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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Sarajevo Night, Bosnia
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 4,498,976 Area: 51,129 sq km Gov't: Emerging Federal Democratic Republic Religion: 40% Muslim, 31% Orthodox, 15% Roman Catholic View Map
Sarajevo, Bosnia, November 1, 2003  

Bosnian Flag BOSNIA


October 30. DUBROVNIK - SARAJEVO  We made our way to the bus station to catch the 8:00am bus to Sarajevo.  We weren't sure what to expect from our visit to Bosnia but it felt like it was time to be getting on with our journey.  Originally traveling across Bosnia and Serbia had deterred us from making plans to visit Croatia but updated information gave us confidence that we would be fine.  On the bus we ran into Luke, a fellow traveler from the Begovic Boarding House, a 19 year old Australian-Brit on his "gap year".  A handful of other tourists were in the back of the bus as well.  

Traveling up the Croatian coast requires you to make skip through a sliver of Bosnia where nobody even bothers to look at your passport but the bus stops for duty-free shopping.  To get to Sarajevo you must take the highway back into Croatia and travel further north to a proper Bosnian border check point.  The skip into Bosnia happened early in our bus ride and we took a good half hour break.  Not interested in any duty free shopping we just stayed on the bus.  Not very far beyond the duty-free zone we hit the formal passport check into Bosnia.  That lasted about 20 minutes and then the bus immediately pulled over at a restaurant for an early lunch break.  The driver sat on the patio of the non-descript restaurant and leisurely ate his meal.  He said it would be a 20 minutes stop but we were there for a good 45 minutes or more.  Nobody else got off to eat.  It was probably one of those tactics to get people to spend money where the driver got a kick back but as we hadn't stopped near any kind of exchange bureau none of the tourists had any money.  We were only back on the road for a couple of more hours before we stopped again!  It was another restaurant, a more established tourist targeted place with a lamb roasting on a spit out front and linen table cloths on the tables.  Again our driver got off and ate while the rest of us watched.  I eventually got off to use the toilet and chatted with Luke.  When we started the bus ride we had all wondered why estimates for travel to Sarajevo were up to 7 hours, not such a great distance .  We were already about five hours into our ride and about as much of the time had been spent sitting at driving!   After the driver finally got off his bum and go going again it took about another hour and a half to reach Sarajevo.  It had taken about six and a half hours.  If the stop and go factor hadn't been annoying enough we had all been sickened by a gooey couple that spent most of the ride slobbering all over each other.  Luke had prime seating right behind them and had been thoroughly disgusted.  She was an American woman and the man was of unidentifiable nationality.  He couldn't keep his paws off her but if the ride had gone on any longer one of us might have helped him use some restraint.   

The frustrating bus schedule aside the scenery on the way to Sarajevo was both shocking and awesome.  For the first while past the border it looked like a war zone with bombed homes dotted everywhere.  The town of Mostar was especially shocking.  Clearly divided between Catholic Croatians and Bosnian Muslims the city was a grim reflection of the recent war.  We were in the Hercegovina region of Bosnia-Hercegovina where more Croatians were concentrated.  The war between the Serbs and Bosnian Muslims and the Serbs and Croatians had been the worst but at times the Bosnians Muslims and Croatians had also fought.  We considered stopping to see the old Turkish town and nearby Dervish monastery but decided we didn't have enough time.  We did pass a small Turkish style village with stone houses built up on a steep slope around a small mosque.  It was very picturesque tucked up on the hill with green landscape and fall colored trees and it was a real contrast to the marble made cities of Croatia that we had just left.  It wasn't raining but it was blustery weather and strong winds continually picked up the leaves and sent them swirling upwards, also picking up the occasional piece of trash.  The river was gushing powerfully but the roots of the trees that clung along the river banks were covered in all sort of trash, caught up like the trees were straining the water of its pollution.  The mixture of impressions was confusing.  Fascinating architecture with gorgeous natural scenery, scared with war torn buildings and copious amounts of trash.  From one second to the next I either was loving it or was appalled by it.

