As can be seen from our address this evening, we succeeded in obtaining a green card giving us emergency insurance cover for seven days in BiH.
Because it is Sunday our route back along the coast road from Dubrovnik was far better than on our way down, with road building activity abandoned for the weekend. There was a perpetual stream of motorhomes flooding down the coast towards Dubrovnik and we wonder whether the campsite will be able to accommodate them all. We passed through the Bosnian ten mile coastal strip at Neum without incident and without insurance. Back into Croatia we turned off at Magistrala, the flat, fertile plain at the mouth of the river Neretva, and followed the river inland towards the only crossing point into Bosnia where we'd been told we may be able to purchase insurance. At Metkovic, the last town in Croatia, we spent our remaining kunas restocking our fridge. We confess to having popped into the local Lidl where we bought pretty much the same things we can buy in Lidl in England or almost any other country in Europe. At least we have some idea of what we are buying in Lidl. Otherwise, with labels written in Croatian we cannot tell the difference between paprika dips, yogurt, margarine or curd cheese!
During our time in Dalmatia, apart from the one we saw in Krk, we saw only one more native dog, leaving us short changed by 99 Dalmatians!
At the border - a scruffy wasteland with a couple of uniformed young men in a wooden shack, and a shed for processing the documents of international heavy commercial vehicles - we showed Modestine's log book and handed over 30 euros – Croatian kunas were unacceptable. In exchange we received a handwritten scrap of blue paper, anomalously called a green card. We were the only non-Bosnian vehicle crossing over and since we have been here we've not seen a single camper van or motor home.
The roads are rather better than we'd expected and very much like the rest of Eastern Europe. There is no comparison between the smart, affluent tourist strip of Croatia along beside the coast and the neglected, drab inland towns and villages of Bosnia.
Mostar is as different from Dubrovnik as it is possible to be. It is very much a Muslim city with mosques, minarets and souks while some of the men and women wear muslim dress. The food is completely different too and far more interesting than pizzas and seafood, the staple diet of both Italy and Croatia.
The city though is a shock. While the tourist area around the famous bridge has been restored and is full of the usual souvenirs and restaurants, just a street or two away the devastation of the war and the disintegration of Yugoslavia is all too apparent with bombed buildings, piles of rubble and areas of dusty wasteland where buildings once stood. We were both brought up in South London in the immediate post war years and as children took war damaged buildings and shored-up walls for granted but that was more than half a century ago. What we saw today is the result of the complex "Homeland War" that lasted here from 1992 to 1996 and left Bosnia with thousands dead, many thousands more as refugees and its beautiful Muslim cities in ruins. Huge block of flats and offices are just empty, bombed shells, while less damaged buildings, lacking doors and windows, the walls smashed by gunfire, stand on the main streets, partly reoccupied, side by side with recent smart coffee houses and shops.
The recent horrors this country has suffered are evident too in the occasional sight of young men moving around the streets on crutches with only one leg. Beside the Karadozbegova Mosque, the main mosque of Mostar and Herzegovina, built in 1557, we found a Muslim cemetery where every gravestone had 1993 as the date of death.
There is also quite a heavy military presence on the streets but we haven't worked out whether they are local troops or peace keeping forces. We have also noticed vehicles with green NATO plaques instead of number plates.
Generally any tourists are bussed into the city and taken directly to the bridge, so see little or nothing of these streets and the ordinary people who live in them. Near the bridge we found a free exhibition of photos taken during the war showing its effect on the city of Mostar. The bridge itself has been on the Unesco list of World Heritage sites since 2005, but in fact it has been almost completely reconstructed. Photos showed it to have been totally destroyed by both Serbian and Croatian attacks. There is no doubt though that it is beautiful, spanning the fast flowing blue waters of the river as a high, pointed walkway.
Nearby we visited the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, built in 1618, where thick patterned carpets covered the floor and barefooted men joined together in prayer. We climbed the steep, narrow spiral stairs of the minaret. From the narrow ledge, high above the town, from where the imam traditionally calls people to prayer, we were able to look out over Mostar, at the splendour of its mosques, squares and bridges, but also at its war wounds and scars, the two facets of the city side by side.
