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Published: June 17th 2017
As we got to the bus station and saw all the rusty buses, we thought that it was going to be a very long 2,5h trip... There was one flashier looking bus in the middle of it all and we thought that surely we couldn't be that lucky to get that one? It turned out that yes we were! And soon after we were on our way to Sarajevo. And what a beautiful road that was! As soon as we left Mostar, we started driving through a very scenic river canyon. I wish I could say more about that journey but as soon as Millie fell asleep in my arms, so did I... We woke up half way and the views didn't disappoint from there on either. Driving in between the rocky hills, with some snowy peaks visible further away, really beautiful... and so peaceful... and yet only a bit over 20 years ago this whole country was in the middle of a horrifying war... Whenever we passed cemeteries it made me wonder whether most of the graves would date to 1993-95 again...
As we were getting closer to Sarajevo, it suddenly started getting very cloudy or rather misty all
around and the peaks were no longer visible... Soon after we realised that this misty effect was caused by smoke actually! So much pollution! Heating up the houses for the winter perhaps? Couldn’t be only that as it was really smoky around... As we were driving through the streets of Sarajevo we noticed big residential areas with lots and lots of apartment blocks all around... I couldn't help but think that the city looked as if it got stuck in the 80ties... grey apartment blocks, actually it all looked pretty grey, maybe it was the smoke that was adding to the effect? Then I thought how unfair and insensitive my thoughts were, after all the country didn't really have a chance to go through the 90ties the same way as the other European countries did... The main focus of the next decade was to rebuild whatever was destroyed during the war... whatever could be restored...
Once we got off at the bus station we were picked up by a guy from our apartment and got there in no time at all... The building we were staying at surely had seen better days, but apartment was nice, clean and spacious,
and close to the Old Town!, so we were happy with our choice.
We dropped the bags and went searching for... food of course. To be honest I really wasn't looking forward to the searching part at all as I already had all the smoky places in mind... Once we got to the Old Town we spotted a sign for a restaurant with Bosnian specialities, pointing to some alley... Looked slightly dodgy but was actually really nice inside and it even had its own non-smoking section! And it actually didn't smell in the non-smoking section of cigarettes at all! Great! The food was also fantastic, think the best we've had in Bosnia so far - I got a gulas and Grant got Sarajevski sahar (a mix of stuffed peppers, onions, zucchini, meatballs, gulas and some dumplings). Really tasty! I was also surprised about my tea, ordered a tea, not really asking for a particular flavour and got a nettle tea! That was a first! In a restaurant of course, not first time drinking it - herbal teas in Poland are a remedy for everything, so I drank my fair share of nettle tea when I was a kid already.
After dinner, we walked for a while around the Old Town. I really liked it – it was as if we were teleported to Turkey for a moment again... It started getting really cold as soon as the sun disappeared behind the horizon so we had to cut our walk short and headed back to the apartment.
Another tough night... Since 2am until 5am hardly any sleep at all as Millie just couldn't stop rolling around... Quite a late start to the day then! By the time we left the house it was after 10 already and we had to walk around for almost another hour as Millie, even though she was really tired, was refusing to take her morning nap... At last we were able to stop somewhere and have a bite to eat, I was starving! Two chicken soups would do for now...
We came slightly unprepared and therefore no plan on what to see and do for the day... We were hoping to bump into one of the tourist info points to get some ideas and so we did... There were two in the Old Town and yet both were closed. We thought of going
to one of the war museums next to the Cathedral of the Most Holy Heart of Jesus (think this might be the longest name of the church I came across so far), but one of them had too many videos (not great with Millie) and the other one simply looked a bit strange - door shut and you had to ring the bell? It looked as if you were supposed to call into somebody’s apartment... Instead we just did a bigger loop around the Old Town and later on headed for a walk through Ambassador's Way, mostly to enjoy the sunny weather and let Millie walk a bit...
Eventually we did find a tourist info that was open (right next to the Cathedral with the long name) and more or less sorted out the following day. The guy there offered us two tours – one free walking tour of the Old Town and the other ‘Sarajevo under the siege’. Both sounded pretty good, now we were getting somewhere... He asked where we were from and when Grant said we lived in Australia, with slight apprehension he asked, yes but where are you from? Wasn't sure where that was going
but when Grant said he was from New Zealand, the guy jumped in the air and started doing haka, the very beginning of it at least... He looked as if Grant just made his day if not the whole month! Next moment he showed Grant a little doll with NZ flag - hardcore NZ fan it would seem... Really nice guy and as it turned out he was going to be our tour guide for the next day.
Later on we did a few more loops around the Old Town, checked out the Latin Bridge, the famous bridge, where the World War I had started - can you believe it was over a century ago already? We were going to get some serious history lessons the following day, so just decided to head to the apartment earlier that day, besides I was really feeling the lack of sleep anyway... Also the pollution was really getting to us! I could not only smell it but feel it at the back of my throat as well! It was definitely time to call it a day.
Before we headed to the apartment we needed to get some food of course -
we went to the same restaurant as the day before, not only because they had the non-smoking area there, but also because most of the places around only seemed to serve everything fried! My stomach gave me a few warnings not to even come close to anything fried so I it was only wise to follow that advice... Once we got to the restaurant, we went straight to the non-smoking section, only one other table was occupied - 4 formally dressed men were just finishing their meal. As they were leaving, Millie of course started waving to them, so one of them started a conversation with us - as it turned out he was a Turkish ambassador, who arrived to Sarajevo only recently and was exploring it as well... Our dinner just got a bit more fancy! Once again we had two absolutely delicious meals. The owner/cook/waiter came over to ask if we enjoyed the food, no English really but we communicated pretty well, so well in fact that before we left he offered Grant (me as well, but I politely declined) a shot of slivovica. We were basically a family now! Really lovely restaurant!
