Station which just opened in the last month. It shares that Balkan architecture philosophy that if you want to look Modern a building must be coated with glass and chrome with solid granite floors buffed to an insane level of shine (which I assume is utterly against building code in the US where you'll be sued into instant bankruptcy by people who inevitably slip and fall down.)

It also shares the Balkan travel service idea that it is a Bad Idea to Provide Many Places to Sit Down. The architects envision travelers, uniformly wearing rubber-soled shoes, dashing briskly through buildings on their ways to other places; so, it never occurs to them that buses and planes must be waited for and, often elderly, relatives will wait for hours in the station to see you off/in. I can only assume this means not a single Serbian or Croatian architect has ever ever traveled anyplace except in his or her own auto.

Anyway, enough scathing comments, it's mean of me. I really am extremely happy to be home in Sombor which was warm and sunny today. As one of the very youngest travelers on the bus (at 45 years of age), I cannot complain too much about how grueling the journey was. And I'm sure bus trips in 3rd world countries make this look like a total cushy breeze.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for corruption! haha, the ability to sue someone for 'falling' does not exist