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August 13, 2002

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Not looking for trouble, but perhaps going to the lion's den, we visited the police station to get an entry stamp for our passport. People thronged the halls and after battling our way inside we found a locked door marked, "Foreigner department" (the only sign posted in English). We waited outside for awhile and then received help from bored looking officials. They looked at our passports. They sighed heavily. Then they told us in broken English that we don't need entry stamps, however, we need to register at every hotel and keep the paperwork. Strange business. Our best guess is that they don't want to stamp passports with 'Republika Srpska' since it's not officially recognized as independent. We left Banja Luka and headed for Sarajevo on the only active bus route between Srpska and the Bosnian Federation. Forests cover the mountains and small farms sit in the valleys. Occasionally we passed burned out houses leftover from the civil war of seven years ago. When we saw minarets instead of Orthodox crosses, we knew our bus had left Srpska and entered the Federation (no official border crossing between them). In one village we saw shell holes on every building and a burned out Serbian church which acted as a clear indication that fighting occurred here and the Serbs had left. By evening we made it to Sarajevo, red roof houses covering the hillsides around the city, and tall apartment buildings along the Mjarcki river. A woman at the bus station offered her home for a reasonable fee, and we went with her to the outskirts of Sarajevo. The Bosnian countryside, with tall minarets, hilly terrain mostly forested, reminds us of Turkey. The major difference is that the Bosnian homes are more spread out, looking almost like suburbs instead of villages, and the architecture here is a brick blockhouse with a red roof.
Ever hear of the Republika Srpska? It's almost an independent country within Bosnia, Serb dominated, with its own administrators, police force, and army. We buy Srpska postage stamps. Few buses leave from here to the other part of Bosnia, called the Federation (of Bosnian Croats and Muslims).
The city has a decent infrastructure - besides eating at a nice cafe we managed to find an ATM that dispensed local currency, the Bosnian Konvertible Mark.
Large empty spaces within Banja Luka were once mosques. The Serbs destroyed all sixteen mosques within the city and converted them to parks or parking lots.
Chess draws more men than nightclubs.