Episode 24

Van Life Chronicles: Exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina with Martin Fletcher

Published on: 1st October, 2023

In this episode I talk to Martin Fletcher, a British traveler and podcaster who is currently on a journey through the Balkans in his van.

Martin shares his experiences living the van life and traveling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as his plans to head to Turkey for the winter. We discuss Martin's reasons for choosing a nomadic lifestyle, his work as a digital nomad, and his adventures in various countries.

During our conversation, we touch on topics like language barriers, local cuisine, interactions with people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Martin's impressions of the country, which he had heard about during the conflict in the early '90s.

We also explore Martin's interest in history and abandoned engineering, as well as his desire to explore more of the country on his way back north.

The episode provides insights into Martin's nomadic lifestyle and his experiences in the Balkans, making it a fascinating listen for anyone interested in travel and adventure.

Follow along with Martin's journey on his podcast, "All Points In Between," and stay tuned for more of his adventures in the Balkans and beyond.

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Stay tuned for more exciting stories and adventures from the Englishman in the Balkans podcast!

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It's an Englishman in the Balkans podcast, and it's another nighttime recording session outside now here in Čardačani in the village where I live. It's black, but we've got the lights on and that's cool. And in this episode, we're going to talk to somebody very interesting. Now, you know that the podcast is all about me talking to interesting people, whether they are experts in something within Bosnia and Herzegovina or they have a connection somehow.


this region, this part of the Western Balkans. Some time ago, I was followed by a fellow podcaster actually, Martin Fletcher. He's a Brit and he has a podcast that you can listen to on Spotify and Apple and all good podcatch catching platforms and it's called All Points in Between. And I got this message saying, hi, I'm in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Can you chat on my podcast? So I thought, yeah, great. So full transparency here, we've just done a session.


together. So we've already met, so there's going to be no shocks to anybody. Now, Martin is on Instagram and if you check out his Instagram account, I'll put the link below to that, you'll see where he's been and what he does. This is not his first time in the Balkans. He has been here before. We're going to find out a little bit about that. But his bio basically revolves around travel, history and van life. And it was the van life.


and being a Brit coming to Bosnia and Herzegovina immediately captivated me. We've got Martin here tonight. It's a standard Englishman in the Balkans question. Why do you want me to talk about somebody's biography? Why do you want me to tell you all about them when it's so much better done by the people themselves? Martin, welcome. Quick question. You're going to give the answer. Who is Martin Fletcher? At the moment, Martin is the other Englishman in the Balkans.


I'm heading down towards Turkey at the moment, going down through the Balkans and heading there and spending the winter. I've been living in a van for about three years or so now. I tend to travel north and south with the weather because I like it when it's about 25 degrees. Last year I drove down to Senegal and this year I thought I'd drive south east instead. You've been to Senegal?


Man, that is one heck of a drive. It's a pretty big adventure, but the van was up to it just about. Had to get a couple of repairs done on the way down, but it was pretty interesting crossing the Sahara. Definitely something to do in winter rather than any other time of year. What made you decide to give the nine to five, the regular living conditions, if I can put it that way, in the United Kingdom up?


What stimulated you to want to get in a van, put your life in a van? And I know this is a cliche and hit the road. It was really an outcome of COVID. Before then, I used to live in London. I worked job at a consultancy and after COVID started, all of the work went remote and so there was just the option of being able to leave London, which I'd never been all too keen on.


and instead do my work from the back of a van. And I've been doing that for about three and a half years now. So typically I'll work about two to three days a week and I spend the rest of my time going around seeing things. Working remotely is one thing, being a digital nomad and going and living in somebody's house in a different country is one thing. I don't know where you are parked up at the moment. You're outside Sarajevo, but you are totally reliant on


either local Wi-Fi that may or may not be good enough, or you have to rely on hotspots. That must be exceedingly frustrating for somebody that is already working remotely. It must be something that you worry about a lot? It's been surprisingly easy actually. I spent a lot of money getting a router fitted into the van where I could put a SIM card in there and it would run off the aerial. But actually it turns out that


my phone hotspot pretty much outperforms it anywhere I've been. And I just run it off the phone. I usually get a local SIM card or I've got an international one that I use when I'm in Europe. And yeah, I'm able to run everything off the hotspot and do video calls and indeed this podcast. Do you ever feel lonely? You're there tonight in a foreign country outside of Saudi. I don't know where you are, but is it a skill that you acquire to find a park up?