The following day we
were all ready to learn more about the city, two tours ready! We wandered around the Old Town trying to find a place for breakfast, but we didn’t have much luck – mostly because of me this time as I simply couldn’t find the right place... one was too smoky, the other too crowded, the smell of burning meat in the next one simply bothered my nostrils too much... What can I say? I just really wanted some scrambled eggs! 😊 No luck in finding that unfortunately so in the end we just headed to the bakery and picked up a few snacks from there.
We met our guide Enes and our group in front of the church with the long name. Despite the low season and cold temperatures we still had quite a few people in our group – a big family of Croats, two Polish girls, one Argentinean and a Spanish guy, Australian girl and us of course. Two Polish girls actually were living at that time in Bucharest, Romania which I found to be very interesting, unfortunately I failed to learn more about it as they were simply more interested in chatting to the Spanish speaking
boys rather than a fellow comrade. 😉 Our guide, as we already knew from the day before, had quite a lot of charisma and what we found out straight away as well, was not afraid to speak his mind either. He was openly criticising his country’s government but I guess it’s hard not to criticise it since this 3,5mln people country apparently has 3 presidents (each of different religion), 14 governments and 192 parties, not to mention the 40percent unemployment... To compare it against the current situation, he praised the times of Josip Broz ‘Tito’ and underlined numerous times what a great leader he was – after all he managed to unite all the ethnic groups and implemented free health care and education. And he was the only leader in front of whom they were laying red carpets not only in the East but in the Western world as well. Some people just need to have their heroes... I say good for Enes to be able to look up to someone like that. Many may argue his points but he was simply voicing his opinions. He said that due to the current economical and political situation in his
country, many young educated Bosnians were choosing to leave the country as there simply was no future for them there. He did emphasise that without a doubt it would’ve been an easier option for him also, but he loved his country and therefore refused to choose the easy way out as he called it, but instead decided to share his knowledge about it hence the tour guide job. Fair enough! And good luck I guess!
Next we wandered around the Old Town. Sarajevo as we found out is sometimes called ‘the Jerusalem of Europe’ as people of 4 different religions live here side by side. Only in the Old Town within 500 metres of each other you can find a mosque, a Jewish synagogue, a Catholic church and an Orthodox church. We walked by and heard a few anecdotes about each one of them – the one that got stuck in my head the most was a story about the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque (the big mosque) which was built in 1532. Apparently the construction of the mosque was only going to be possible if another building was built there first – a public toilet! So already in 1530 the
first public toilet was built in the city! And it actually is still functional nowadays... Enes quickly pointed out that this toilet was actually 250 years older than Australia or New Zealand as we know them today.
We also came by the corner where the World War I started or rather where the assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place which triggered the start of the war. Enes re-enacted the whole assassination for us so we could get a clear picture of how it really happened. After that we wandered around the Old Town learning more about the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian times, as well as Sarajevo’s recent tragic history and the tour came to an end.
It turned out that Enes was going to be our guide for the second tour as well, so after lunch we met up with him again, jumped in the car and drove up to our first stop. Our group was rather small this time as it consisted only of us, our guide and the driver. Private tour! First we headed outside of the city to see the Tunnel of Hope, the tunnel that was dug up beneath the airport runway to enable people
to bring supplies into the city. During the 90-ties war Sarajevo was under siege for 1,425 days and people were trapped inside the city with scarce supplies of food and water and no electricity. They also faced constant artillery strikes – over 300 shells hitting the city daily... The tunnel was the only way to get in and out of the city. The entrance to the tunnel was kept hidden inside one of the houses. Now the house serves as a museum where you are able to watch a movie about the siege and the role of the tunnel during that siege. You can also walk through a small part of the tunnel.
After that we headed up to the Trebević Olympic mountain to see the bobsleigh track that was built especially for the 1984 Winter Olympics. We were actually able to walk through it. The track now left totally to nature is apparently quite popular with many extreme adrenaline junkies – bikes, skate boards, whatever works! I had mixed thoughts about this track to be honest – yes, it sure does look pretty funky now with all the graffiti and slightly taken over by nature, but on the
Lots of funky bars around...
Think you can safely say they don't really like UN around here
other hand it’s such a waste of money to build a gigantic structure like that for it to serve one event only! Funnily enough we met the Polish and Spanish speaking group from our free walking tour on the track. It turned out that they walked all the way up there thinking that it was going to take them half an hour or so – I think Enes forgot to tell them it was only half an hour away by car, not walking... Oops! They were hungry and tired so Enes suggested squeezing them into our van and dropping them off in town. How could we say no? 😉 After we dropped them off we headed to the Jewish cemetery for our final stop. Enes pointed out a few more locations throughout the town which were heavily attacked during the siege and shared a few more stories about that horrific time. A few stories from his childhood as well as he was just a kid when all this was happening... And that was it for the day.
Doing two tours in one day turned out to be a bit much as we were quite tired by the end of
the second one, still we were happy we decided to do them both as we found out a lot about the city and the country as well. And that was it for Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Seeing we have been here only a week, we can’t really say we got to know the country inside out but I think we got a decent picture of what the life is like around here. And one thing seems to be certain – a lot still needs to be done here to improve the living standards. Having 3 presidents, 14 governments and 192 parties sums it all up really... Country is still too divided to move forward. I do hope that the near future will bring some improvements though. As the country sure has a lot to offer – I loved that blend of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian features you could spot all around in Sarajevo. For now we were heading back to Croatia once again. Next stop, its capital: Zagreb!
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