Hakuna Matata, Sarajevo

The Latin Bridge

The Latin Bridge

Sarajevo is….Sarajevo is…. Sarajevo is…something I can’t put my finger on.  A rich historical past  the city seems to have experienced everything;  more recently the Olympics in 1984, the Bosnian War from 1992-1995 and the economic crisis in 2009 which is still felt today and in other parts of Europe. Jobs are hard to come by and the the wages are aboot $300 Euro a month.  Some work, some just sit at cafes all day.  Everyone I talked to loves the city even though they may have to leave it at some point to find work.

For me to get to Sarajevo involved the now usual trek to get off the island of Mljet. Getting up at four AM and taking a fifty minute bus ride to the island’s port. Then while en route to Dubrovnik the catamaran ferry turned back because of a major storm on the mainland.  We were in the calm eye surrounded by the distant sounds of thunder and flashes of lightening. We had to wait three hours at port. The seas were rough and a few passengers had to use their “sick” bags while I pretended I was on a roller-coaster. Yippee! In Dubrovnik I ended up taking the three PM bus since I had missed the morning one. The bus was an hour late and I arrived in Sarajevo at ten PM that night so very tired.

Accommodations

Baščaršija

Baščaršija

I was originally looking for an apartment on AirBnb but it fell through since the host wanted to charge double the Euros from the posted fee on the AirBnb site. I refused and instead booked a room at Hostel Magaza. It’s a cozy four room, ten bed hostel right by Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazaar. The Sebilj, wooden fountain, is a one minute walk from the hostel. The owners are a younger brother and sister duo that share in managing the hostel. It is the first time the hostel was running post-tourist/summer season. They had a casual flow of guests which kept them busy at times. Since I was in Sarajevo for two and a half weeks I asked to stayed in my own private room. I was placed in their attic room that had two beds. I was able to use the other bed to lay out my clothes and travel kit. The hostel owners were award winning nice, the location was so perfect, the Bosnian coffee they made for me was so good that I overlooked the low sloping attic ceiling where I bumped and bruised my head a half dozen times and the general Fall coldness of the hostel that was designated as a heritage building (UNESCO);  though they had portable heaters which helped a lot. I would definitely stay there again.

The first few days I randomly walked around the city in order to get a feel of my new surroundings. The weather was much cooler in Sarajevo than on Mljet. It was the first time I had to put pants on. The first few days I did what I could to wear sandals to let it be known that a crazy Canadian was visiting. It also rained a couple days and it snowed a little too. Sometimes it felt like I was back in Canada.

Day and Nightlife

Kino Bosna

Kino Bosna

Since I  was staying in the city for an extended period I had to do laundry at the LaundroLounge. And it was there I met a writer from the USA and a photographer from Germany named Andy. They told me about a place called Kino Bosna that plays classic movies as well as Bosnian folk music on Monday nights. Kino Bosna was my first real taste of true Sarajevo night life. The drinks are cheap, the honey rakija tasted great, I drank my first beer in over six years (it was Serbian, ha ha) and everyone was singing along with the roving four-person  band that was going table to table throughout the night. The louder you sang the more they played for you at your table.

I met some great people  both local and international. The mix group included Bosnians as well as travelers from Turkey, France, the USA and Mexico. And I never thought I would get into an intense debate about the perceived shortfalls of the Canadian educational system, trying to remain focused while drinking my honey rakija.

My new German friend Andy was my unofficial Sarajevo pub guide. Our mixed group hanged out at many pubs which included Celtic Pub, Underground, Kino Bosna, Pussy Galore, Pink Houndini and a few others. Each pub has their own obvious certain style to it. And Pussy Galore is the only pride-friendly place where gays and lesbians can hang out in a city where homosexuality is taboo.

Everything is inexpensive. One Euro is two Bosnian Marks (BAM). The rakija is cheap at 1.5 to 3 marks. And you can eat well at many of the restaurants and fast food places. I found myself eating tasty burek, doner kebab, pizza and hamburgers often for only 2.5/3 Bosnian Marks. Though I did try out more traditional dishes on occasion. And the majority of the time was spent hanging out at cafes.

There are two sushi restaurants in Sarajevo. I didn’t go there to feed my addiction, only to feed my curiosity. I ate a California roll and there was nothing really special to it except for the particular use of mayonnaise.

