A Day in Sarajevo

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May 13th 2013
Published: May 15th 2013
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We hadn’t intended to stay more than a night in Sarajevo as we had been to the city in 2009 and we thought we had seen all we had wanted to then.However, when we were looking at accommodation between here and our first stop in Montenegro there wasn’t a lot to choose from on the websites and what there was, was too expensive for the BBA V2.So we opted for another night in Sarajevo to break the journey.

As it turned out there were other things and places for us to see and do and basically fill the day in.

The weather was still grey and overcast this morning but at least there was no rain. We dressed for a daytime high of 10C which at home would have meant thick jerseys and hats if you were going outside.However,here.in the absence of any wind, there was no ‘chill ‘factor and we really didn’t notice the cold.

The bed in our cabin would have to rate as the most uncomfortable of the adventure so far. It was a ‘solid ‘divan type mattress with no springs and no give – just slightly more comfortable than sleeping on the floor. We were both pretty well stuffed last night that during sleep we didn’t notice it but when we woke there wasn’t any great reason to stay on that hard mattress.

The breakfast that comes with the accommodation price was however worth it and we enjoyed omelettes and toast that was sort of like fried bread but not heavy and very tasty. The coffee came hot and STRONG!

The campground was fairly empty of people except for a couple in a large converted army truck with Dutch number plates. The Aussies we met briefly last night had gone and so we didn’t expect anyone to be in the breakfast room .However, there was a hippy looking woman who asked us what unit we were in and she introduced herself as our neighbour in G1.Gretchen asked where she was from and how long she was staying. Permanent was the reply and she then went on in fairly good English to give us her life history to date. Her father was a Serb but her mother a Croat which had meant her life had been a mixed one in this turbulent part of the world and she had lived in various parts of Bosnia and Croatia and also in Germany where she married a German man and had a child. Her marriage had broken up and she had left her husband and 12year old in Mostar.It was an interesting conversation but we were pleased our breakfast arrived and she left us alone after that.

We had sussed out how to get to The Tunnel of Life from the camp ground and the man in the office gave road directions which appeared to fit in with Google maps. There is a small museum and exhibits from the days of the 4 year siege of the city by Serbian forces stationed on the hills surrounding the city, who kept the 200,000inhabitants within the confines of the city while they rained mortar bombs down on them and their houses and snipers picked people off when they ventured out into the streets. All of this while the UN did nothing. A bit like Syria is today!

The idea of a city of this size being under siege and not functioning in any shape or form for 4 years (the longest in modern history) is very hard for an outsider to understand and it is worth reading about what life was like to gain some appreciation of what the people endured as the 20th century was coming to an end.

Well, it turned out both the man on the front desk and the directional signs to the Tunnel of Life in the city led us on a merry dance. We arrived at where the museum should have been located only to find an abandoned house and a garage. So we drove out.

We thought perhaps the sign had been put up a little too early on the road and the museum might be a little further on so we drove down the road further but did not see anything indicating the museum was there.

We were keen to see the museum and experience the short ‘walk ‘you can take through what is left of the tunnel the locals had built under the airport runway so that food, medical etc etc supplies could be bought into the city under the guns of the Serbs, so we drove back into the area beside the garage.

A man from inside the garage was talking to what looked like other people in a car keen to experience the museum so we waited our turn to talk to him too.

He jabbered away to us in what sounded like German and we took from his conversation that the museum was no longer here (obvious!)but that he would get into his VW and take us the 6km to where it now was. The other car had left going the other way perhaps deciding to try and find the place themselves.

So we followed the toothless man in his beaten up VW and sure enough after travelling around the end of the airport to the other side of the runway we arrived at a building with bullet or shrapnel holes still in the plaster on the walls.

He had directed us into a car park and it soon became clear that the museum operation was a ‘neighbourly’affair.We went to give the toothless man BM5 (€2.50) for guiding us there but the man running the car park said that BM10 was the going rate for a’taxi’from where we had come from so we parted with a €5 note to him and BM2 to the car park man.

What did come out to be cheaper than the guidebooks had suggested was the entry fee and we paid only BM10 each (or €5) rather than €12 as the book suggested.

The ‘neighbourly ‘connection continued once we were in the backyard of the building as over a fence but with a counter set up was a neighbour selling fridge magnets, photos and other stuff relating to the siege.

We ventured down the 20 odd metre section of tunnel that still exists and got the feeling of claustrophobia that the people must have felt except they had about 2km of the tunnel to get through under the airport runway to either safety if they were being taken out of Sarajevo because of medical conditions they might have had or for those taking in food and other supplies.

The museum had a video playing of the times showing how people were snipered at while trying to get from one place to another and there was also a number of exhibits kept from those dreadful days for the people of the city.

We signed the visitor’s book with a meaningful statement about how man cannot dominate another by subjecting them to siege and war.

It was interesting to note that most of the 30 odd people there, mostly off a bus, were or appeared to be, Muslim and perhaps among them were some who had endured the 4 years of the siege.

We realised when we got back into the car and plugged in the campground address that we were in fact only 3km from the site of the museum and had we listened to the hippy woman this morning when she suggested we visit the museum and that it was only a ‘short ‘distance away we might have saved our escort fee! Never mind it was all worth it and a must for anyone visiting Sarajevo. If you don’t know anything about the siege because you may be too young to remember it, then read up about it before you come.

We left the car at the campground and took the light rail tram into the city and started a walk through the old Turkish part of the town which is essentially the ‘old city’.

We had missed finding The Latin Bridge, where Prince Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated

to effectively start WW1, on our last visit. But this time we had taken better note of which of the many bridges it was that cross the small river that runs through one of the city area.

There has been a bridge on the site for about 500 years and although the style of the bridge hasn’t changed for about 150 years it looked a bit different in photos from 1914 to what you see today.

It is always interesting to actually go to places in history like this and read and see what actually happened to change the course of history.

We took a walk up Logavina Street which is the one featured in a book I am reading about how families survived the siege and it was interesting to actually see some of the houses where people in the book lived and tried to make best of their lives.

The city is located in a valley that narrows the further up you travel and Logavina Street is near the end of the valley so that the hills on either sides are much closer and you could understand how it was so easy for the Serbs on the hills lobbing their mortar shells down or the snipers picking people off when they moved outside their homes.

It was cold enough today at 10C and this is spring time. Goodness knows what it must have been like in the six months of winter that the city has when snow covers the ground and how people survived if they could avoid the mortars and the snipers.

The UN and world leaders for so long were inept at trying to solve the problems but as Gretchen pointed out as we walked back down to the main street, there were no oil supplies at risk so what was the urgency!

As we continued on our way we called into an Serbian orthodox church built in 1539 although there is history of a church being on the same site prior to the present structure.It was interesting in design and quite different to the mostly catholic churches we have visited so far on this trip.There is also a Serbian orthodox cathedral in the middle of the city but it was closed.

We ended our walk taking in the building that featured in many photos of the siege, The Holiday Inn Hotel where the journalists that reported on the siege were ‘holed up’. Effectively the journalists too were under siege and if they tried to venture out without UN armoured car protection they too were picked off by Serb snipers on the hills.

What we did notice in the city as we walked around was that many of the partially destroyed building that were there 4 years ago have been demolished and there were new buildings going up which gives confidence for this city putting its past behind it. There were still bullet or shrapnel holes in the plaster of the buildings that were more exposed to the Serb forces but we guess that in time these two will be repaired to remove the last of the obvious signs of what happened here.

We returned back to the campground to rest after a day of quite a lot of walking and finished off the day with a tasty dinner of chicken legs and potato croquettes we bought while we were in the city. Thank goodness for the microwave to reheat our meals!

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


15th May 2013

Goodbye Sarajevo (the book)
I am wondering if this is the book you are reading Grahame? Goodbye Sarajevo-it even has a kiwi connection about 2 sisters and their life growing up during the war. The book was very descriptive of the area and seeing your photos made me realise just how accurate their descriptions were! They described what life was like in mid winter and it did sound very cold and miserable with no electricity for most of it and a limited wood supply or taking the risk of being hit by a sniper when out gathering firewood. The book also mentioned the secret passage under the airport so it was great to see the photos of that too!
16th May 2013

Gretchen has allowed me access to her kindle and I am becoming a fan of reading again.The book I have is Besieged: Life under Fire by Barbara Demick.She was a journalist posted to Sarajevo to report on the war but instead took an interest in the residents of Logavina Street and wrote about their lives under fire from the Serbs a kilometre away on the hill.Very interesting and well written.We have a sample of Goodbye Sarajevo to read and then I am sure we will buy for full consumption.The deal is when we are relaxing Gretchen has the laptop and I read the kindle and vice versa.Perhaps someone might buy me a kindle of my own one day.
15th May 2013

Green with envy
Your day in Sarajevo sounds amazing - I'm dead-envious. Go Mum, venturing into the tunnel! Dad, once you've finished your book, maybe check out 'Goodbye Sarajevo' by Akta Reid - I read it last year and it's really good...also about a Muslim family caught in Sarajevo during the siege.
16th May 2013

We hadn't planned to stay the extra day but we were glad we did as the tunnel was well worth it and it was interesting to walk up Logavina Street.I have the book on Ma's kindle so you will be able to read it at some stage.Might get the book you mentioned too.However not sure if you can see the comment above this from someone else.He obviously thinks my views are a bit one sided.Whatever!Whoever was to blame caused the general public to be held hostage for 4 miserable years.
15th May 2013

The Holiday Inn where the journalists were was near the front lines which actually ran through the city. The Muslims had their own forces and snipers and they were also involved in sniping civilians and UN personnel - this has been testified by the UN soldiers (who lived in Sarajevo during the entire war and were able to travel in and out as the UN controlled the airport). They also reported staged attacks by the government forces (Bosnian Muslims). The Serb held sections (which include suburbs in and around Sarajevo) ended up the most damaged at the end of the war. And the people were trapped because in the Bosnian Muslim government held area they were not allowed out. It was their policy to keep the civilians in. They had manned roadblocks at the very beginning. The so-called \"Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo\" the mixed young couple (a Bosniak woman and her Serbian fiancee) were killed when they were trying to leave Sarajevo for Serbia. They decided to leave because the Serbian man was being threatened and she decided to go with him. The were killed by a Bosnian Muslim assassination squad called Seve. Seve did kill civilians and Serbs were falsely blamed. 150,000 Serbs were purged from Sarajevo. It was a true multicultural city before the war with about 40% Serbs. But the Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic, was a radical Islamist falsely advertised and pushed as a moderate by the west. He is an ex-con who was jailed several times for violence against Serbs and seeking help from radical Islamic factions around the world for an independent Bosnia. He was jailed in the early 1980\'s for this - so years before Milosevic was in power. As a youth in WWII he was part of a pro-Nazi movement. He wrote a book in the early 1970\'s called \"Islamic Declarations\" and said that Islam could not exist properly in a state with other religions. Bosnian Muslim police were breaking into Sarajevo Serb homes and spraying them with gunfire as they ate lunch. They were breaking into their homes and beating them to death or taking them to camps and doing the same. Some Bosnian Muslim wartime records released in 1997 said that SCORES of Sarajevo Serb civilians were killed by Bosnian Muslim paramilitaries in the first few days of the war only. Also, Muslims did control some mountainous areas of Sarajevo. They controlled part of Mt. Igman, for example. Also Trebevic mountain \"above Sarajevo\": \"Another case of beheadings of Serbs is documented to have happened on Kazani, on Trebević mountain above Sarajevo. Mostly Serb civilians were killed by beheading, and later on thrown in the Kazani pit. These actions were performed by several soldiers of the 10th mountain brigade under the command of Mušan Topalović - Caco."
22nd May 2013

Great post Dad!
A really good post Dad....really interesting snapshot of the history and what the place is like today. But please, please dont start another international incident via the blog! :-)

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