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New Europe

Day Fourteen: Mostar to Sarajevo

Mostar-Sarajevo train 
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On the Mostar-Sarajevo train, through the Dinaric Alps. Almost half the line is in tunnels as it cuts through the mountains.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI can see why you might want to come back in the summer. As we run deeper into the heart of the Dinaric Alps the scenery is magnificently wild and romantic, sometimes tight and confined by rock stacks and perilous buttresses, then suddenly opening out into a vista of lakes with houses by the water and gardens of beehives and orchards.

As the Romans used roads, the Austrians used railways to cement their empire. They were impressive engineers. Of the 80 miles of line between Mostar and Sarajevo, forty per cent is in tunnels and ten per cent on bridges or viaducts.

The Ivan Tunnel, cutting through 3,000-foot-high mountains, was so difficult to drill that the Emperor Franz Josef, rather rashly, urged on the workforce with the promise of 'one kilo of gold for one kilo of stone'. It marks the end of Herzegovina and the beginning of Bosnia. The weather has completely changed from one end of the tunnel to the other and the sunny skies that we've been blessed with since setting out from Slovenia have been replaced by dark and scowling clouds.

Not the best conditions for a first glimpse of Sarajevo, which presents a grimly bleak aspect as we trundle through an industrial wasteland bordered by tall concrete blocks broken up by scrapyards and factories that look derelict until you see people moving about. This, I later learn, is what they call New Sarajevo.

We walk from the station to the Holiday Inn, a squat concrete core from which hangs a skin of yellow and brown tiles. It was built for the Winter Olympics of 1984 and still bears the Olympic symbol on its side. The nearby shell of the multi-storey Parliament building is a reminder of more recent history, the nightmare of the 1990s, when Sarajevo lived under bombardment for almost four years.

I can feel the first flecks of rain.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fourteen: Mostar to Sarajevo
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Mostar
  • Book page no: 38

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