And is it something that you acquire over time not to be lonely? I think if you have this kind of lifestyle, you do need to be very comfortable in your own company. Thankfully, I am. And I like being able to just go out and see a new place every day. If I'm working a little bit longer on a large project, then I like to be able to park up somewhere where I'm going to be able to meet people and hang out. So I'm doing a bit of paternity cover for a colleague at the moment.


And next week I'm going to be heading to this nice farmstay slash kind of hippie commune place, but it'll be very nice to be able to hang out with people and show them how bad I am at yoga. So yes, I'm traveling around most of the time. I'm pretty happy on my own, but these longer periods I do quite like a bit of company. You're now in Bosnia and Herzegovina. You've been here for a good few days now, and I know that you'll be moving on shortly. Two-part question. Why did you


n I was last down this way in:


Covid restrictions, I'd have had to have had a test and it was very difficult to do so at the time. And it was just one of those unresolved issues. The main reason that I wanted to come was to have a go at doing the Mostar bridge jump, but I'm a little bit older now, I'm not sure whether I can actually do that. But I am heading to Mostar tomorrow, so you never know, I might do some of the smaller platforms and see how I feel. In terms of the experience of crossing the border itself,


I can't actually remember the name of the border crossing that I came over because I was just following the sat nav as I tend to do, which sometimes leads me up some kind of narrow goat strewn death trap, but most of the time gets me where I need to be. The crossing itself was surprisingly straightforward. I was expecting to have quite a lot of paperwork that I needed to do and difficulties, but yeah, they basically just took my passport, stamped it and I was through. And...


Yeah, heading into the UNA National Park, which is a really beautiful bit of the Balkans. There's a lovely, clean river that runs through it. There's lots of whitewater rafting. Unfortunately, I used to have an inflatable kayak in the van, but it burst a little while ago, so I wasn't able to do anything on the river. So I had to entertain myself with hiking up in the hills, which was pretty good fun, as long as you avoid the snakes. With all this traveling, how do you cope with...


communication issues. In other words, with language. You said you've been to Senegal, you've been to a host of other places. And all of those will have very little connection with anything that is English. So are you a linguist? And if you're not, what are your sort of go-to skills to buy that first loaf of bread or that first half litre of milk when you've run out and suddenly you have to force yourself to go into...


this store to buy stuff. I speak German because I used to live there about 10 years ago. And so I always quite like traveling in that bit of the world because I can understand what's going on. In hindsight, probably would have been better to have learned French in school, but our teacher wasn't the most resilient person. She used to leave the class in tears at the end of pretty much every session. That didn't really end up being an option, but would have been very useful in West Africa.


as most of the time I am in countries where I can't speak the language, I usually just resort to smiling and waving my hands and people tend to get the gist of what I'm going for. I know the young people here are very eager to speak English, but have you had any serious difficulty since you've been in the country? Not so far. The two places where I've stayed are the Oonagh National Park, which has...


Quite a lot of tourist traffic going through and people are pretty familiar with folk who can't speak the language. I found a surprising amount of the locals spoke very good German actually, if anything, perhaps a little better German than English. So I was getting by with that in a lot of places. It's not been too much of an issue so far. I always like to ask people about food. You've got to eat. And when I've had guests from England, they've...


always said to me, David, what's the food like? It's a big issue for them. They're worried about food. Are they going to serve me frogs or whatever? And the country is known as being the land of meat. So how do you find the food that is offered not only in the stores for you to make yourself, but like in roadside cafes or in restaurants, how do you find the offering of food? And do you find it tasty? And if so, what so far in the short time you've been here?


has been something that you have particularly enjoyed and almost fallen in love with if I can use that phrase. I've tried quite a bit of local cuisine while I've been here. On some of the previous episodes of my show there are people who try and teach me the joys of regional cuisines, which is a bit difficult for me because food tends to just be something I put in my mouth to keep me alive. However...


of the stuff that I've seen while I've been in Bosnia and some of the stuff I've eaten has been really good. We talked about this a little earlier on the episode of my show, which you should listen to. It's incredibly good. We were talking about the called the little mince sausages that you have in bread. The chivap, you like chivapi? The chivapi, there you go. Pretty traditional food here. A little bit like for any English listeners, a bit like mini costas that go in this


absolutely delicious bread. The other thing that has been pretty good while I've been here is my campsite, the family who run it, they knocked on the side of my van last night and gave me this lovely cheese bun that was filled with feta. I don't know the name of it, but it was delicious. Now that leads me on to the next point. Have you found the interaction with local people? The country is famous for its hospitality, but people can say that, but...


