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LOT/Air Serbia: Warsaw – Ljubljana via Sarajevo, Belgrade

Balkan holiday part 1 – Bosnia and Herzegovina & Slovenia.

Holiday at last! For the next two weeks no calls, no teleconferences, no documents reviews. I have been waiting for this trip for a long time and the day has finally come, my bag is packed, and it is time to start my journey thought the Balkans with the aim to revisit some and discover new places. In the first part, I visit the capitals of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia.

LO577: Warsaw – Sarajevo. It is a sunny Saturday in Warsaw and I arrive in due time. The bus drops me off in front of the departure terminal of Warsaw Airport, a few steps away from the check-in counters. The whole check-in process is smooth, and it takes only a few minutes to check in my bag and receive a boarding card for my flight to Sarajevo. After a quick security check and passport control, I proceed to the departures lounge, where I browse the duty-free shops to take advantage of travelling to a non-EU destination. I buy a bottle of a liquid good to re-stock my home bar and take a seat near gate 22A, assigned for today’s flight LO577.

Boarding starts shortly after 10:20. After scanning my boarding pass, I proceed through the air-bridge to the aircraft. Today’s flight is operated by 11.3-years old Embraer 155-STD (reg. number SP-LIQ) and inside I take my assigned window seat of 21A. The flight is busy but not full, and the seat next to me is left unoccupied. Through the window, I can see the E190 aircraft (reg. number SP-LME) bound for Sofia as flight LO631.

In the meantime, boarding is completed, and the cabin crew (Krzysztof and Maria) prepare the cabin for take-off. Shortly after, they stand by for a safety demo performed in Polish and later in English. After the safety demo, the aircraft taxiis to runway 11/29 then we take off in direction 11.

The aircraft interior is in pleasant neutral colours. After reaching cruising altitude, the cabin crew distribute a sanitising wipe and on-board service begins, both complimentary and paid one. From the complimentary one, I choose a tomato bun (you also can choose a sweet version of a blueberry bun), a glass of sparkling water and a cup of tea with lemon, which is my usual set while travelling on LOT. From the paid service, I purchase a bottle of Italian prosecco (20 PLN) to complement the beginning of my holiday.

During the flight, I flipped through the last-month issue of Kaleidoscope magazine featuring an article about California, which I already read on my domestic flight to Rzeszów some 3 weeks ago. The flight path crosses over the Pilica River, the town of Opoczno, west of Krakow, over Slovakian town of Banská Bystrica, the Danube River near Hungarian city of Esztergom then over the Hungarian capital of Budapest, then crossing the Sava River near the Croatian town of Slavonski Brod then entering the airspace of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Crossing over the Pilica River (Poland)

Somewhere over Slovakia

Crossing over Budapest (Hungary)

Crossing the Sava River (Croatia/Bosnia and Herzegovina)

After crossing over the Sava River, we take a slight turn right around the town of Teslić, right turn before the town of Kiseljak then descend to approach Sarajevo Airport, flying over Vlakovo and Ilidža.

over Kiseljak (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Crossing over Vlakovo (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Ilidža (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Approaching Sarajevo Airport (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

After a short taxi, we park some distance from the terminal which seems to be undergoing some renovation work as it is partially boarded up, thus no air bridges are in operation. The steps are attached to the aircraft, and I disembark via steps through the rear door, then proceed to the parked bus, which takes me to the terminal building. Inside, I go through passport control and after a few minutes waiting, I collect my bag. After leaving the arrivals area, I look around for a driver as I pre-arranged airport pick up, but there is no one with my name. After a call to the hotel, the driver turns up and takes me to my hotel.

Flight statistics:

LF: 75 %

Distance: 948 kms (512 nm)

Departure time (scheduled/actual): 10:40/10:54

Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 12:30/12:19

Flight duration (scheduled/actual): 1h 50 min/1 h 25 min

Sarajevo. This time, I have no plans to explore Sarajevo, which I did over a year ago. During my return flight, just after we took off, I spotted an aquapark near the Butmir area and after arriving home I even check what aquapark it was. When I was searching for accommodation in Sarajevo, I filter results for a hotel with external swimming pool and voilà, I booked the hotel I saw from the air. Although I had a problem with pre-arranged transfer, all went well in the end and after check-in I want straight to the aquapark adjacent to the hotel. I was a bit disappointed that one large pool is out of use as well as that 2 water slides are unserviceable. But I still enjoyed my time there, both in the water and sunbathing.