Beside the river we found a cool restaurant where we were served chilled water, a salad of white goat's cheese and what was described to us as "House food". This mystery was a delicious selection of peppers, vine leaves and cabbage stuffed with a savoury meat filling, served with rice.
Returning to Modestine we discovered a 16th century Turkish house which had somehow survived the bombing. We left our shoes in the cobbled courtyard where a lumbering tortoise stood guard, and climbed an external wooden staircase into three rooms filled with elaborately carved fixed wooden furniture, colourfully woven rugs and cushions and a variety of traditional household objects.
Whereas in Croatia almost everyone we spoke with had an excellent command of English, here we have met nobody yet with more than a basic smattering. People are friendly and helpful though. There is no shyness and they do use what few words of English they have, interspersed with their own language – which is almost the same as Croatian. We have no guide books to Bosnia and as it is most definitely not a tourist resort there are few hotels and virtually no campsites. People with rooms to rent put signs outside but we'd be worried leaving Modestine on the streets all night. Having ascertained there was no campsite near Mostar we drove on towards Sarajevo along a very impressive gorge, the Neretva Canyon.
A couple of sites marked on our map turned out to be works of fiction but eventually we discovered this little site. As usual away from the main tourist places, we are the only people, which is just as well as there is one Turkish toilet with a washbasin outside in the field and a cold water tap for washing dishes and that is it! The owner is painting everything in sight bright blue and showed us a very smart leaflet that makes the site look unbelievably attractive. He's fixing a rusty hand rail onto some broken steps down to the muddy lake full of croaking frogs so he can claim it is suitable for the disabled! He's really nice though and we communicate in a mixture of very basic German and Bosnian. He has shown us a booklet of campsites in Bosnia so we have some idea which route to take to avoid getting stuck overnight as we head towards Hungary.
Monday 14th May 2007, Sarajevo, Bosnia
All night long we were serenaded by the bright green frogs and around 3am were disturbed by fishermen on the lake shining torches to attract the fish.
Neither of us could face the Turkish loo this morning, but discovered a wonderful restaurant a few yards along the road outside the campsite with hot water, immaculate proper loos and paper towels! Feeling happier with the world we asked if we could have breakfast on their terrace overlooking the lake with the mountains behind. We were served coffee with hot milk and water in hammered metal Turkish jugs with long handles, along with hot rolls filled with a sort of delicious, very filling cream cheese. Our total bill was 6 marks (£2). The staff was friendly and laughed rather cynically at Ian's attempts to speak their language using a Croatian rather than a Bosnian phrasebook. However, all the words we needed were in there and just the same as in Bosnian. As we left they were starting to prepare for lunch the only form of meat they appear to eat here with half a dozen sheep roasting on spits in the restaurant.
We left the campsite around 9am and passed through the neighbouring town of Konjic without bothering to explore. It looked drab and pock-marked despite the bright sunshine. Our route then wound up into the hills, snow capped in places despite 35 degrees of heat in the valleys! Beside the road we passed people selling strings of cherries, bags of tomatoes and large, fresh water fish on poles. A lady in a headscarf sat knitting, waiting hopefully for someone to stop to buy her apple juice and honey. How can anyone make a living like that? Sometimes we were the only vehicle on the road.
We passed through villages, each with its own mosque. All showed obvious signs of war damage with abandoned shells of houses and shrapnel scars on the walls. In the surrounding fields were Islamic cemeteries and occasionally a Christian one too. (The country is 44 percent Muslim, the rest made up mainly of Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Jews.)
It was not long before we were on the outskirts of Sarajevo where, thanks to last night's campsite owner, we found the only campsite in the area with little difficulty. Here we are not alone. There are a couple of Dutch camping cars on their way back from Albania. (And we thought we were adventurous!) Here we have hot showers but nowhere to hang anything. There are only Turkish loos again but we have ten each to ourselves as the Dutch contingent have their own on board luxury. Unfortunately there are no handy restaurants nearby so we'll have to learn not to be fastidious!
