Sipping Sarajevskos in Sarajevo

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Sweet Days
What I did
Bosnian Historical Museum

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a landlocked country, but that doesn't mean that it has nothing to offer the visitor. The drive from Mostar to Sarajevo had shown us how rich in spectacular scenery the country was. We were treated to views of gorgeous green mountains rising up from the banks of wide, winding rivers punctuated by deep ravines and canyons that came out of nowhere and stretched on for a seeming eternity.
Our goal was to spend two nights in Sarajevo before returning to Croatia and hitting the beach for the last part of our trip. We hadn't made any arrangements for accommodation in Sarajevo, but hoped that we'd be able to find a place to stay near the old Turkish bazaar (Turkish Baščaršija), so made our way there via tram after leaving the bus station. We liked the first place we looked at -- apart from the fact that it was in the basement of a building and didn't have any windows. It was a good price, but it was so dark that we decided we should look around before committing. We wandered around the streets near the bazaar, but weren't able to find anything that was both nice and cheap, so returned to the basement room and agreed on a price of 30 euros per night. 

It was after 7:00pm already, meaning we had very little daylight left, so we immediately dropped our packs, grabbed our cameras, and hit the street. We chose to hike up into the hills from which we could see the city and appreciate the sunset. It was a lovely view, but the sun was fading fast, so we continued our walk and headed in the direction of an impressive looking church. It was, of course, closed, but right across the street was a very cool building that we realized was the Sarajevsko brewery and beer hall -- sometimes fate just pushes you in the right direction....

We ambled into the beer hall, settled down at a table, and ordered a few of the brewery's draft beers (they had a selection and none of the beers were Efes!). The beer was delicious, but, alas, they didn't serve any veggie food (not even the requisite pizza and pasta we had come to know so very well in the Balkans), so it was back onto the cold streets for us! And cold they were! When we'd first arrived in Sarajevo, it had been tank top and shorts weather, but by the time we left the beer hall, the temperature had dropped to about 14C/60F. 

Sarajevo is nestled in a valley in the Dinaric Alps and sits at an elevation of 518m/1,699ft. This is why, even though it was just the beginning of September, there was a dramatic difference between day and night temperatures in the city. We traded our summer clothes for long sleeves and jeans, then took our first wander in the direction of the Turkish bazaar. We spent ages looking for a restaurant offering veggie dishes that weren't just pizza, finally locating a vegetarian restaurant -- score! It was expensive, but the idea of fresh, veggie fare was too tempting to pass up. Unfortunately, we sat and waited for over 20 minutes and no one emerged to greet us or take our order. I tried to find a waiter or waitress, but came up empty handed, so we begrudgingly returned to the street and ended up eating at a meh pizza joint in the bazaar. It had been another tiring day in a string of tiring days, so it was no surprise that I was basically asleep before my head even hit the pillow around 10:30pm. 

As they say, early to bed, early to rise: I was up before 7:30am and keen to squeeze as much in during the day as possible. We planned to take the night bus to Split, so had to fit everything we wanted to do in Sarajevo into one day -- a tall order. 

After packing our bags so that we'd be ready for check out, we strolled through the now quiet and deserted bazaar, then bought day passes for the tram. Our first goal was the Bosnian Historical Museum, located out near the bus station. We failed to get off at the right stop and ended up wasting at least a good half an hour trying to get back to that spot.
 Sarajevo is considered by many to be a perfect example of the phrase "East meets West". It's described as being a perfect blend of Ottoman, Byzantine, Roman, Venetian, and Austro-Hungarian cultures, combined with bits and pieces from Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish cultures. I imagine this is largely due to the city's history, starting with its rise and growth under Ottoman rule (14th-19th centuries), through to the late 1800s/early 1900s when the Austro-Hungarians took control, and further shaped by its time in the Yugoslavian state. The influence from these different cultures is obvious throughout the city, from the minarets to the church towers, from the European tram to the Turkish bazaar. 

The city was burnt to the ground by the Austrian army in 1697, then rebuilt with a large, fortified citadel by the Ottomans. In the early to mid-1990s, the city was brought to the brink of oblivion again when it was essentially shelled non-stop by the Bosnian Serbs between April 5, 1992 and February 29, 1996 -- a siege which was the longest any capital city has endured in the history of modern warfare (3x longer than Stalingrad, and 1 year longer than Leningrad). Snipers, under order from Ratko Mladic, sat on rooftops and in windows shooting on a continuous basis, killing 10,500 Sarajevans and wounding 50,000 of them. Their only escape was through an 800m long, 1m wide tunnel to the airport. 

It was for this reason that we traveled out past the historic Holiday Inn to see the Bosnian Historical Museum (which has sadly closed since, due to lack of funding). The museum housed artifacts, poems, stories, and countless photos from this horrifying period, and is a must for any tourist who craves a better understanding of the city's history. Needless to say it was a moving exhibit, and did indeed give us a glimpse of the terror the city was subjected to for those four, seemingly unending years. 

It seemed a strange contrast to leave the museum and walk out into the sunshine of another beautiful day in the Balkans. The museum was at the top of our list, and once we'd crossed it off, we didn't have any major priorities for the rest of the day. Since our load was light and the weather was warm, we decided to meander back towards the city center slowly, taking in the sights as we went along. Our walk took us past a cathedral where we hoped to see one of the last "Sarajevo roses": craters in the concrete caused by mortar shells, later filled in with red resin. The city used to be covered in them, but they have repaired most of the streets and there are only a handful left about town. We couldn't find the rose our guidebook claimed was there, and assume that it, too, must have been paved over.

We then crossed the Milijacka River to look at the Latin Bridge, and the cement footsteps marking the spot where Gavrilo Pricip became responsible for "the shot heard 'round the world," killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and (believed by many) starting World War I. Our wanderings continued on both sides of the river and up into the hills, allowing us to see a different side of the lovely city of Sarajevo. 

As the sun began its descent, we knew our time in Sarajevo was drawing to a close. We stopped back at our room and collected our bags, then enjoyed some fine Lebanese food before returning to the bus station. We were going to need the sustenance to get us through the very, very, very long night ahead as we boarded an overnight bus bound for Split in Croatia.
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