3 Things That Make Sarajevo a Hidden Gem
I'm still reeling from the whirlwind of sensation Bosnia threw at me this summer. My initial exposure to this enchanting, loud, and beautiful place was first through news reports in my childhood (here), then recently, through a brother-in law from Sarajevo. While the painful scars of the war still remain (both in the artillery riddled concrete of apartment blocks and in the minds of the Bosnian people), love never left Sarajevo. I challenge you to find more gracious, warm hosts. Sarajevo has three (3) intertwined qualities that make it stand apart from anywhere you've been before:
Have you ever been to a city that immediately piques your curiosity about the maelstrom of its history?
How can a mosque, two churches (one Catholic and one Orthodox), and a Synagogue share the same block? How did the events of one fateful day on the Latin Bridge change the entire world forever? How could a city that hosted the Olympic games in 1984 then host Sarajevo Roses (pic with caption) less than 10 years later?
Sarajevo's history comes at you in a palatable, linear fashion. Tucked away in a valley, you can start walking from the East (in the Old City) and head west to travel through time as the architecture transforms around you. The Ottoman, then Austro-Hungarian, then Yugoslavian architecture stacks before you like layers of rock and silt in a canyon.
Apart from a few important details, you might confuse old-town Sarajevo for a small corner of Istanbul. Narrow cobble-stoned streets, full of people, food, and wares, twist in charming fashion around mosques, communal wells, and gathering places. You can really feel the history in this part of town, which makes it the epicenter for tourists. A stroll east along the river Miljaka is highly recommended as you'll get a chance to enjoy City Hall or hike up the hill toward the Yellow Bastion for wondrous views.
Tired of Turkey? No problem! Head a few hundred meters west and you'll soon be surrounded by the decadence of Austro-Hungarian churches, shops, and homes. The National Theater is a must-see; home to the red carpet for the Sarajevo Film Festival. If you make friends in Sarajevo, you'll quickly learn all about the Latin Bridge. This quaint, yet indomitable, bridge is the exact spot where Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, kicking off an end of imperialism and the beginning of the First World War.
Keep heading east (a few kilometers this time), and you'll see the handy work of Tito: the brutal and strong-handed leader who fended off the Nazis in WW2 and kept the Soviets at bay during the Communist era. These non-aesthetic, concrete structures soar high above their older counterparts. Here is where you begin to see the most sobering magnitude of seige warfare.
While many of the craters left by heavy artillery have been patched up, it's difficult to find a building that has no damage from the war. You will leave with you heart in your throat when you realize that the heaviest damage was to 40 story apartment blocks full of families. While still hanging on to a Communist-style flair and the wounds of war, you'll also see plenty of modern buildings including football stadiums, malls, Audi dealerships, McDonald’s, etc. (everything a good consumer could want right?).
If your Grandmother is anything like mine, she consistently treats you like a starving castaway who has recently returned home: "You must be hungry!" pressures Ellen (My Memaw.)
Bosnian's will break their backs to make sure you have a good time the best way they know how: copious amounts of meat, bread, cheese, beer, and of course…cigarettes. They’re always in a hurry to relax and, for them, it only counts whilst surrounded by friends, family, and the outdoors. Here are a few tips and trick to help you assimilate:
Depending on your outlook on life, here are a few options to raise a toast:
“Živjeli” (or Ž for short), literally translates to "live a long life" or just “cheers”. Best said with gusto and zeal to show you mean it,
“Jebi ga!” (my personal favorite) is a crass “cheers” which translates to "F*CK IT”.
Burek - Imagine if Cinnabon had a meat lovers option using filo dough. This tasty, swirly, meat-filled pastry is a staple for Bosnians and offers a quick dining option for those on the go. While potato, spinach, and cheese are available, best to stick with what Bosnians do best: lamb.
Kefir - Need that probiotic punch to the gut to tackle all the meat you've ingested? Look no further than this thin drinkable yogurt stuff. [pic]
Kafka - It seems that most in the Balkans prefer to chew their coffee. I think half the fun here are the little trays, pots and spoons used to serve this unfiltered staple. [pic]
Sogan Dolma - if you don’t try this, you truly missed a gem. A small onion stuffed with meat, soaked in a tomato base jus was my absolute favorite. [pic]
Salep - If you have a heroin-like addiction to Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you may be able to enjoy this gooey, sugary treat. Marketed as "tea," this gloppy concoction is far from what you'd expect. Tasty but extremely rich.
Sarjavusko - Good. Cheap.Beer.
Sarajevo Film Festival
Nothing quite incapsulates the spirit of Sarajevo like the Film festival that is their name sake. Started during the war, John Cleese had this say about the festival: "What a wonderful statement of what one can do when you can do nothing…” Know for its casual style, you can walk the red carpet nonchalantly with super stars without all the pomp and circumstance of Hollywood. We had the privilege to see 4 international films with stars ranging from super stars like Penelope Cruz and that guy as regional celebrities like. You have the option to get gussied up on the red-carpet or enjoy the show in lingers in one of the many outdoor screening locations.
Without Family, the history and culture of this place would leave it only as remarkable as any other European or middle eastern country. A day spent in the hills outside Sarajevo will hammer home how important family really is to Bosnians. With plenty of room to roam, you'll se family after family setting up picnics and lighting fires. A day filled with laughter, stories, check-ins from cousins and in-laws and friends really make you feel home despite language barriers. Cozy is the best way I can describe this place and it's people. Talk to any Bosnian and they will tell you about how they all love to worry. My favorite phrase to emphasize the point was "don’t happy, be worry" Maybe this anxiety comes from living in a city at the crossroads and cross-hairs of history but I think the explanation is simple: The best (and only) way to get a Bosnian to relax, is to surround them with their friends, family and of course…food.
As always, our goal here at Travel Silly is to inspire you to get out of your hometown, county state country etc.. Sarajevo offers you a beautiful look at many cultures at vastly cheaper rates than the rest of Europe. So save your pennies and reward yourself with a visit to one of the friendliest cities/countries there are!.
Sogan DolmaImg Courtesy of: Fanny Schertzer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Salep image courtesoy of: E4024 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons