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Published: November 22nd 2010
One of the most important mosque in the country and a fine example of Ottoman architecture.
Crossing the border into Bosnia & Herzegovina, I observed that the flags flying were not Bosnian ones, but ones closely resembling the old flag of the former Yugoslavia. A read-up on the country revealed the true meaning of those flags.
Bosnia & Herzegovina is still essentially, a country divided. And no, the two entities making up the country are not in fact Bosnia, and Herzegovina.
At the end of the Bosnian War in 90s, it was agreed that Bosnia & Herzegovina would be split into two parts; the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina (the Muslims and Croat portion in the south and west including Sarajevo) and the Republika Srpska (the Serb portion in the north and the east). We were obviously passing through the Serb section.
Despite the division, Bosnia & Herzegovina is still one country, with a unified passport and army, as well as a single currency, the convertible mark (KM – marka
in Bosniak/Serbian). Ethnic tensions have died down since the war and citizens are moving freely between the two entities.
It was a windy bus ride. Relatively picturesque rivers and mountains have to be negotiated between Belgrade and Sarajevo explaining absence of train travel
University of Sarajevo
Main building of the university next to the river.
between the two cities, and why it took seven hours to travel less than 200km. There were a couple of lakes that the bus had to circumnavigate which reminded me a little of the scenic bus ride between Herceg Novi and Kotor in Montenegro
Nice as the bus ride was, I wasn't enjoying it immensely - a legacy of my decision to go out for a third consecutive night in Belgrade. A familiar legacy that always seems to accompany me on long, windy, hilly, picturesque bus rides in Europe. We have previous
Also accompanying us on our journey was Rex, the Peruvian guy who was staying with us at the Manga Hostel in Belgrade. He was a pleasant enough bloke, and came in handy when we finally arrived in Sarajevo.
Like the country it leads, Sarajevo itself is also divided, and the bus dropped us off in Dobrinja, the Serbian part of town. Word has it that the Serbs tried to re-establish Sarajevo here during the war, in effect creating a "new Sarajevo". The buildings here are not old, but they are tired. There's nothing much here, just drab houses and square concrete buildings telling the story of a place that had run out of money.
An ordinary house showing it's scars from the war.
It was hardly the greatest first impression of Sarajevo. Taxi drivers beckoned us into their run-down Ladas - after the events of Belgrade
, I didn't really trust them. In any case, we had no marka
so we needed a cash machine.
That's where Rex came in handy - the driver was willing to take Euros, of which Rex had a quantity. We agreed a price with the taxi driver and off we went.
The taxi was pretty worn down, opposed to its driver who seemed eager for conversation. At one point of the journey, all of our gazes turned to a girl walking down the street. The taxi driver smiled.
"Bosnian girls are the most beautiful girls", he beamed with pride. "You three young men" he said, "will enjoy yourselves in Sarajevo."
As is customary in Muslim households, we removed our shoes before entering the hostel and were given some ex-hotel slippers to walk around in. The owner of the place was friendly and helpful, if a little rushed while attending to his many guests. His mother removed our shoes and his wife recommended where we should go to eat. Residence Rooms was another one of those charming
The rebuilt parliament building perhaps bests symbolises the rebuilding and progress of the city since the war ended.
family-run hostels, catering for anyone as people of all ages shuffled around the building in their ex-hotel slippers. The hostel was also conveniently located in the middle of town, the main sights all a stone's throw away.
Walking around central Sarajevo, I found the place fascinating - a million miles away from what greeted us in Dobrinja. Bascarsija, the old Turkish quarter is delightful. The pedestrianised cobbled streets, the wooden Ottoman-style bazaars, the sweet smell of shisha pipes and the chatter of hundreds of people walking the streets really give this area an old and distinct Middle-Eastern flavour.
There is certainly a lot of history in this district - the Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque that dominates Bascarsija was built in 1531 along with the stone-house tombs alongside it. The unique stone-built Brusa Bezistan bazaar two blocks away was built in 1551. Sarajevo's main square - known as Pigeon Square due to the amount of winged rats that congregate in the area - is where the sebilj
resides, a fountain in the shape of a gazebo.
While walking through Bascarsija, we again bumped into Rex who like us, was seeing the sights. We invited him to walk with us and
The very cool pedestrian Turkish quarter and the historical centre of the city.
eventually join us for something I had been craving the minute I entered Bosnia - cevapi
Our meal for the night is cheap and delicious. For something so simple - mincemeat sausages served with flatbread, onions and a dollop of yoghurt - cevapi, the national dish, is simply divine.
We then stopped for a coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes that run along the main street to watch the er, world
go by. If there just so happened to be loads of pretty women walking by, then it's not our fault.
The guy serving coffee was quite possibly the scariest waiter I had ever encountered.
Tall and built like Dolph Lundgren, he took our orders with the minimum of words and with the coldest of stares. A man quite clearly in a hurry, he straightened all the chairs outside like a man on a mission, after dumping our 0.50€ espressos on the table without even the slightest hint of acknowledgement. I was scared to even ask him for the bill in case he decided to beat us all up.
It seems to be a tradition here for families and youngsters alike, to casually
Commemorating the sacrifices of WWII.
stroll up and down the main street, as we would repeatedly see the same people walking back and forth. I don't know what it is, but there is something oddly fascinating about people watching in a foreign country.
Although we were tired, a 14-bed dorm, the heat and music being pumped out by the pub downstairs didn't allow for the greatest night's sleep. My mood wasn't really helped by the fact that there were only 2 bathrooms and 4 toilets for an overloaded hostel. There must've been about 40 people staying there that night.
For many people, the name Sarajevo is synonymous with war and suffering. We followed the city’s tumultuous journey through time on our walk along the Miljacka River the next day.
With Ottoman Bascarsija on the east side of the city, Sarajevo ironically becomes more western as you move west, the buildings becoming more stately and European under Austro-Hungarian rule. At the Latin Bridge, the Austro-Hungarian influence ends, just like it did here one fateful day in 1914 when Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, providing the catalyst for World War I. Walking further west, we come to bullet hole-riddled ruins of a war much more
The main pedestrian street is rammed as the locals take their nightly walk along it.
The main road we walk down was dubbed "sniper alley", a wide expanse exposed to the Serbian snipers stationed in the surrounding hills. "Sniper Alley" then passes the famous, custard-yellow Holiday Inn, the only hotel to operate throughout the siege of Sarajevo and the place that housed all the foreign journalists covering the war and the horror. Almost directly opposite the Holiday Inn is the rebuilt parliament building, it's blue glass gleaming in the sun, standing proud and tall - perhaps the ultimate symbol of the rejuvenation of this intriguingly diverse city.
In contrast, the destination of our walk is housed in a run-down, 70s-style building. The history museum has a permanent exhibition depicting and chronicling the war, the Siege of Sarajevo and the events leading up to it. Among the exhibits are improvised weapons used against the Serb forces, news clippings of political developments during the war and a re-creation of an apartment kitchen in a damaged Sarajevo building that housed multiple families - giving you an idea of how ordinary people survived the siege. The most emotive exhibits were the graphic photographs captured during the war. A picture that sticks in my mind is one
Where Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914 and where World War I essentially started.
from the marketplace massacres, where Serbs forces shelled civilians in a crowded marketplace. The picture is of a male corpse, slumped over a metal railing, his upper torso completely blown apart. The overriding thought while viewing the pictures was how anyone could justify the brutal killing of innocent people. It really brought home the horror of what had happened in this very city, just over 15 years ago.
The museum also had another section that details the rest of the country's history before the war, right through from ancient times through to Ottoman rule and annexation to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Overall, a very interesting museum about a compellingly interesting country.
Walking back towards town past the war-stained buildings, an interesting question came to mind. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted for almost four years and I thought to myself that should I ever get caught up in such a situation, I would probably get the hell out of there. And although many did, many also stayed behind in Sarajevo and tried the best they could to get on with their lives and try and survive. Why? If someone tried to unlawfully and forcibly take away your livelihood, your home,
Improvised makeshift weapons used against the Serbs during the siege.
your identity - would you fight or flee? Why should someone think they have the right to take what is yours? That was what made me understand why so many people stayed in Sarajevo.
An English flatmate once asked me if I would die for my country, die for New Zealand. I told him that I probably wouldn't. He said he'd die for England without question. I then thought that if New Zealand was ever attacked, maybe then I might feel passionate enough about defending my country to fight. Posing the question to Gkee, he said it was a difficult question to answer - self-preservation or fighting for justice and righteousness? I guess you wouldn't know until you were put in the situation.
We decided to head to a canteen recommended by the hostel owner's wife, where they served traditional Bosnian fare for a reasonable price. There were all sorts of curry-like stews to choose from as well lots of different types of salads, almost all of them involving yoghurt in some way. It was an intruiging meal, hearty and satisfactory, but perhaps a bit on the salty side.
Back on the main street, we did more
The only hotel to continue operations throughout the Siege of Sarajevo, housing all of the journalists covering the siege.
people watching over a coffee. The coffee I had was the sweetest coffee I have ever had ever - it was almost undrinkable. Think of a black espresso layered with sweetened condensed milk and cherry syrup, topped with whipped cream. I'm sweet enough, thanks.
From our people watching, we deduced that Bosnia & Herzegovina were playing Qatar in a friendly football match that night as scores of locals headed past us towards the national stadium sporting the national team's shirt and draped in the national flag. The home team would go on to disappoint, drawing the game 1-1.
We on the other hand, were headed the opposite way up the hill towards the old citadel for some views across the city.
Passing the old town hall that was gutted during the war, we came across a large cemetery, built into a hill below one of the citadel's towers. Unlike Christian graveyards where graves are marked by crosses, Muslim graves are marked by mini-obelisks. They were all white which made the cemetery feel somewhat surreal - I had certainly never seen anything like this before. We then noticed something really eerie about this graveyard; all the people buried
here had died between 1992 and 1996 - the time of the war.
Atop the tower above the cemetery was a stunning view across the city. With a multitude of minarets poking up into the sky, you certainly wouldn't guess that this was a skyline of a European city. It was quite a romantic spot up there, as a few couples watched the blood-red sunset over Sarajevo.
As well as cevabzinicas
, there are also loads of buregdzinicas
serving fresh burek
. They all tended to be concentrated in an area east of Pigeon Square. They say that you haven't had burek until you've had a Bosnian burek and you certainly won't find me arguing with that - the ones we had were delicious. The burek in Bosnia is made in round spirals like a cinnamon bun, and Gkee's spinach and cheese one (called zeljanica
) was definitely the best burek I've ever had as it came fresh out of the oven, with the filo pastry crispy and slightly greasy. Yum.
We returned to the same area the next day for burek-fast
This time, we were at the buregdzinica across the street, recommended by the hostel owner's wife.
Located on a hill beneath a citadel tower, north-east of the city centre.
They had run out of the famous meat burek last night, so we were determined not to leave Sarajevo without trying one. Unlike last night, the meat burek we got was not made in spirals but rather more like spring rolls - but served with a healthy dollop of yoghurt, it was divine.
While finishing off our burek, we got talking to an old couple sitting next to us. They had heard us speaking English and asked us where we were from. I had thought that the man was an American from his accent, but as it turned out, he was actually a Bosnian who had been living in the US for a while. His wife was a Serb, and they were both teachers who had lived all over the world, including some time in the Phillipines and the US. Sounds like a pretty good life.
As we were about to leave, a young gypsy boy came up to our table asking for money. The old man gave him half a burek roll, and the boy took off without saying a word. Ungrateful git. How about a "thank you"?
"I'm OK with giving them food, but I
Sunset Over Sarajevo
From atop a citadel tower in the hills.
never give them money", said the man, "if they are really starving then they'll accept food - if they don't, then they're probably not poor enough to be begging." That's pretty good logic, I guess.
Before we bade them goodbye, the old man recommended to us an Egyptian ice cream shop - sounded pretty good, so it became our next destination.