While enjoying the sun rays, I suddenly heard a noise of a low flying aircraft approaching the runway at Sarajevo Airport. I quickly grab my mobile to check which aircraft had just landed, and it was Wizz Air flight 7107 from Abu Dhabi. I felt like an air traffic controller, who checked approaching and departing aircraft, and I find it quite funny. After a few arrivals and takes off, my ATC shift was over, and I collected all my belonging and returned to my room.

JU113: Sarajevo-Belgrade. Before I leave the hotel for the airport, I check the JU113 flight status, and all seems to be fine at the moment. I am ready to go to my next destination of Ljubljana.

Inside the terminal building, I search for the display screens, and I notice a sign for ‘domestic departures’, which distracted my attention. ‘Are there any domestic flight within Bosnia and Herzegovina or the signage is a heritage from the past where Yugoslavia was covered by extensive network of domestic flights?’ I wonder. Shortly, I woke up from my distraction and found that check-in for flight JU113 has already started at desks 4 and 5.

There is already a queue to the check-in and a steeplechase has already begun for me. The first obstacle was check-in which took 25 minutes, then boarding pass scanning (breeze), security check (12 mins) and the last lap – passport control which took 8 minutes.

Finally, I am inside the in-renovation departure area, where I take a set to enjoy a cup of cappuccino (5.50 BAM) and a piece of cheese and ham pastry for 2.50 BAM. While I am taking notes, I notice some sparrow flying inside the terminal building. ‘How on earth they got in here’ I think? Leaving the mystery of flying birds, I check flight24 website for the status of flight JU112, which left Belgrade at 14:43, which is 33 minutes later than the scheduled departure time. With an estimated arrival time of 15:22 (22 minutes later than the scheduled arrival time), I guess I should be fine to catch my connecting flight JU194 to Ljubljana at 18:35.

The boarding for my flight commences at gate 2 and after scanning my boarding card I proceed downstairs, then walk to the parked 9.4-years old aircraft ATR72-600 (reg. number YU-ASB).

Inside, I take the assigned seat of 16F. Today’s flight is quite busy and only a few seats left unoccupied, including the seat next to me. Among passengers, they’re mostly Serbian and Bosnians nationals, but there are other nationals too: some Italians, Spaniards, Scandinavians, American and Mexican forming a truly international flight. Boarding completed, the door shuts and the cabin crew (1 female and 1 male flight attendant) prepare the cabin for take-off by presenting a safety demo in Serbian and English followed by the final check of the cabin.

After short taxi, we takes off passing Butmir and Ilidža.

After reaching cruising altitude, the cabin crew distributes a 250-ml bottle of water and a small pack of biscuit.

During this short flight, I mostly look through the window, trying to guess where we are currently flying over. After passing Ilidža, we turn right heading for Vlakovo, crossing the border with Serbia near Raševo, then flying over the suburban settlement of Belgrade of Vrčin, Savski Venac and Novi Beograd before landing at Nikola Testa Airport of Belgrade.

After landing, the aircraft parks at a distant parking position, from where a bus takes us on a long journey, passing the cargo terminal, the new terminal building and finally reaching the entrance to the international arrival part of the terminal building.

Flight statistics:

LF: 90 %

Distance: 192 kms (104 nm)

Departure time (scheduled/actual): 15:30/16:00

Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 16:20/16:42

Flight duration (scheduled/actual): 0h 50 min/0 h 42 min

JU 194: Belgrade – Ljubljana. Inside the international arrival hall, I follow the signs ‘transfer/connecting flight’, which leads me to the security scanning area. ‘Oh no. One more security check…’ I wonder.

The security check takes 8 minutes and after passing it I check the screen to double-check the departure gate for my flight JU194. Gate 10 C. ‘It is going to be a long walk’, I assume. And indeed, it was. Before I reach gates 10A-E I stop at a café to buy a cup of coffee, but I am unable to pay with my card as only cash is accepted. I find it strange no cards are accepted in a café at an intercontinental airport, nor they have a back-up system in case of unexpected failure. I spot the vending machine. Let’s try here. Again, failure as the vending machine to accept only cash and I do not have enough cash on me… Finally, I get my coffee at a coffee stand where I can pay using my debit card, but it did involve walking back to the area around gate C2, waiting 15 minutes in a queue and walking back to the gate 10 C. But I got my trophy – a cup of coffee.

Around 18:00 I can hear my name (along with some other names) being announced through a loudspeaker to report to gate 10 C. My first thought: ‘flight is cancelled’. At the gate, I hand over my passport and my boarding card to a gate agent, and I was told that all is OK. I relaxed, but still could not understand why I was called to report with my passport and my boarding card?