Transportation

The ticket to ride the tram costs 1.8 marks directly from the operator or 1.6 marks from some newspaper booths scattered throughout the city at key tram stops. It’s an honour-based system where you have to self-stamp your ticket in a small machine installed on the trams. If you don’t and an inspector catches you as a fare cheat then you pay a fine of about 30 marks and even the police may be called. I didn’t use the tram often since everything was within walking distance from the hostel and I needed the exercise.

Dogs

Woman feeding stray dogs

Woman feeding stray dogs

There is a law that was passed where you can’t euthanize pets so many dogs were abandoned by their owners and have become often hungry strays. So if you’re a dog/animal lover watching them on the streets may be a saddening experience for you. Yet I was intrigued by their developed social circle. A few times instead of people watching I was dog watching. Traveling in mixed-breed packs they have their own hang out spots and they’ll either come to you for food or to be petted. Sometimes they walked right by ignoring us humans because they’re too busy with other matters. Other times they break out into spontaneous play.

Sightseeing

I checked many sites including the Latin Bridge which was the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated triggering the start of World War One.

The Sarajevo Tunnel (Tunnel of Hope) that was constructed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War to bring food and supplies into Sarajevo since they were cut off by Serbian forces.  The tunnel was the only connection to the outside world.

2012-10-24_14-55-32_HDRVrelo Bosne (Spring of Bosna) is a beautiful park at the West end of Sarajevo. It took a while to get there including a very long walk from the tram station yet it was worth it. There are many streams and waterfalls connected by bridges throughout the park. And the changing Fall colours made the scenery all the more breathtaking. I didn’t want to leave though the temperature was dropping and it was getting dark.

The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina which currently houses the collections from the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, including many pictures and letters made by children.

The Olympic stadium that hosted many athletes from around the world during the 1984 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, financial constraints and lack of maintenance has taken its toll on the stadiums. It’s currently being used as a sports and fitness facility.

Train station, Avaz Tower and tram stop.

Train station, Avaz Tower and tram stop.

The Avaz Twist Tower is the tallest tower in the city at 176 metres. On the 36th floor there is a nice café where you can sit and enjoy view of the city as well go up one more flight to the outdoor observation deck.

The City Hall was built in 1896 and is currently under construction from being bombed during the 1992-1995 war. Rumour has it at one point someone tried to pretend to own the building and sold it to a foreigner getting a small deposit first. Then when the foreigner went inside city staffers told him that the building wasn’t for sale.

There is skiing in Sarajevo and I’ve been toying in my head with the feasibility and logistics of going back there during an extended Winter weekend to hit the slopes.

Two and a half weeks went by quickly. The last night I went out to see a live band that is also a mini-traveling circus troupe. They’re are all from different countries: Italy, France, Ireland, Germany and Czech republic. I first met them days earlier at the Sebilj were they were performing in front of a crowd. They were originally part of a larger group that did more pre-booked children’s  performances and now they had gone to travel and perform on their own.

Spending time talking to a few locals offers mixed messages on what the future holds. One view is that once the NATO presence dissipates there could be increased tensions with Serbia due to unresolved conflicts. While the younger Bosnians want to move forward, leaving the past where it belongs, even mentioning that tourist venues such as the Tunnel of Hope and having “that” popular actress turned director making a movie about the Bosnian war doesn’t  help Bosnians progress. In addition, politicians seem to fan the embers of conflict in order to win votes. Though the Bosnian I befriended posted this (modified with rough online translation software) on his Facebook wall which may capture the true mindset of the people here:

“The fact is that “to be Bosnian” means to be without prejudice, free, tolerant and open, unencumbered by religion, because it is a private matter in expressing democratic, supranational, cosmopolitan spirit. Bosanac knows your past, thinks for herself, but is merciful, full of patience and often turns dull. And we like to make fun of ourselves. We love music and singing and we need no calamity, enough is enough! Bosanac still belongs to the state and its people wherever they may be. He knows he does not have to be in the category of “Bosniak” to be a Muslim, in the category “Serbs” to be Orthodox or in the category of “Croatian” to be Catholic. Therefore, a Bosnian cannot be “other” or minorities. Lie that those whose interests are not “Bosnian”. Only while the Bosnians and Bosnia will be!” by Zeljko.

(photos have been posted. photo descriptions will be entered in a few days)

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