Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Visiting Sarajevo affected me in a way that I had not yet experienced on our trip. I’d mentioned in my recap of our time in Berlin how the effects of World War 2 and the fall of the Iron Curtain were still being felt in Berlin today…but it was different. In Berlin, you don’t walk down the street and see shrapnel damage on every second building. In Sarajevo, you do. In Berlin, you don’t walk down the street and see civilians nursing noticeable war injuries. In Sarajevo, you do. In Berlin, there’s no danger of stumbling across a stray landmine if you go wandering in the nearby mountains. In Sarajevo, there is.
The Bosnian conflicts of the early to mid 1990s are still very raw and you can feel the effects of it all around you, no matter where you go in the city of Sarajevo. The Bosnian government are finding it more difficult to rebuild their country at the pace of the other Balkan countries – money is scarce, unemployment is high, and they don’t have the beautiful of a coastline to draw in tourists for revenue the way that neighbouring Croatia can. Yet, there is much of appeal for a more discerning international traveller in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia – if you know what to look for.
If you’re a food lover, Sarajevo has a wealth of food culture to offer. The cevapi is widely acknowledged to be some of the best in the Balkans – cheap takeaway cevapi here is better than expensive sit-down cevapi in a fancy restaurant elsewhere. They have dozens of ascinicas scattered around the city – little cosy restaurants offering home-style cooking with recipes passed down the generations, guarded carefully and never written down and shared. Cafes are plentiful – coffee is strong, there are many tea varieties, and they love their desserts from Turkish-style baklava to Western cream cakes.
If you enjoy the mix of East and West – Sarajevo is one of the most diverse places we visited on our journey with an eclectic mix of Eastern Turkish cuisine and culture (more than 80% of the population are Muslim), and Western cuisine and culture with a liberal approach to their religion. While there’s still the multiple calls to prayer every day ringing out from the mosques scattered around the city, the volume is muted in comparison to Turkey. Hijabs are worn less commonly. Our free walking tour guide told us that it wasn’t unusual for his Muslim friends to go to mosque, then go out for beer and burek afterwards. Religion is an important part of people’s spiritual lives, but Bosnians have modernised their approach and adapted their religion to modern life.
If you love nature – less than half an hour outside of Sarajevo, you can find yourself in the mystical beauty of Vrelo Bosne, the start of the River Bosna. You get there by taking the tram to the end of the line, then walking three kilometres down a quiet road that’s lined with impossibly tall trees the whole way. You start to move away from civilisation – houses become further and further apart, until there’s nothing but farmland, then nothing at all. You’re in the shadow of the mountain and in thick fog as you walk into the parklands, through meandering paths, over wooden bridges, beside crystal-clear waters. Pack a lunch and linger in the parklands for a day. Enjoy the serenity.
If you’re compassionate and you want to learn – the memorial to those Bosnian Muslims who died in the Srebenica genocide during the Balkan conflicts is one of the most important places you have to visit. It only happened twenty years ago – fifty years after the world said “never again” after the horrors of the Holocaust. We humans have a lot to learn. The memorial, and the Museum of Bosnia & Herzegovina can help you learn about the atrocities that happened in the country. It’s confronting, emotional, and you will be drained by the end…but it’s important.
I feel there’s a lot more that the city can offer that we didn’t even get close to experiencing. A local we met told us to do an overnight stay in a small town 30kms away, so we could explore some of the winter ski slopes in the area. We didn’t get to that – but I’d like to visit that area next time, if not for winter ski slopes then for summer hiking trails. I loved our stay in Sarajevo, and would go back in a heartbeat.