I began to calculate the number of passengers on the bus times the cost of the ticket and blessed all my debit cards stacked in my wallet. I had enough money to pay for return tickets for all of us, luckily only 12!
“Have you ever crossed the border with a British Passport?“’
“Many times, but not the Croatian border from the Serbian side! “
He shook his head in disbelief and walked off, cursing loud enough for me to hear.
I felt bad but secretly I knew there shouldn’t be any problem travelling by bus from Belgrade into Bosnia via Croatia as I checked the FCO advice and they clearly state there are no visa requirements for UK nationals when travelling to any of these countries. The problem is that when purchasing your bus ticket no one asks you which passport you are travelling on as they presume that you are a national either of Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia in which case you don’t need a visa and sometimes you can cross borders with local ID. I could cross the border directly from Serbia to Bosnia but the bus journey is horrendously long – 12 hours!
After a drive of only an hour and a half through the so-called Panonnian Sea of cultivated fields we arrived on the western border of Serbia. A guard with a serious face half covered by his hat came on board and colleted the IDs, passports and travelling documents which Mr Fagin had collected. We quickly moved into the no-man’s land between Serbia and Croatia. On the Croatian side there was a big decorated Christmas tree – I’m sure one wouldn’t be erected on the Serbian side for our Christmas on the 7th January. Serbia and Croatia don’t celebrate the same Christmas but they have so much else in common. On the Croatian side there are lots of flags and in the corner of the lorry parking space I can spot the EC panel, a little bit damaged though.
Nothing happens and the 12 passengers including me are getting nervous, agitated and bored. Suddenly Mr Fagin announces we all have to get off the bus and go through passport control in a nearby building. Once in the building one of the older ladies asks an official if she could use the loo only to be refused as its’ apparently only for employees. We queue quietly, waiting for something to happen. I am the last one, childishly thinking if they refuse me the rest of the group could run off saying I am not with them.
Three girls young enough to be my daughters nonchalantly check my passport talking about boys and smoking. Was smoking banned in Croatia? I am sure it is in Serbia. The girls are clearly enjoyimg their deep puffs which convinced me that smoking is de facto banned in Croatia but we are in the middle of nowhere, two days before Christmas, when most bosses are on holiday. Smoking is allowed today.
I came out of the building to meet Mr Fagin with a big smile, relieved that I was allowed to enter Croatia on my UK passport.
The drive between the Croatian and Bosnian border was monotonous and slow with a rattling coming from the old engine. The bus’s condition was very alarming , the seats were old, dirty, worn out and I was surprised it was allowed to cross international borders in its present conditions. I tuned my MP3 player into different radio stations which sometimes were Croatian, sometimes Bosnian, Hungarian, German and Serbian – all these different nationalities once lived in one country – Yugoslavia. It seemed Lady Gaga hadn’t arrived here yet as all the radio stations broadcast music from the 80s. After three hours’ drive we arrived at the border of Bosnia but first we had to exit Croatia. The narrow road, not even a motorway, was packed with lorries from different countries: Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia…Again a uniformed guard come on board to collect passports and again they were returned by Mr Fagin. To enter Bosnia you have to cross the River Sava and to cross the River Sava you have to go over the bridge which was built during Tito’s time - it was narrow and slowed down the crossing even further. Once on the Bosnian side, the passports were collected by Mr Fagin, presented to a bored official and returned to us swiftly.
After five hours and four border crossings Mr Fagin was more than happy, he even managed a wink. We had arrived in Bosnia.