When we rolled into the outskirts of Sarajevo I fell into the appalled mode.  Not only were there numerous bombed buildings but the ugly Soviet-style towers that remained looked liked they need to be destroyed.  The bus station was on the outside of town and up to that point I hadn't really seen anything about the city that I liked.  Sado had given us the name of a place to stay and said he'd call her and have her meet us at the station but we found no one.  Luke had made a reservation at a hostel in town so we hooked up with him and caught a taxi downtown to the Turisticka Agencija Ljubjana.  A young man named Sunny was at the desk.  It turned out that they didn't have so much a hostel but a network of houses that they rented by the bed or room.  Uncertain of that set up we popped out and checked at a place down the street.  The guy there was a jerk and when we told them he was charging more than we wanted to pay he told us he didn't need us anyway.  That was fine, we didn't need him either.  Sunny had made us a fair offer and he set us up at the same place Luke would be staying.

Our initial impressions of Sarajevo weren't very good so we were thinking that one night would be enough and we would move into to Belgrade the next day.  A tall man dressed in military fatigues and an earring in one ear came to take us to our rooms.  Normally a car would have taken us but it was otherwise occupied.  The place was a healthy walk up a hill to the south of downtown.  My knee was wobbly so the tall man motioned that he would carry my pack up the hill.  It was nice of him.  He didn't speak English and instead of trying to talk to us in Bosnian he used more sign language.  His calm demeanor softened his imposing image.  At the top of the road, just beneath the highway, he let us into the first floor apartment of a small building.  Two dogs were sleeping in an enclosed pen out front and the new door on the building still needed glass panes installed but it was a good neighborhood and we were happy with our accommodation.  It turned out that we were all in one apartment with our own bathroom and a TV.  Rob and I had beds in the living room and Luke had a bed in a small room off to the side.     

Dropping our packs we turned right around and walked back down into the town center to find something to eat.  At the river, that separated our part of Sarajevo with the down town, we were encountered the damaged facade of the beautiful Austro-Hungarian National Library, still being repaired as a gift from Austria.  Our first stop in town was at a bank to cash some traveler's checks.  Stocked with some money we meandered the old town streets in search of food.  We settled on a burek restaurant that had a steady stream of customers.  It was Ramadan so any place that had local customers during the day was probably good since most of the city was fasting.  Burek is a pie made of thin layered pastry and one of several fillings - meat, cheese, or spinach.  Sold by weight it was a cheap meal and really tasty, if not too healthy. 

The old town of Sarajevo, called Bascarsija, was a compact area of cobblestone streets with Turkish architecture, mostly white buildings with dark wooden trim and red tiled roofs.  A pair of large mosques dominated the roofline.  A small square populated with pigeons had neat rows of tables and chairs where people were seated drinking Bosnian (Turkish-style) coffee.  There were still visible scars on many buildings around town but the feeling of peaceful and spiritual life in the old Turkish quarter gave Sarajevo a more inviting feel.

We stopped back by the tourist office, just across from the square, to visit Sunny.  He was promoting a tour that he did on "Peace and Tolerance in Sarajevo" and had a whole list of accolades from other travelers.  We inquired about the next tour and he admitted that he hoped to do on on Friday but he had some of his own things to attend to and he was just plain exhausted.  It was nearly one week into Ramadan and for a avid smoker and coffee drinker the abstinence was taking its toll on Sunny.  The sun had gone down so he had some Bosnian coffee brought over from a nearby cafe and showed us how to briskly stir the thick drink before pouring it over a sugar cube into the tiny cups and sipping away while we nibbled the Turkish delight. We sat and talked with him for a good while.   Sunny was a very interesting man.  A law student he had this job to earn money and in the six or so months that he had been there he had established their "hostel" network and initiated his tour of Sarajevo.  The financial benefits of his work had gone entirely to the owner of the tourist agency.  We encouraged him to think of his own business, seeming to have such a good mind for it, but he said it wasn't that easy in Bosnia.