The flavour list at the "Egypt" ice-creamery was pretty standard - chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, the usual suspects - apart from the Egyptian variations of the same flavours. In conclusion, I think that the Egyptian variations tasted as if they had just had malt added to the original flavour - nice, but not anything special.
Completely surrounded by hills, there was only one way in and out of Sarajevo during the siege - a man-made tunnel that went beneath the airport. As well as smuggling people, it was used to smuggle weapons and aid. They say that it was the tunnel that saved Sarajevo.
The tunnel museum is privately run by a family and located in an ordinary house on the outskirts of Sarajevo, right by the airport. Organised taxi vans drive tourists out to the
Delicious meat burek.
house from the Latin Bridge, the house completely riddled with bullet holes. After watching a short amateur documentary containing footage of the tunnel in use during the war, our tour group then got to walk through a 20-metre section of the tunnel that has been preserved. The tour guide - who lived through the siege - then talked us through some background and some of her personal experiences during the war, which was moving. Inside the house itself, were exhibits of the various things smuggled through the tunnel from weapons and camouflage uniforms to food items and contraband. There were also some very informative boards detailing the politics behind the war and just how the Bosnians managed to keep the Serbs out for four years. Although the Serbs had the city surrounded, they were outnumbered on the ground, which is why they were never able to get right into the city. Key to the internal resistance was the tunnel, which linked Sarajevo to the "free" Bosnian territory not controlled by the Serbs. The Serbs were not allowed to attack the airport, which was neutral thanks to an agreement between both sides and the UN, allowing the Bosnians to build the
The bullet-ridden house that is the Tunnel Museum.
tunnel in relative peace and secrecy.
After the tunnel tour, we were pretty stuffed. A short siesta was then followed by an agreement to go out and have some beers and dinner with an Australian guy and two English guys we had met at the hostel.
After a pint at the pub right next to the hostel we ended up eating at a restaurant called Galatasary - named after the famous football team in Turkey. It has all sorts of memorabilia and photos from the 80s adorning its walls - with all the photos picturing the same man. It just so happened that the owner of the place was none other than Bosnian striker Tarik Hodić, who plied his trade for Galatasaray in the 80s and was the league's top scorer in the 1983/84 season. He also just so happened to be sitting next to our table and we had a good old yarn about his professional career which also included a spell at Belgian club RFC de Liège. He was certainly proud of his achievements (and why not) and he liked us so much, he gave us free shots of rakija. Champion.
The guys were good
Walking through a preserved section of the tunnel. The tunnel itself was 960m long during the war.
conversation and we continued drinking beers at "City Pub" before heading back to the pub next to the hostel. Although tired, I was just about in the mood for a proper night out, so Gkee decided to join me in search of places to party in Sarajevo. "Zlatna Ribica" looked like a really cool Parsienne/Viennese antique bar/cafe, however we were looking for somewhere with a bit more action. "Club" was the next place on our hit list - I have to say that Sarajevans sure score high for originality when naming their establishments - and having found the place, it was completely empty on a Wednesday night. It was here that we abandoned our search and headed back to the hostel for some sleep. It was only reading up on "Club" later that I realised that there is actually a secret door to get into the basement, which is where all the action takes place. Damn. Oh well.
One thing noticeable in Sarajevo is that people were either fairly young or fairly old here. People that seemed to be our age were not high in number. My childhood and teenage years took place during the 90s, which lends to
Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque Fountain
Gazebo fountain inside the grounds of the Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque.
a credible theory that many of the people our age back then were either killed or displaced, with those having fled, not returning.
The war is simply an inescapable topic when talking or indeed blogging about Sarajevo, and I kept thinking to myself that 15 years ago I would never have thought I would ever end up coming here, but here I was. It just goes to show that the city is more than back on its feet and is striding proudly and confidently into the future. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite cities in the world, Berlin, after everything that happened there. In a macabre sort of way, it's almost as if what happened here has made the place the unique and intriguing place it is.
Sarajevo is definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been to - a fascinating fusion of east-meets-west, a harmonious clash of cultures, a skyline of minarets and church towers - I would recommend it to anyone.
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