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September 28th 2009
Published: October 7th 2009
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A 3 hour bus journey from Mostar on Friday (through more great mountain scenery) brought me to Sarajevo. Now this was a total change of pace from Mostar, a sprawling city that speads west from the old town to the communist monstrosities of the new town and beyond. The city's heart lies in Bascarsija (the Turkish quarter, still have no idea how to pronounce this) and the adjacent Ferhadija (the Austrian quarter) which lie north of the river. These are surrounded on all sides by hills covered with red-roofed houses and countless minarets from the neighbourhood mosques. It was from the summit of these hills that the Serbs wrought so much carnage during the three year siege.

Bascarsija is characterised by a maze of cobbled alleyways and courtyards, filled with jewellery and antique shops, cafes and restaurants. It flows westward from Pigeon Square with its famous Sebilj or public water fountain (drink from it and you'll return to Sarajevo). It leads into Ferhadija, built in the 19th century when Bosnia came under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which shows most western influences in the architecture and the presence of Christian churches, both Serb Orthodox and Catholic. All places of worship have been well restored since the indiscriminate damage inflicted by the Serb forces.

After arriving at the bus station I got a tram to Bascarsija and made my way to the hostel office. The hostel is located Vratnik area, up a very steep hill northeast of the city. Luckily, Haris (the owner) drove me up but even without a backpack, it's a hell of a hike up (my calves have just about stopped aching). The upside is the fantastic views available, both from the hostel terrace and the nearby Yellow Bastion, from which the entire city can be gazed. In the evenings, the call to prayer from the nearby mosques makes for a cool, exotic atmosphere.

First night at the hostel and Haris treated us a lovely cevapi BBQ on the hostel terrace. A word about Bosnian food - it's so, so good. The main dish is cevapcici which are minced meat shaped like little sausages, eaten with a spongy somun bread (which acts like a tortilla or naan) and onions - delicious. Then there's burek, a cylindrical pastry stuffed with minced meat (also veggie options) which is a fantastic snack (or breakfast). They'll also eat just about any variety of veal, including kidneys, thymus and "breaded brain" but I steered clear of these. On a more appetising note (depending on your tastes!), I came across Red Bull ice-cream - genius whoever came up with that. Beer wise, Sarajevsko is the main brand in Bosnia, decent enough, but the dark version, only available in the pub next to the brewery in Sarajevo, is fantastic. Well worth the trek south of the river to seek it out. Disappointingly though, there weren't any tours of the brewery, which looks really cool.

On Saturday, I went on Haris's Sarajevo tour (along with most of the hostel) in which he drove us around to the sights which might be normally out of reach for the average backpacker. First stop was the remains of the tunnel - an 800 metre long, one metre wide passageway dug by the Bosnians that went under the airport and connected the surrounded city to free Bosnian territory, keeping the citizens supplied during the siege. A small portion of it remains intact that you can crouch along, the house by the entrance is now the tunnel museum, which explains the story behind it and lists the names of all the Sarajevans killed in the siege.

Next stop was the old bobsleigh track created for the 1984 winter olympics, at the time the largest in the world. The track was heavily damaged by the Serbs during the siege and used as a base to launch mortar attacks on the city. In the new town, the wide road connecting the city to the airport was known as "Sniper Alley" as the Serb gunmen attempted to kill any civilians attempting to cross it. A bullet-splattered building is kept as a reminder, but the nearby Parliament building, Twin Towers and Holiday Inn have all been completely reconstructed exactly as they were pre-war. After a brief stop at the Olympic stadium, built for the 1984 opening ceremony and now used by the local football team, we headed back to the Old Town. There we visited Svrzo House, a traditional 18th century Bosnian townhouse from the Ottoman era. After lunch we headed to the Latin Bridge and the spot of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which ignited World War One. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, had been a hero in Yugoslav times, with the bridge named after him. Today, only a plaque and small museum mark the site.

The tour finished in time to catch the Liverpool-Hull game. There's a great street off Ferhadija which is one big street cafe, with televisions showing games from all over Europe. Nice place for a few beers and a sweet 6-1 win. Next day was a little more chilled out. Visited the History Museum whose main display was about life during the siege, very eye-opening. Then wandered along the riverbank, had a burek lunch in the park before heading to the brewery.

Sarajevo is a great town. The shadow of the war still looms over the city but they have made great progress in reconstruction, both physically and in regaining the city's cosmopolitan character.

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8th October 2009

I agree, Sarajevo is a must see sight in Europe. In fact, it's in the top 5 places I've visited. Interestingly, the yellow bastion you mention sounds a lot like the white garrison that we climbed to. Whatever, it does give a fantastiv panoramic view across the city.
9th October 2009

Hi Roddy!
So you went to the Balkans after all - am surprised you didn't try to jump off the bridge at Mostar Apart from being surpised at how green and lush Bosnia was, what I remember most about the coach trip from Mostar to Sarajevo is passing by lots of little villages with just a few inhabited houses or buildings, but every one of them had huge cemeteries. Poignant. We went to a little Bosnian restaurant in Sarajevo which served fantastic food and apple strudel, then overdosed on sweets - bakhlava, turkish delight etc. Didn't Sarajevo feel like a Morrocan souk?

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