We found a tram in the neighbouring suburb which rattled us into the centre of Sarajevo, a journey of 50 minutes in unbearable sticky heat past huge blocks of shrapnel scarred flats and bombed out buildings. There was hardly a building that did not show evidence of its past and all must have lost their windows during the bombardments. At least 11,000 citizens died in the city during the early 1990s. Amidst it all new blocks of offices are springing up, advertisement hoardings proclaimed Sarajevo as an Olympic City (Winter Olympics, 1984), and people are living out their daily lives. It looks colourless and very sad.
The tram left us at the very spot where the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Ferdinand, was assassinated in 1914, thus triggering the outbreak of the First World War. Isn't it strange how one country can become a catalyst for human tragedy when it is not even remotely one of the major forces in the world?
We spent a really enjoyable and interesting afternoon around the city, although really the heat and brightness of the sunlight made it impossible to get as much out of our time as we would have wished. Most of the old part of the city is a pedestrianised network of street markets and bazaars, with mosques, restaurants and shops crowded in. The streets are cobbled and narrow and goods are sold from wooden tables in front of the shops. These are mainly run by Islamic traders, selling leather goods, silk cushions, table cloths, metal cooking pots and coffee sets, spices, beans and lentils, lokum and halva. Everybody seems to smoke very heavily and long, brightly coloured wooden cigarette holders and hookahs were being sold. At the street cafes people were drinking Coca Cola and soft drinks rather than alcohol, and eating plates of very interesting food. We went into one of the cafes in the bazaar and selected a couple of meals that we'd watched others eating. They were a sort of savoury minced lamb wrapped in flaky pastry topped with yogurt, known as "burek s mesom". We ate them outside on the street with a couple of alcohol-free beers as that was the only kind available. At a table on the other side of the street several NATO soldiers were eating similar meals. There are lots of army personnel around the city and we noticed they have their own buses through the streets. At one point too this morning we passed a convoy of twelve army vehicles.
There are numerous mosques throughout the city, each with its shaded area either side of the entrance where Turkish carpets are laid out. On one side the women gather and on the other the men. We sought shade at the 16th century Emperor's mosque, built by order of Suleiman the Magnificent, where we watched as the young men arrived, washed themselves at the fountain in the courtyard, removed their shoes and socks and went up to the wall of the mosque where they knelt in prayer, their foreheads on the ground. Incidentally, although we have seen many young women wearing attractive headscarves and light tunics, we have not seen a single veil. The majority of young people wear ordinary western clothes though some older women prefer the more traditional robes and some men wear Islamic headgear.
We crossed over the river to a shady park where we sat with chilled mineral water reading a guidebook in very curious English we'd acquired at the tourist office. For example, the area around the fortress reads "This is a unique place where so suddenly, without suburbs, one gets in or out the city. But interesting part is just about to follow. Whoever climb up to the little fortress … will be awarded with sensational experience. The award contains listening to fascinating ecumenist echo that Sarajevo transmits to the ether." Another leaflet we were given warns us to keep to the main routes and not to go walking alone in the more remote areas of the country where there are still many unexploded land mines.
As we looked in more detail at a map of Bosnia, known here as the "heart-shaped country" we began to understand why there is such a great sense of unease and why the peace keeping forces are needed. We had naively assumed Bosnia was now one country but it is still virtually two different states. Ten cantons make up Bosnia proper, but up to a third of the country consists of the Serbian Republic. These two sections are held together in part by the presence of the NATO forces.
On the rickety tram ride back to Ilidza we were touched to see a declaration of undying love painted across the lintel of one of the bombed-out buildings. It may not be as romantic as saying it with flowers but it's an effective way of getting the message across!
It was still 33 degrees at 6.30 this evening!
