The one constant on my trip to this point is change and it is becoming more apparent every day that you have to be flexible and not have plans set in stone. On Saturday October 23rd I limped into Dubrovnik on a tire with a slow leak but was able to pump up enough air every 30 minutes or so to make it to the campsite. Getting a spare tire and a few inner tubes was first on my to do list when I arrived. On Friday I found a bike store, picked up a tire and spare and then put the issue out of my head to tour around Dubrovnik. On Saturday morning, I headed off and managed to get a few hundred feet before I felt the familiar wobble on my rear wheel, a sure sign that you have a flat tire. I had changed both the outside tire and inner tube so the problem boiled down to either a faulty inner tube or a problem with my rear wheel. I attempted to change to the new tube I had just bought but the valve was too thick for my wheel and it was of no use. I was very specific about the tube I needed with the guy at the bike store and he repeatedly assured me that it would fit. I changed to my last tube which meant I was heading towards Albania (few towns and lots of mountains) without a spare and having had 3 flats in the last 2 days. My last tube appeared not to be holding air so I had no choice but to stay another night and catch a train to a larger City.
I bought a bus ticket to Sarajevo which is in the bordering country of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnia), also a former part of Yugoslavia. I was told I could take a connecting bus to Istanbul. I have decided to just go directly there since it is getting too late to bike across the mountains here and because I am planning to spend up to a week in Istanbul, can use that time to take care of my bike, buy a new stove and get a few more warm weather clothes for the mountains of southern Turkey. The bus ride was 6 hours but as it turned out, I was glad things worked out the way they did as I had a chance to see Sarajevo.
The country of Bosnia borders Croatia and there is still a border check when you cross in, something I have not had to deal with in Europe. The country is clearly less developed than its wealthier neighbour to the West but the mountains and rivers are no less spectacular. Sarajevo is the Capital City set amongst the Dinaric Alps. It has a long history of being a diverse City hosting many people from the Islam, Catholic, Orthodox and Judaism faiths. It is often referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe. As you enter you are initially struck by a number of juxtapositions; Mosques alongside Catholic and Orthodox churches, women in full Islamic dress and young girls in revealing clothes talking on cell phones and all combinations in between.
My initial impression of Sarajevo coming in on the bus was that it is just another large City so I thought I would just continue on and take a connecting bus to Istanbul. Contrary to what I was told in Dubrovnik however, there is no connecting bus. When I asked about a ticket to Istanbul I was met with the now familiar "that is not possible", there is no way to get to Istanbul from Sarajevo. I asked about taking a bus to another City and then transferring but she was not interested in looking up that possibility and just repeated that it is not possible.
I arrived in mid-afternoon and decided to do what I often do when faced with indecision, go to a coffee shop. It was here that I knew I arrived in the real Sarajevo. I ordered a coffee from a young guy and he spoke perfect English (as most do in Bosnia) so I asked him where he learned the language so well. He said it is taught in schools but he also lived in Denmark for 8 years. He took an interest in my bike and when I told him about my trip and how I was looking for a way to Istanbul, he immediately picked up his phone and said he will be right back. Within 10 minutes he advised that there is no direct bus route but you can transfer in Belgrade or Zagreb. There is also a direct train you can take at 11:30 each day to Belgrade in Serbia and from there to Istanbul. Funny how the lady at the information desk didn't raise the possibility of taking a train since I asked her about other ways to get to Istanbul and the train station is right beside the bus station, and now I meet a guy in a coffee shop and within minutes has all the answers. He said they will accept bikes on the train and that since it was already afternoon, if I wanted a nice place to stay, he recommended the youth hostel in the Old City. He then said the coffee is on the house. I paid for my coffee anyway but suggested to him that he apply for a job at the Tourist Information Desk and that I would be happy to provide a glowing reference. I rolled my bike down the street and asked another man for clarification on directions to the hostel and he walked with me for a quarter mile, right to the front door.
I checked in and couldn't wait to explore the Old City and I was completely mesmerized by the sights and sounds. I found a nice little restaurant and decided to get something to eat. It was a small home with a little stove and I enjoyed one of the best meals of my trip, a green salad (with onions, tomatoes, cheese, olive oil and some other spices mixed in) followed by a risotto with squid. I inhaled my meal to the amusement of the owner. I had a Sarajevo beer with dinner and she brought me another on the house when I was done. A man walked in and sat at the table next to me and although he was speaking Croatian, I detected a Dutch accent and sure enough when I asked him where he was from he said the Netherlands. He travelled extensively in the Balkans and around the Middle East with his job and is married to a lady from Montenegro. He spoke very highly of Sarajevo and we discussed my route through the Middle East. He said that he absolutely loves Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine and recommended I spend a lot of time in each. I was greatly encouraged by our conversation and told him it was one of the few times that someone did not mention terrorism or personal danger when I said I would be cycling through the Middle East.
After dinner I joined hundreds of others on a stroll through Old City. The Mosques were lit up, eastern music could be heard drifting in from the various restaurants and people were sitting around drinking coffee, playing cards or having conversations. There is a difference with the old quaint narrow cobblestone alleys in many of the other Cities I have been and I can't quite explain why it is so enticing. I think the difference is that the Old Towns of Dubrovnik and Split are beautiful but almost artificial in the way they are polished to attract tourists. Sarajevo has a bit more of an edge to it but in an appealing way.
I decided to stay another night and spent Monday touring around, sampling some food and purchasing my train ticket for Belgrade. Here is a picture of one of the coffee shops I sat in to get out of the rain. It not only had a Central Asia feel to it and of course, good strong coffee.