After a few minutes, boarding commences at gate 10 C. After scanning my boarding pass and cross-checking with my passport, I proceed to the bus parked outside of gate 10C. Finally, all passengers are on the bus, and we can commence our journey back to the distant parking position, passing the same landmarks as during the previous ride just in the reverse order.

It starts raining, and I get a bit wet while awaiting to board the 13.7-year aircraft ATR-72-500 (reg. number SE-MDC) in ‘albino livery’. As I later find out, this aircraft is wet-leased from another airline called DAT, hence albino livery.

Inside the aircraft, I take the assigned seat of 19A. The aircraft interior is clean, but slightly dated. In the seat pocket in front of me, I find the safety instructions which displays DAT, previously known as Danish Air Transport.

The flight is relatively busy, and several seats are unoccupied. Boarding is completed and the cabin crew (2 females) stand-by to a standard safety demo presented in Serbian and English. After final cabin check, we start taxing to the runway, where an Austrian aircraft bound for Vienna (flight OS 738) is preparing for take-off. After some minutes waiting, we finally take off, heading in the direction of Sremska Mitrovica.

After reaching cruising altitude, the cabin crew offers complimentary service (a 250-ml-bottle of still water and a pack of Nobile biscuits) as well as paid service from its Elevate Deli&Bar, but there are no takers. During the flight, I flip through the current issue of the in-flight magazine, and I am counting down to the landing time….

After passing Sremska Mitrovice, we fly over the Croatian town of Đakovo, Zagreb, then entering Slovenian airspace around Župelevec then heading towards the Ljubljana Airport of Jože Pučnik.

After short taxi, we park in the front of the terminal building and disembark the aircraft via air-bridge, then proceed to passport control. Finally, I collect my bag, then walk to the shuttle company desk. Unfortunately the next shuttle is full (due to some delayed flights arriving at Ljubljana Airport), I am booked for the following one, that departs in approx. 1 hour. I get to the hotel after 10 pm.

Flight statistics:

LF: 80 %

Distance: 483 kms (261 nm)

Departure time (scheduled/actual): 18:35/19:09

Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 20:00/20:20

Flight duration (scheduled/actual): 1h 25 min/1 h 11 min

Ljubljana. Once upon a time, near the spring of the Ljubljanica river a dragon lived here on a marsh. One day, Jason and the Argonauts arrived in the vicinity as they fled Greece after stealing the Golden Fleece. Then they hear about a beast, which lived on neighbouring marshes. Jason took a brave decision to struggle against the beast and after a long and heroical fight he won over the beast. The brave hero became the first citizen of Ljubljana. According to the other sotry, it was St. George who fought against the creature, killing it with a spear. The struggle against the dragon is an allegory for the fight between the good and the bad.

Today, the dragon has taken over the city and is present in the coat of arms, car registration plates and appears on many buildings including the Dragon bridge. The bride was build in Viennese secession style and was opened in 1901 and its chief attraction are four dragon statues standing on pedestals at its four corners. I particularly like the bridge and every time I am in Ljubljana I cross the bridge and say hello to the dragons.

Ljubljana is not the most obvious place to go in Europe. Tucked away in the Balkans, this compact capital has a lot of to offer. Charming Old Town, the Ljubljana Castle, the Tivoli Park and the picturesque embankment of the Ljubljanica river occupied by plentiful restaurants and cafés. I do like to view in one of cafés and watch passers-by while sipping my coffee or a drink.

Ptuj. Next day, I took a train to Ptuj, a town close to the Croatian border. I chose Ptuj over Trieste for a day-trip from Ljubljana, and I had no expectations at all and let the place surprise me. After over a 2-hour train journey, I get off at the Ptuj station and walk towards the river. As soon as I crossed the footbridge over Drava, the city enchanted me.

Ptuj is the oldest recorded city in Slovenia and has been inhabited since the late Stone Age and developed from a Roman fortress. Due to its strategic location, the place was an important crossing of the Drava River on a prehistoric trade route between the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic. On a hill long of the Drava River, the Ptuj Castle overlooks the town. The structure was built in the mid-12th century to defend Ptuj against the Hungarians.

But the castle is not the only reason to visit Ptuj. The maze of colourful streets or lanes is so worth to wander around. Every narrow lane or corner hides something, that may surprise you. It could be a street art, a small café or just the charming architecture or simply a backyard. But if you feel full of impression, just sit in one of the many cafés the city has to offer.


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