Five hours and twenty minutes sat on a bus between Zagreb, Croatia, and Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, yesterday morning gave me more than enough time to ponder some of the idiosyncrasies this mode of transport offers in this part of the world. I suppose I should confess I'm no expert; the town I grew up in was not big on buses and, baring one memorable overnight coach journey from London to Edinburgh, most of my bus experience involves the top deck of old London Routemasters. That and school trips.
The distinction between a bus and a coach that the English language provides is not one that holds up in translation. Everything is a bus here. There are local buses and there are buses that make international journeys. From the bus station in Jajce we could travel to a number of nearby or neighbouring countries but the only trip I've made thus far is the one to and from Zagreb. This latest journey was the first time we've travelled the route through Bihać and Karlovac; we've always gone through Banja Luka before. I could claim it was because we were travelling the 'back route' that I made the observations. I won't. The truth is I didn't see anything I hadn't seen before. But it was experiencing a new route that focused my thoughts enough to be blogging about it. And so here goes...
First, I'll commend our driver for not overtaking like a looney, a common fault, and for anticipating, and slowing down for, every speed camera and parked-up police patrol car. However, conducting conversations with a mobile phone clutched to one ear while gesticulating wildly with the 'free' hand might be considered inappropriate behaviour, particularly around corners. The bus had no scheduled stops between Zagreb and Jajce still I counted at least five, not included the expected rest break at a cafe just over the border into BiH. Some of these stops were specifically requested set downs along the route, although I could be convinced we took a detour in Bihac to accommodate one of these. We also stopped at the other side of a gas station next to a bus station in one town to pick up new passengers. This seemed strange. I'm not sure who profited from ticket money that may or may not have been collected. Still, as the bus was about half-full or half-empty at the time, depending on your perspective, this was undoubtedly an eco-friendly gesture.
We've long been aware that sending things by bus is much preferred to putting them in the post. You need important documents from another city? Get a friend to hand them to the driver and simply collect them when the bus arrives in your town, slipping the driver a little something for a coffee or ten as a thank you. Yesterday, on top of the usual collection of envelopes, we stopped by a roadside auto garage to deliver some parts. Judging by the smiling and waving from the mechanics this was not unusual assistance. Earlier I had done a double take seeing the driver chatting away inside the guards booth at the border, but as it was a very quick, smooth crossing it's nothing to complain about. Nor is any of the above. It's just that I can't imagine any of this happening with National Express. But, then again, what do I know about buses?!