Sarajevo city trip – part 1

(for more pictures, I direct you to my ON THE ROAD section)

THE CHOICE

A city trip to Sarajevo might not be the most obvious choice to make. That’s at least the response I got when saying where we went to recently. East Block Countries? The Balkan? Well, sure. Why not?

I had already gone to Croatia (Split, Dubrovnik), with a small stop in Bosnia & Herzegovina for a day trip to Mostar. I must say, that the day trip to Mostar was the highlight of our summer vacation last year.  Our experiences so far in the East have been nothing but interesting, fun and cultural surprises. If we could have, we would have gone to Sarajevo straight after Mostar, but time and means did not permit that. So it was obvious it would be on the list of things to visit for any other trip we’d plan.

Major popular cities for city trips, we had mostly done: Barcelona, Paris, Prague (beautiful fantastic city), Budapest, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Köln… and seeing we have tried several times to find a link between cities to combine them, but didn’t succeed so far, we jumped on the opportunity to go to Sarajevo when it now presented itself.

Sarajevo, is mostly known to the world as the city who was besieged from 1992 till 1995 in the most horrible way, as is in all war. A genocide to try to create the Great Serbia. So this city has suffered incredibly and it must not be forgotten what happened there. The entire city was practically shot to nothingness and unrecognisable.  Today, the city has been rebuild, but not without a lot of help. 15 years later, the wound is still fresh, and the marks are still visible. But I cannot tell you how beautiful this city is. Architecture that is diverse and beautiful. And people, so diverse and beautiful too.

THE TRIP ITSELF

Quick info on travel options

We went by plane via Ljubljana (Slovenia), which has beautiful snowy mountains!! Adria Airlines rule (refreshing after the

 low costs we usually use, and the price was do-able). I cannot say anything bad. We even got a snack on board. (Which to me is bliss!)

Arriving at Sarajevo Airport proved immediately difficult to find a way into town. We were warned on the internet that his might be the case. At the airport we were told to take the bus that leaves for the centre every hour, but as to where to take that bus… that was a bit dubious. It was said a trolley bus was a second best option, but a taxi seemed the most convenient. Again, we were warned on internet for the “Sarajevo Taxi” service, so we opted for the red taxi service, and that was a swift ride into town. Do check if they turn on the meter!!!

City centre reached

We stayed in a hostel near Stari Grad (Old Town), which is practically the centre of activity in Sarajevo. This made it practical to move through the city and get to the major sites there. And taking the tram, trolley bus or bus is very easy. But not necessary to see most things. You can buy tickets in any news stand (1.6KM = 0.80€). And even if you don’t speak Bosnian, they are friendly to help you out when you ask for a ticket.

Baščaršija: Stari Grad (Old Town)

Stari Grad takes you back to the Ottoman Sarajevo with its streets and small houses, but the stores are pretty commercial, with shops like jewellers, snacks, coffee houses, t-shirt stores… but the feel of walking through them is nice. It’s said this old part of the city was build round 1460 and reached its hight in the 16th century.

What is unique in Sarajevo is that you can find mosques, orthodox churches, catholic churches and a synagogue very near each other. At times you will hear the prayer coming from the minarets at the same time as the bells ringing in the churches. Where else is it possible to feel this co-existence between religions? And this has been the case in Sarajevo for centuries. Pretty impressive to me. No wonder they call it the European Jerusalem. And to me, that is a beautiful thing. To respect each other and leave each other to believe their believes. Especially now, after the siege, it is still possible. Makes me speechless.

What you can see in Stari Grad is a square also known as Pigeon Square (named for the obvious reason: a lot of pigeons) where you can find Sebilj. Sebilj is from the Arabic word for kiosk-like fountain, which it is. You can drink the water. All water in Sarajevo is ok to drink, and you will find fountains at every mosque. The Sebilj is also used as symbol of Old Sarajevo. It was designed by the Czech architect Alexander Vitek. And when you walk through the city, you will surely feel a lot of subtle references to Czech architecture. Especially if you have once been to Prague.

The hill side

Do take the time to not just limit your stay to the city centre, but go up the streets in the hills. Not only do you get a great view of the city from there, but you get a feel of the people living there. No, there are no shops, or bars, or restaurants. It are the streets the people live in. The locals. But I think it is important as well to get a feel of the everyday life of a city. Not to watch them like “guiney pigs in a cage”-view. Then you have the wrong approach. I just find it interesting to try to find the beat of a city. The rhythm of how life goes its way in day-to-day life. What I know from home, my city, is that everything is rushed. People stop practically for nothing, because they don’t have the time or interest (shame on me for generalizing, I know). But that is the beat of Brussels. As I presume it is in most major cities. I felt that too in Vienna. Which is maybe why I was less fond of it… it reminded me too much of a beat I knew.

On these hill sides, you cannot but see the many graveyards on the flanks of the hills around Sarajevo. The pristine white stones shine brightly on the mount when the sun hits them, and knowing what happened here, it does make you silent and reflecting on things in your life.

Walking through them, and seeing the dates… 1992… 1994… 1995… as you walk past them. It did make me angry and sad. I did not know these people. But it could have been me. You don’t chose where you are born. I could have easily been born there. Live there. Suffered there. Died there. Just as those who died there. They were innocent. They were killed for being there. Killed for living there. Killed for not being other than themselves. Killed for not being what others wanted them to be, to fit in that picture they were trying to make. To me that was a grounding moment. If that doesn’t put your feet back on the ground and think about mortality and humanity, then I pretty much don’t know what will.

To me, this city trip was not just a vacation to escape work and routine. Of course it was as well. But the fact of learning about something, even though horrible, was important to me as well. History doesn’t happen far from our beds. Not that far. And to see what human beings can put each other through, and how humanity pulls through to rebuild a city, is a powerful thing to experience. 

Let me get back to the trip before I go preaching again. 😉

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