Tuesday 15th May 2007, Sarajevo, Bosnia
Walking to the tramstop this morning we discovered the thermal baths upon which Ilidza is founded. They stand in parkland near the river but do not appear to be in use though efforts are underway to restore the sadly damaged buildings, and several flower beds have been stocked with pansies. One day it will again be a very pleasant place but Sarajevo still has other major restoration priorities to deal with.
Today has been at least as hot as yesterday though it does still get really chilly at night. We are, after all, quite high above sea level and this was once the location for the winter Olympics. By chance we got talking with a small group of English and American residents here who tell us the weather is most exceptional, being more like August than May. (Our conversation started when we saw one of them sporting a tee shirt advertising Chudleigh Rocks in Devon near Exeter! She told us she comes from there but has been teaching English in Sarajevo for several years now.)
Today we have visited the new, free museum of the Assassination of 1914. Funded by the USA it only opened at the beginning of May. It also explains something of the history of the Austro-Hungarian period as background to the event. For four centuries Bosnia had formed part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. In 1876 it was occupied by Austria-Hungary. This saw the start of the transformation of a Turkish town into a west European city. It also fuelled Bosnian and Serbian nationalism which led to the assassination of the heir to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophia while on an official visit to Sarajevo in 1914. This in turn precipitated the outbreak of the First World War with countries lining up to take sides.
We continued our walk around the city following the route of the Archduke's visit to the former City Hall. This had been a magnificent building heavily influenced by Turkish architectural style. Later it became the fitting home for the country's National Library. Now it stands as a shattered reminder of the futility of war. In 1992 it was bombed and burned by Serbian troops, destroying the building and its precious contents of millions of the country's most precious books, including its Islamic texts and the record of everything that makes Bosnia what it is. How has such a pointless act of destruction benefited the cause of Bosnian Serbs? We were not the only ones to feel this as there were wreaths laid below the memorial plaque.
In the bazaar we browsed amongst the stalls of the metal workers searching for a small long handled Turkish jug. There were hundreds to choose from, all hand made and all slightly different.
By now it was lunch time so we used one of the cool bazaar cafes where we pointed at something interesting being eaten and asked for two of those. The dish consisted of ten small lamb sausages, called cevapcici (our computer can't do the diacriticals), tucked into a warm pitta bread and served with raw onions and optional yogurt. Most people were drinking glasses of milk with their meal but, remembering real beer is unacceptable, we asked for fizzy water instead.
In the open streets the temperature by mid-day had become unbearable so we visited the museum of the history of Sarajevo housed in the 16th century covered market (bezistan). This extended the coverage of Sarajevo provided by the morning's museum. There was much about the Ottoman period with details of furniture, crafts, guilds and arts. Calligraphy and bookbinding were highly developed and the printing press was only introduced to Sarajevo in the later 19th century.
Around 3.30pm we took the tram back to Ilidza where we had a Sarajevo beer – the city has its own brewery for its non-muslim citizens. One difficult thing to cope with is the number of beggars. Most stand beside you and look pleading while you try to eat or drink. Others chase after you in the street on their crutches while others hold up their babies or get their children to beg as well. We watched one person hand over some money, only to be told it wasn't enough and the pleading continued. As we sat with our beers we were approached by four different beggars within a few minutes of each other and throughout the day in the city we had been importuned countless times, either by direct appeal or by having a leaflet handed to us on the tram which was later collected for reuse. The hope is that it will be returned with some money. As we cannot understand the message we cannot assess how genuine the request may be. These people in particular look well dressed and it is possible they are collecting on behalf of the needy but we just don't know. It's quite obvious there must be countless helpless and homeless people in the city in need of help and we feel guilty being happy and comfortably secure, just being bystanders and ignorant of their troubles.
Back at the campsite Modestine stood alone, the Dutch vehicles having moved on. We discovered with immense gratitude that during our absence our prayers had been answered and a proper toilet had been installed! You cannot imagine the delight of finding a pristine facility appearing, as if by magic, on a campsite in a city where even most of the restaurants only provide Turkish ones! We are the first people in Bosnia to use it! We have reflected that whereas on most European campsites toilet paper in not provided, here there is a plentiful supply in every cubicle. What is usually lacking is the toilet itself! (Yes, deprivation does lead to obsession!)
