This grand city seems to have always been like this: torn and split, as if it never exists but is perpetually being created, built upon and recovered. On one side it waxes and grows, on the other it wanes and deteriorates. Ever in motion and rustle, never calm and never knowing tranquility or quiet. The city upon two rivers, on the grand clearing, bound by the winds.Ivo Andrić
August 10-16 2017
My travels over the past few weeks have been one of many firsts- my first solo travel outside of North America, my first time staying in hostels, and today, my first time hitchhiking. While Maggie is back in California for work, it gave me the chance to do things a bit differently.
The saying goes “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination”, but I have always wanted to get to my destination in the most convenient and comfortable way possible.
Over the past 10 months of my around the world travels, I have managed to fly in first or business class on any flight exceeding 4 hours. This has included SFO-EZE, LIM-MEX, SFO-HKG, ICN-MAD, and tomorrow- IST-SFO. I’ll have essentially traveled around the world in premium cabins for $243 total, all by playing the points and miles game.
This time though I would do things a little bit differently, no lie-flat seats or gourmet meals, I would instead be hitchhiking. I really had no reason for doing it, other then to experience something new and to put myself out there in a part of the world I had never been. The journey between Sarajevo, Bosnia and Belgrade, Serbia presented the perfect set of circumstances for me to try it out.
It started with getting kicked out of a taxi. Long story short, I had scheduled a taxi the night prior to take me to the Sarajevo bus station in the morning. When the taxi arrived I got in and eneded up waiting for 30 minutes, all while the meter ran, with the driver insisting somebody else was coming. When nobody else came, and we started on our way to the bus station, I pointed out the meter, and firmly asked that it be reset, afterall, I was on time and we waited because of his assumption somebody else was coming. I guess he didn’t like my request, as he pulled over and popped the trunk so I could take my bags.
I was going to miss the bus, so now was the perfect chance to stick out my thumb and start hitchhiking my way to Belgrade instead. The distance isn’t that great, just 182 miles, but neither are the roads. The bus journey would have taken between 8 and 9 hours on the narrow winding roads.
After about 15 minutes I got my first ride of the day, a member of the Bosnian military on his way home- the adventure had begun.
It took 3 drivers to get me to the Serbian border. I was dropped off at the crossing just outside of Zvornik, where I walked across a bridge spanning the Drina River before passing through immigration on the other side. I would then stick out my thumb once again and continue towards the Serbian capital.
I would be picked up by 2 more drivers before finally taking a short bus ride to complete the last stretch into Belgrade.
In the end, the trip took me just as long as the bus journey would have, but the experience was so much better. I got to meet a lot of great people, take the time to stretch my legs, and try something I had never done before. I would do it again in a heartbeat, even in the 100+ degree heat that I experienced that day, standing on the side of the road with little to no shade.
I don’t think it is something I would do in the United States today due to safety concerns, and probably why I never tried it in the past. In the Balkans there is still a hitchhiking culture as not everyone can afford cars, and people are more then happy to pick-up and meet traveling foreigners, helping them get to their destination.
Belgrade itself is the largest city in former Yugoslavia, offering a lot of diversity, not just with it’s people but also in it’s built environment. The city varies from Byzantine and Ottoman to neoclassic and romantic buildings in the older neighborhoods, and from Art Nouveau to brutalism and neo-Byzantine design in New Belgrade.
Belgrade seems to have become one of the most hipster cities in Europe. From converted warehouses and industrial areas to the art in the streets and fashion found in trendy boutiques.
Rapidly changing, it will be interesting to see how the city develops over the next 10 to 20 years.