It's hard not to be overwhelmed...

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Friday, August 4, 2006

The afternoon suns glints over my turkish delight. The man across the table from me thinks back to a man about my age with an expression part reflective, part bemused, part agony. He goes to speak several times but words fail. Is it his english or the fact that, perhaps, no words in any language can convey what he wishes to? In the end he speaks, simply. And perhaps I understand as much as I'll ever understand after his words "you can't understand".

The 43 month siege of Sarajevo by the Serbians has left a city grateful for its existence. It has added a further layer of intrigue; another factor of complexity; greater complication to my comprehension of this amazing cultural divide between east and west. Mosques, Catholic Catherdales, Orthodox churches and synagogues huddle together in the old town; lovely oriental cafes serving fantastic Bosnian coffee line the old town alleys; the pace is leisurely, as seems the city generally. But despite the rich cultural history of this city, the most enduring impression for me is the overwhleming feeling of recent war. It is not something sought out. It is there, every second: in the bullet scars of the buildings; in the numerous wounded but surviving passed in the street; in the countless cemetaries, including part of the former olympic stadium area, that look down on the city from the surrounding hills; the common place obliterated building; in your own mental vigilance to watch your step - land mines being a horrific and devastating reality. Seeing these things is, indeed, haunting. And if 4 days can haunt, what of 4 years?

Sarajevo changes your mind set. Something extraordinary happened here, and in this Bosnian war, and it seems, for some reason, to strike with so much more gravity due to the recentness of it - what was my primary concern in 1995? It is completely incomprehesible that then, here, 'ethnic cleansing' took place: thousands and thousands brutally murdered whilst refugees in UN safe areas; shells obliterating market places where people queued for bread; snipers ruthlessly taking down civilians as they sprinted across an intersection.

The Sarajevo history museum, the Tunnel Museum - which exhibits the solitary tunnel which was constructed as passage to the besieged city - and an excellent tour have helped me, at least factually, undersatnd what happened here. But so confronting and raw are these images and stories that my feable mind can't even begin to process what I've seen or heard.

Don't get the wrong impression - Sarajevo is not a doom and gloom city. The young beautiful people parade around the central hip area whilst the old men shout at each other, forcefully offering their view at the giant chess game. But for me, once the images and the ideas of this war entered my mind, they have been impossible to escape. And if you were wondering, I was generally at the giant chess game.

I think this visit to Sarajevo has been one of the most valuable experiences I've had on this trip. Some places change you, even just a little bit, forever.

So to the Top 5. Well, in this rather sombre entry, I didn't even get to talk about how surprised I was by the overwhemingly Muslim population here. An exciting consequence is in the food. No more constant Germanic or Italian foods. Yummy Turkish-influenced Islamic food. Brilliant. My diet is looking up. So, this Top 5 is concerned with culinary delights. The Top 5 things consumed in Sarajevo:

5. Awesome mushroom dip. You know - just like mushroom dip - but so so good.
4. Pistachio nuts. Cheap. And everyone knows how good Pistachio nuts are.
3. Cevapi - BBQ it up. Grilled Turkish bread with onions and BBQ spicy meat. Very meaty, but cheap and decent.
2. Burek - pastry with stuff inside. Choose from cheese, meat, potato, spinach or nothing at all. So cheap. So good. Beats Cevapi as local food of choice.
1. Bosnian Coffee - wicked. Strong shots of coffee served in small pourers on a silver plate with a side of water and - wait for it - turkish delight. Pretty much Turkish Coffee.

For a balanced view I head to Belgrade...
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