We will probably be out of Bosnia by tomorrow night as there appear to be no more campsites along our route. So we paid our campsite bill and worked out that we could enjoy a really nice meal at the nearby restaurant, still leaving enough Bosnian marks for emergencies tomorrow. We sat outside and were served a salver of lamb Bosnia style, with vegetables and a bowl of salad. Slightly too greasy but authentic. Amusement was shown at our attempts to order in a mixture of Bosnian and English and as a reward we were given free slices of baklava which we were proudly told is a typical Bosnian desert. Very sweet and syrupy it was quite delicious, made from thin layers of pastry filled with crushed walnuts.
We searched the city for manhole covers. Manholes we found aplenty and some had covers. We only discovered one with a Sarajevo cover, half hidden beneath a plant tub.
Wednesday 16th May 2007, Slavonski Brod, Croatia
Last night one of the camp site staff mentioned to us that there is a tunnel under the runway of Sarajevo airport that was instrumental in saving the lives of many thousands of people from the city during the three years siege that took place between 1992 and 1995 when it was completely surrounded by Serbian forces. The tunnel has not been mentioned in any of the tourist publicity we have seen but as the campsite lies very near to the airport we decided to investigate before leaving the city this morning.
Attempting to following instructions from the campsite staff we were soon lost in a maze of little country lanes where we saw the first livestock we have set eyes on in Bosnia. A couple of cows were grazing on some wasteland, carefully guarded by two ladies. Obviously animals must exist but presumably because of fear of theft they are not put out to graze. The countryside has fields of long grass sprinkled with flowers. This is scythed by hand, loaded onto wheelbarrows or carts and taken back to the home where it is piled up into small, circular hayricks to be used as animal fodder.
Eventually we ended up at the SFOR army camp of Butmir, right next to the airport. They redirected us along further country lanes until we eventually found a shrapnel splattered ruin of a house with a bullet-ridden metal garage door in front, a vegetable garden behind and the airport runway just beyond that. (Sarajevo is nowhere near as busy as Heathrow. From our campsite we've noticed very few planes taking off and landing each day.)
Inside the garage we met a young man who explained in excellent English that during the siege his family, the Kolars, had been living in the house which was the nearest one to the airport. Sarajevo was completely surrounded by the Serbian army who were starving the citizens out, depriving them of food, medicines, fuel, electricity and water. On the far side of the airport lay free Bosnia but it was impossible for the inhabitants of Sarajevo to reach it, either to escape or to bring back supplies into the city, without being systematically picked off by Serbian snipers or blown up as they tried to cross the runway. The UN eventually negotiated an agreement with the Serbs to take over the airport which was to be used purely for bringing in humanitarian aid for the starving citizens. Thus some food and medical aid began to reach the city. What was needed though were weapons so that the besieged city could defend itself.
Under cover of darkness renewed attempts were made to cross the runway to collect weapons from free Bosnia on the far side. UN forces however turned them back whenever they were caught and many were killed by Serbian sniper bullets. The Bosnians decided to build a tunnel under the runway and work started in March 1993 from the Sarajevo side at Dobrinja, and from the side of free Bosnia at Butmir. It took four months to complete and its existence was soon known to the Serbians who subjected the workers to heavy shelling. The UN, aware of the work, seemed to turn a blind eye. Its role was precarious and it was necessary for it to appease Serbia in order to ensure some humanitarian aid to Sarajevo. This meant it could not allow weapons across the runway, but it was obvious that without weapons Sarajevo would fall. It was also obvious what the fate of the people of Sarajevo might be. These fears were fully justified by the result of the capture of Srebrenica by Milosevic's Serbian forces in 1995 where over 8,000 men and boys were massacred in a couple of days. It seemed that Serbia's aim was the complete annihilation of Sarajevo and its citizens. The UN had ensured food and medicines, but not weapons, at Srebrenica too. Once it fell UN forces was unable to prevent the massacre that followed. It would probably have been no more effective had Sarajevo fallen.