How have you found the hospitality and the interaction from locals to you rather than you to locals? My experience so far has been really good. People are very chatty, they're very understanding about my shouting and hand waving when I don't understand what's going on. And yeah, just very accommodating. One of the things that I have found quite interesting, particularly while I've been in Sarajevo, is the way that...


families have developed museums in the city, particularly relating to the war and the events of the 90s. Because when you have museums in a lot of other countries, they'll be run by a large organization, a charity, a government. And the places that I've seen here, there's a place called the Ratney Museum, which is just near the cable car. And there's another one called the Tunnel of


basically an old supply tunnel from the war period. And they're both just run by families that lived here during that time. And they're still knocking about and they are very friendly and talk to everybody who's coming through. And yeah, it's just been very accommodating indeed. Have you felt when you've been in these family museums, when you go into a national museum, it's quite sterile. Everything is so well organized.


you're normally allowed or you normally do just wander around and you read the signs by the exhibits. But a family-run museum has to be slightly different. How have you found the experience with doing that? Is it a better sort of museum to go to see something that is that intimate or does it lack the finesse of what we would say the conventional museum? I think it's a bit more homespun. Like you say, it's a lot smaller than going to a major museum.


big museums here in Sarajevo as well. But I think there's something to be said for the lived experience of the people who are actually running the museum. The people who set up these exhibits are usually collecting things from their own lives and the stories that are associated with them are really quite powerful. I found particularly, as I mentioned, this museum called the Ratney Museum, which is essentially in the ground floor of somebody's house.


and it talks through the civilian experience of that period. There are some interactive exhibits, so they have a makeshift electric generator made out of a bicycle and you're allowed to give the pedals a spin to just see how hard it was to actually even just run a radio or something like that. I gave it a go for about two minutes and I was knackered compared to the...


seven or eight hours that people might do it in a day, or they had a couple of big water jugs that you could try and carry. And essentially it was the amount of water that a typical person needs in a day for drinking, cooking, washing, et cetera. And yeah, they weighed an absolute ton. And there was a whole exhibit that was based on the diaries of a woman who turned 18 around the beginning of the conflict.


It wasn't clear from what was written that whether it was actually a member of the family. I can imagine that given the size of this museum and that it is a family-run thing that it could well be, but I'm not sure. But the story that came through it was just fascinating. Yeah, left me in a very thoughtful mood afterwards.


to, yeah, they were very awful events for some four years. Has that changed your opinion of the country? I know from speaking to you before we started recording this podcast that you said back then in the early 90s, it was most probably the first real news story that you'd paid attention to back in the UK and that had an impact on you.


all these years later you've come and seen this. How do these experiences that you've had whilst you've been in Sarajevo and the area around it, how has that matched up now with those memories from being a much younger Martin back in the UK? Yeah, because during that period I was five, six, seven years old. I was a very small child and it was just the first thing that I remember.


hearing about as a major news event. And it's something that I've meant to read a bit more about in my adult life, but it's always been one of those things where I've started researching it and ended up filing it in the part of my brain that says too complicated. And I think coming here has given me a bit of a reason to focus on that history.


not just that history going back a bit further into the past as well during the Yugoslav period and the Ottomans. And it's probably not something I'd have looked into had I not ended up coming here in the end. And I found it fascinating. I find most history fascinating, I'm that kind of person, but it has been, yeah, it has just focused the mind, let's say.


And in the future, I don't know whether you go back to the UK or where you are, but being somebody that's consistently on the move, because you have your home with you and you can work away, you will undoubtedly meet people from other countries in the future. You'll sit around the campfire or you'll sit together in a restaurant. And I think people like yourself will use the phrase van lifers, rich with stories.


that they have from the experiences of the life that they've lived. Do you think now the story of Bosnia and Herzegovina might be something that you could talk with a bit of passion about when you meet people? I don't know whether you go back to Senegal or whether you end up on the Mongolian steppes, wherever it is. Do you think it's a story you would rather tell rather than a story of back in England? Yeah, very much so.