Sunny designed his tour of Sarajevo to give people a better understand of what the people of the city had endured for four long years under siege by the Serbs.  They were painful memories for him to recall and he admitted that the tours were sometimes difficult for him.  On one occasion he felt himself just completely shut down mid-tour, overwhelmed by the emotional pressure.  He is very committed to his country and when he spoke of an offer from an American girlfriend to move to Boston he said he saw no future for himself in America.  At least in Bosnia he could help improve things and make a difference.  Not all of his friends were of the same mind set and some questioned why he spent so many hours at work.   With so much despair for so long there are people that don't know how to mobilize themselves and move forward.  Bosnia needs the Sunnys to stay there and provide some momentum, as opposed to being a taxi driver in the United States, the best he expected he could do if he ended up there.  He hoped for better tour opportunities with English tour companies and the LP people had already been to talk with him about the guidebook.  It is hard to imagine that someone with so much gumption couldn't make a success of himself, even in post-war Sarajevo.

Sunny told us he would do his tour on Saturday and that cemented our stay in Sarajevo for a few nights.  As we stepped out on top the street we saw a Sarajevo that had come to life.  After sunset the mosques had made the call to prayer and after making their visit to the mosque the people were out eating and socializing.  The headscarves worn by Muslim women in many other places wasn't common in Sarajevo, except at the mosque.  In fact dress was not too different from elsewhere in Europe. We were able to observe people in the courtyard of one mosque through a window in the fence.  A fountain for washing was near the entrance and two overhangs flanked either side of the door.  On the left the women were praying and on the right were the men.  I was so crowded they were all standing shoulder to shoulder to fit in the prayer area.

In search of some new reading material we found a book store.  They sold a map call the Sarajevo Survival Map, an almost cartoon-like map with information on where to go and not go in Sarajevo during war times, showing the boundary of Serbian forces that entirely encompassed the city, making the people prisoners in their own city, and the stretch of road in the center of the city called "Sniper Alley".  Only the airport had been "neutral", under UN control to bring in food supplies.  But, the Bosnians found a way to interact with the outside world through a tunnel they dug under the runway, a stop we would visit on Sunny's tour.  Also sold at the store was a Sarajevo Survival Guide, a book that covered all of the tactics of survival while the city was under siege.  It was heart breaking and gruesome with some shocking photos as well as practical details, like how they made mayonnaise without any eggs:   

  • Mayonnaise with No Eggs: 1 soup spoon of milk powder, 4 spoons of flour, 1 dcl of oil, 0.5 dcl of water, 1 small spoon of lemon juice. Mix milk, flour and water , and cook until it becomes thick.  Let it cool, and then gradually add oil, and seasonings --- if you can find them. Keep it in a cool place, before serving.

It was a peculiar item to see being sold but provided some unique insight into a life that I could never imagine.  Even more peculiar were the carved bomb shells that were being sold everywhere.  Metalwork is a craft of the Bosnians and some had turned that craft into a way of decorating the encasings.  Some people thought it was morbid, which I can understand, but I came to see it as a way of creating something pretty out of something awful, diffusing the wicked intent of the bomb by turning it into something else.  Besides, they could sell them and if any money should be extracted from that war it is the people who suffered through it.  That may seem like they are trading on their misfortune but times are hard for the people in Sarajevo.   

We stopped at an Irish Pub (every city had one) and reflected on our day.  Strictly speaking Muslims are not supposed to drink but that rule appears to be a bit flexible in Bosnia.  Walking back to our house the city lights were accented by the lovely lights on the dozens of minarets that adorned the mosques.  In just a day our feelings toward Sarajevo had made a complete turn around and we looked forward to learning more about this fascinating place. 

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24