The tunnel was 800 metres long and was shored up with metal beams at the Sarajevo end as there was no wood available on the hillsides surrounding the city. It had all been felled to provide fuel. Soon weapons and emergency supplies began to trickle into Sarajevo through the tunnel which was frequently flooded. As time went by a pump was installed, cables ran through it bringing a limited electricity supply back to the city. A metal track was laid to carry essential goods through the tunnel and a fuel pipe line was also passed through to supply vehicles that drove the food and medicines back into the city. Soon there were 3,000 people a day passing through the tunnel, an estimated total of 2,000,000 passages, until in 1995 NATO finally intervened against Milosevic's policy of genocide. (This is our understanding of what we saw today but we do not understand enough about the complexities of the war for this to be a truly reliable account.)
Only 25 metres of tunnel remain today. The Kolar family, owners of the battered shell of the house where they had once lived and helped in the construction of the tunnel, have preserved it, and many of the materials used in its construction as well as memorabilia of the Bosnian Army, as a reminder of what happened. They hope eventually that the museum they are forming will be more widely recognised to ensure that such things cannot happen in the future. Around the house are several trenches that were constructed to give protection to the thousands of people gathered there waiting their turn to pass to freedom through the tunnel while being permanently shot at by Serbian snipers in the hills behind.
We saw a video, sitting on cartridge cases in the cellar below the house, about the siege of the city explaining the background to the building of the tunnel. We have already mentioned earlier just how battered and blasted the buildings are in the city. Blocks of flats more than 20 stories high are completely splattered with bullets, their sides ripped out with bombs. We had imagined them with every window broken, the debris on the streets below, winter time, no electricity or fresh water. What we hadn't realised until we saw actual film of the attacks, was that these buildings became raging infernos, burnt out by flames that lit up the sky above the city, night after night. Whatever the politics behind this dreadful, recent war, the courage of people under such a siege commands the greatest respect.
We left Sarajevo with more questions than answers. Until we found ourselves here in the midst of the aftermath all we had were distant and frightening recollections of the nightly BBC news reports of civil war in the Balkans. Once that war ended reports faded from the news and it was easy to imagine the countries were gradually rebuilding their lives and putting the past behind them. This is far from the case. Travelling north through Bosnia is seems more like eleven months rather than eleven years since the fighting stopped. People still talk about the war almost as if it still exists. It is hard to imagine that Bosnian Serbs can easily co-exist with their neighbours.
We drove north towards Croatia passing near to Zenica without stopping. It looked an industrial town surrounded by large factories, cement works and suppliers of building materials. The route, which for part of its length is a four lane highway – clearly the infrastructure is gradually being developed - is heavily used by international freight lorries. The road followed the river Bosna for part of the way, winding through the valley between the high forested hillsides. Each village has its own mosque and every building either shows the ravages of the fighting or has been recently built or reconstructed. The essentials have been done to provide homeless people with shelter. Jill has some understanding of this having spent the first thirteen years of her life living in a temporary "prefab" provided in Britain as emergency post war accommodation. In Bosnia holes in walls have been patched with breezeblock or red tile bricks. New buildings have been thrown up. Roofs are sound but externally the buildings are completely unfinished. It is as if nobody trusts that the war has really ended and they are afraid to spend money remaking a beautiful home only for it to be destroyed again. And of course there is almost certainly no war damage compensation in the case of a civil war. Where would the money come from? So people cannot afford to do more than provide immediate shelter, however ugly and incomplete. After what they have lived through, anywhere without bombs and bullets must seem like paradise.