It's a country that I have heard about from other people. I had previously met people who had spent time traveling here, some people who'd lived here for a while, a couple of Bosnians who live in other countries, and that's part of the reason why it had been on my list. And I can very much agree that it is somewhere that I would recommend for other people as well. I've only got about another week here and I must admit I've spent quite a lot of the period working, but...


When I'm on my way back north again in the spring, as I say, I kind of travel like a bird, big flightless bird. But I would like to come back through this way and actually spend a bit more time exploring the country. What would you like to see next time? I know that you've been very busy and you do. You're not just a holiday maker. You have to work, you have to earn money and that takes priority. But you're going to go to Turkey. Now that you've had this taste, what would you...


now say would be your plan on the way back through. What things do you like to focus on? Is it the architecture? Is it the historic stories that are here? Is it the countryside, the food? What really draws you to a country? On the way back up, I'd particularly like to see the, I'm going to pronounce this completely incorrectly, the Republic of Spasska, so the Serbian part of


unfortunately had to miss on the way down. It'd just be nice to see that other bit of the country that is where the other group of people live. On my way down I'm staying in, as mentioned, Sarajevo which is the largely Bosniak bit of the country. I'm going to be spending a bit of time in Mostar which is the Croatian bit of the country. So it'd be nice to also see the Serbian bit on the


quite like doing. I generally try and find some massive hill or mountain that I can walk up and there seems to be no end to those in Bosnia. So I'm sure I'll be able to find some things that I can stand on top of. When you started, you most probably didn't see me laughing so much when you said when you go to Mostar you're going to jump off the bridge. But having just said that, nobody in 20 years that I've been here.


and of all the people I've met, not once has anybody said, I want to go to Mostar and jump off the bridge. Are you a naturally, I don't want to insult you, are you a naturally crazy person? I'm not fully with it and I know that and I embrace that. But even me, I wouldn't jump off the bridge. Are you into doing things like extreme sports, like white water rafting, crazy kayaking, canyoning, paragliding, is Martin Fletcher one of those sort of people?


As much as I like standing on high things, I like jumping off them even more. But I have been a little bit out of the extreme sports thing for a while just because a few years back I dislocated my shoulder and for a while it started popping out at the drop of a hat until I had an operation, which I think might rule me out of doing any big jumps. But we'll see.


, which is where a lot of the:


and it just snakes through the forest back down the mountain and there's nothing to stop you just jumping on it and walking along it. I assume if you were so inclined and there wasn't anyone else there you could probably ride your bike down it. But the real...what's the word I'm looking for? The real selling point to me was the art that is all along it. These huge sweeping banked turns that have been...


turned into these really beautiful pieces by local artists. And it's just a lovely spot to wander. I'm a bit of a nerd for abandoned engineering as well. So perhaps that's also why. When you come back, what you need to, or this is my suggestion anyway, because when you mentioned about the bobsleigh, by the way, people do extreme mountain biking down it now. I don't know how they get people to get off. It seems to be so scary when they're going down there.


fast is there is a word in the local language, it's called Spomenik. And a Spomenik is basically a monument. And in the former Yugoslavia, they have the most amazing socialist monuments that have been built to basically commemorate the war of national liberation, which we would have called the Second World War. When you go south and you're looking for a book or something to research, I think you


these Spomenics because they are first of all, very out of the way places. They are absolutely huge. And I think for somebody, when you mentioned it just now, I just thought, I have to tell him about that because this might be something that you would find mega interesting. You'll be off soon. What's the route from Bosnia-Herzegovina to your final destination? How long is it going to take? And what are you going to do when you get there?


On the way down, like I mentioned, I'm going to be stopping at this farm stay in Montenegro for a couple of weeks while I polish off a bit of full time work. And then I still need to decide how I get to Turkey from there. I'm thinking perhaps across, oh need to look at my map now. I think it takes you across either Macedonia or Kosovo, doesn't it, depending on where you are. And then through Bulgaria and into Turkey itself. And then I'll be spending


doing a lap around the bits of the country that remain warm in winter, which I think means I might be sticking to the coast from what I hear. You're able to work from wherever you are. Do you work for a single company or are you a freelancer that changes projects as and when they become available? I work for a consultancy and they give me jobs as and when they arise.


