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Monday was business in Sarajevo. If you are like me, you've probably heard of Sarajevo when it was part of Yugoslavia (apparently means “southernmost slavs”), held the Winter Olympics and then fell prey to artillery shells as part of a nasty regional civil war. After the war, Yugoslavia dissolved into its individual states and thus, while Bosnia was there all along, we started hearing about it as it became the independent republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After the war, there wasn’t much news, so I flew into Sarajevo not knowing what to expect, but honestly, I was thinking that it would be a rather dismal place.
Well, turns out that Sarajevo is one of the loveliest European-styled cities that I’ve had the pleasure to visit and is number five on the list of most popular European tourist destinations. The city is rebuilt, has charming narrow streets, a rail system and all the other infrastructure that one would expect from a modern city. Population is about ½ million. It is two hours by car from the beach and also from the winter ski slopes. It is nestled into a mountain valley and the scenery flying in was quite beautiful.
My business in Sarajevo went smoothly and was conducted in a mid-rise office building that would look right in place in any U.S. office park. The people converse relatively easy in English and getting around the city center is easily done on foot. The airport is rather small (maybe four gates), but has flights to most of the surrounding hubs such as Munich, Vienna, Istanbul, Zurich, etc. What a pleasure to arrive at the airport only 45 minutes before an international flight and have plenty of time to make the gate and grab a cup of coffee (that same drill took about two hours in Istanbul).
Apparently Sarajevo is struggling to find a core industry after the war, and must be heavily dependent on tourism. Business outsource processing is growing, but I sensed that the labor pool is at least a short-term problem.
Regardless, I found Sarajevo to be a wonderful place and I’m adding it to the list of places to spend some more time in the future.
After a day in Sarajevo my formal business meetings are finished (let’s not think about the mountain of assessment reports that remain). So I get to enjoy a few days of playing tourist before boarding the bird back to the U.S. (turns out it was almost 50% cheaper to fly home from Venice than from Sarajevo or any of its direct hubs). So, the itinerary turned into a day in Vienna, a day on Eurail to Venice via the Austrian Alps, and then home to the U.S. with a plane change in Amsterdam.
Yesterday I flew into Vienna early morning and attempted to see the core city in about 8 hours (it’s impossible). Vienna is a really beautiful city, and is the stereotypical “post card” of a European city. If you are into fine arts (museums, opera, symphony, etc.) then Vienna is the place to be (every street has at least one shop hawking Mozart souvenirs). One surprising thing - - it was HOT in Vienna (I guess I assumed that it would be “mountain-cool” – after a few hours on foot I looked like a drowned rat.
I pictured seeing a beautiful Danube river flowing throughout the heart of the city, but actually never made it there (it flows just outside the “walking core” of the city). Vienna is huge and does have a really good commuter rail system, so getting around is probably relatively easy once you get the hang of the city. There’s not much more that I can share after my brief stop here.
Next I’m taking a Eurail express train from Vienna to Innsbruck and then connecting on to Venice Italy. About a nine hour trip across the day. So, why not just take a shuttle flight to Venice? Well, truth be told, I have been looking forward to leg via rail as the personal highlight of my trip!
For those of you who have had the pleasure to experience Eurail, you probably understand. And, for those of you who have suffered through rail in the U.S. I can understand if you think I am nuts for getting excited about a train ride.
So, why the excitement? These trains are clean, quiet, comfortable, fast and ON TIME! This particular journey will take me right along the northern side of the Austrian Alps to Innsbruck and then due south through the Alps to Venice.
The scenery from my seat is spectacular as I sit here comfortably typing into my laptop (plugged in to on-board electrical power), sipping a delicious cup of cocoa. The conductor has already been by to apologize that the train is running two minutes late (but promises we will make it up – you can set your watch by Eurail departures). No security check at the terminal – just walk in, grab a pastry, and stroll leisurely out to your train. This strikes me as just so “civilized.” The train car has a monitor showing time, station info and, oh yeah, current speed - - we are doing 210 kilometers per hour (that’s about 130 mph).
So, forgive my whining, but just think of how much business and other productivity is wasted in the U.S. fighting crowds, delays and security at airport terminals when short hops could be made so much more efficiently by train! If the rest of the world can do it, why can’t we? Okay, you can open your ears again – whining is done…
Next stop is Innsbruck for a two-hour train connect and hopefully enough time to take a look at the core city (no long ride in from the airport - - oh, yeah, I promised no more whining…).
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