Just north of Zenica we stopped at one such village for a break from driving. Nearby was a bar where a young man was basting three chickens on a spit over a small charcoal fire outside. He watched us as we parked and we felt we ought to buy a coffee rather than make our own in Modestine. Besides, we still had a few Bosnian marks we needed to use. He spoke not one word of English but eventually understood from Ian's odd words of Bosnian that we wanted coffee. When it arrived it was presumably what the local people drink. Cups of thick black Turkish coffee with a sediment of sludge on the bottom and a brown scum on the top! It wasn't as strong as it looked but was like treacle it was so sweet! He also brought a tin can of hot milk and a jar of sugar! We drank the lot so as not to offend but would have preferred to have just given him the money and left. In the village we discovered a war memorial to the local young men who had died between 1992 and 1996.
As we travelled north tall thin Islamic gravestones beside the road and minarets became fewer while churches and Christian cemeteries became more frequent. Eventually we crossed over into Republika Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia, and here the countryside, though beautiful, was completely desolate. Not a house had been spared. Whole villages were no more than burned out shells and broken, ravaged walls. It looked as if the area had been systematically "cleansed" of its inhabitants. Nobody could live there and long grass, bushes and young trees hid much of the rubble. We saw signs with skulls and crossbones warning that there were still landmines. It was unsafe to leave the main road. This was definitely the worst affected rural area we passed through. The people, although part of Bosnia, are Serbian and all the signs are in Cyrillic script. This made it very difficult following the road signs and at one point we thought we'd got lost until Ian managed to work out that the strange signs that were so confusing to Modestine actually said Bosnanski Brod and we were nearing the border crossing point into Croatia. We really do not understand why or how certain areas are affected as they are. Was the fighting in this area from Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia? We will need to do some reading when we get home.
At the border we waited for over an hour for the slow queue of cars and lorries to be checked through. It is obviously always like this as several old ladies in headscarves were walking up and down the line of waiting vehicles with baskets of pumpkin seeds and hand knitted socks they hoped to sell.
Eventually we crossed into Croatia and headed for the town centre of Slavonski Brod. Our map of Croatia doesn't cover this particular corner and we have nothing but a poorly produced free one we picked up somewhere. It shows there is a campsite somewhere near the town. It was 6pm by the time we found a place to park in the town centre and set off to search for the tourist office. Thankfully it was still open and the man spoke English. He told us the campsite had been bombed during the war and shouldn't have been marked on the map. There were no others remotely nearby. We asked for suggestions of what to do and he asked if we spoke German as his friend had a room we could rent for 200 kunas (about £18) a night with a place where we could lock Modestine in safely. We thankfully agreed and climbed into his friend's van to be driven back to where we'd left Modestine. We then followed him through the town streets and in through some iron gates to find ourselves amidst ruined walls and a vegetable garden. Two smiling children rushed eagerly forward and said in perfect English "Welcome to our garage. We learn English at school. We are nine years old." Neither of the parents speak English but good German so communication is no problem. We followed our host into his shop where he had hundreds of keys hanging up. Ian asked if he had loads of rooms to let which caused amusement as the man is a locksmith, key cutter, shoe mender and zip repairer. Our room has a separate entrance and a wonderful, clean, new bathroom with an excellent hot shower. On the wall beside the bed is an icon of the sacred heart and we noticed a crucifix hanging in his van. Although only a couple of miles from the border he says he has no desire to go into Bosnia.
The Balkans is a place where we need to be very careful what we say and not to take sides or hold preconceived opinions. We don't understand it and the one certainty is that war and aggression benefit nobody in the end and civil war would seem to be the very worst.
After crashing out for a few minutes with a glass of wine in our room we went off to find some Croatian money - sing praises to the cash machines of the world! On the way we discovered that today is the special day of Slavonski Brod! (Bet like us you'd never heard of the place until now!) Anyway, the streets were full of young people having fun with a glitzy free pop concert on the main pedestrianised precinct near the river. All the songs were in English, the presentation was wild but slick and very noisy with everyone enjoying themselves. After Trinidad we were well hardened to decibels and joined in with the clapping and cheering before wandering off in search of supper. It has been a very strange day, starting with blitz and ending with glitz!