So it's not really a salary position. It's more of a day rate and I can go out and find my own work. But so far I've been pretty fortunate that this consultancy sends enough work. My way for the time being, I've always said that I'll keep doing this until I either run out of money or get bored. And neither of those things has quite happened yet. Although I've come pretty close on the money thing a few times, but it still seems to be going right now.


started their lives off doing van life. They followed them on YouTube as they went around. But as a result of Brexit, they've actually found new places where they've set up a home, which is not something they planned on doing when they started. They wanted to live on the road. One has ended up in Portugal, has bought land in Portugal, and another one has ended up of all places in Sweden, buying something.


Yeah, it's totally stunning. I'll send you the link offline. But is that something that you might do in the future when it's time not to drive anymore? Are you going back to Britain or in your mindset at the moment, will it be, I have to find somewhere? You love the temperatures of the upper twenties. Come on, unless this freakery keeps going with weather, Britain has never been the land of the upper twenties. Would you think of somewhere else? And if so, from the places that


to the Balkans earlier on traveling around northern or western Europe. What's the sort of place that you might find as a forever home when you park up your camper van and say, yeah, this is what I've always wanted? What does Martin think in his dreams that might be the end of it all? You never know. It might end up being a situation where my van, Abbey, ends up breaking down somewhere. And then I end up having to say, building a life here now.


There are a few places that I've thought about as I've been going around. Like I say, I speak German. It'd be nice to live there. I spent a bit of time in Cologne about 10 years ago and that's probably still my favourite city in the world. But it's a little difficult post-Brexit to sort out somewhere to live and jobs and things like that. If I'm honest, I'd probably end up back in London, but I'd be over on the east side of the city compared to where I was previously out west.


just because I have a football club that I'm very involved with still out there called Clapton Community FC. And it'd be nice to get out there and get involved in the volunteering and the just community hub that the building's. So I imagine that would probably be the place I ended up. Martin, it's been great chatting to you in Abbey. Are you outside Sarajevo or are you inside the city limits at the moment?


I think I'm a bit outside the city limits. I'm about seven kilometres further west of the airport. A place called... Oh, I'm going to pronounce this wrong as well. I'll probably forget the name. Illidse? Illidse. Yeah, you're in Illidse. Yes. Yeah. Nice place. Very nice. Near Illidse, yes, near Illidse there is a restaurant called Barylovych. I will send you the name of the restaurant with WhatsApp.


Is that the one that's on the river? Yeah. Have you been there? No, I had a look at it last Saturday. It looked a bit expensive and I said that I'd have it as a treat at some point before I leave. I might do that tomorrow. Top tip, it's not expensive. It looks expensive, but it's not expensive. Big portions then? Oh, big portions. I was trying to explain to the German guests that left us this morning that when they go to Sarajevo, they have to drop


I will send you the Instagram link as well. You have to go there, oh, it's a Friday, Saturday will be brilliant. You might have to queue up. If you have to queue up, the owner brings free rakia for everybody. So you won't have to pay for that. But when you go there, just be totally shocked when you see 10 waiters, eight or 10 waiters carrying the hugest tray of food that they take in for the massive sort of like family groups.


You can video in there, they don't mind. It's, I've never seen it done anywhere else in the world. I've seen huge amounts of food delivered in Ethiopia, but never have I seen what they do. So David's top tip to Martin is if you go into Illidia tomorrow, up to the river, go to Brijlović, it's worth the wait. And man, it is not expensive. It's no more expensive than anywhere else. Thank you so much for joining me. It's been a pleasure speaking to another Englishman.


in the Balkans. And I actually think, how am I going to do this? Because you're going to be a Montenegro for a bit. So that's in the Balkans. So we're going to have to find a way about how we jive with this. But no, honestly, it's been great. Do have a safe journey forward. Do keep in touch. And I'm going to put the details to your Instagram, the details to the All Points In Between podcast. I really recommend people listen to it. Martin's got some really great stories and do follow him. Mate.


Stay safe and just remember, this is something that you haven't heard of, right? This is new to you guys listening. Vala, drop the H and just use the V. It'll work every time. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, if you do want to have a listen to it, we've just done an episode all about Bosnia, and David absolutely humiliated me with a quiz. Well, I know I did alright. Yeah, but man, you got the... Sorry, you got the prizes. Yeah, very good. Alright.


I'll catch you soon. Thank you very much. Looking forward to being your roving correspondent in the future.

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About the Podcast

An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

Profile picture for David Pejčinović-Bailey

David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.