When people ask me what city I went to in Europe that was MOST unique, or my favorite, I usually bring up war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia. I have mentioned it in other posts as somewhere with so much not-so-ancient history and an overflow of culture. I one day plan to go back. I couldn’t soak in as much culture as I wish I had, because I was already soaked up and filled with beer on that backpacking trip. Regardless, Sarajevo is not subtle; it slaps you right in the face the moment you arrive. Sarajevo: my very first culture shock.
After the many shockingly awesome places I’ve been now, I don’t think Sarajevo would have slapped me so hard. But I had been backpacking Western Europe, and hadn’t seen such different ways of living, nor had I even seen a city so clearly devastated by war. Sometimes called the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” up until recently it was the only European city that had a Jewish synagogue, Catholic Church, a mosque, and an orthodox church in the same neighborhood. It was awesome to see! There’s no comparison of learning in a classroom compared to seeing it firsthand. Firsthand you remember the facts because they scare you. They stick with you forever.
I know you all love a good history lesson, so here goes a mini one from someone definitely not at all qualified to teach you:
After Yugoslavia was broken up, these monsters had a great idea to make a nation called “great Serbia”; they were Bosnian Serbs, Croatian Serbs, and Serbia. Then they decided on top of this, they would ethnically cleanse out the Muslims. This is called genocide. To do so, they put a siege on Sarajevo, the capital, and didn’t give them any way to import food or water. It was is the longest siege that’s happened in modern warfare. It lasted 4 years. They killed Muslims, shelled towns, and sadly, the war is known as having a mass amount of rapes (50,000). 200,000 people died. 2.2 million people were displaced. NATO eventually intervened and a peace agreement was signed (the Dayton agreement, signed in Dayton, Ohio).
Now, the town is bustling with people and tourism has never been better
Was it as big as the genocides you learned a lot about in school: the Holocaust, or the massacres in Cambodia and Rwanda? No, but it devastated and destroyed a proud and beautiful country. Being such an atrocity it must have happened ages ago, right? It was in 1991 (the siege started in 1992). Maybe all you’ve ever heard of it is reading in Star Magazine about Angelina Jolie Directing a movie about the rapes during the war, called “In the Land of Blood and Honey”.
According to the Bosnians I spoke to, America is at fault because Bill Clinton knew and “did nothing because we have no oil”, but in actuality although there was an embargo from the UN on arms, the US secretly used black routes to get arms to the Bosnian Muslims throughout the war. It is scary to think that it was clear in the media at the time that ethnic cleansing was occurring, yet it took so long for it to be stopped. These things literally happening right now. The Bosnians I met were mostly nice, but I did have a tour guide act extremely rude to me because of my American Nationality.
cemeteries blanketed so much of the land.
In 1991, the Bosnian Serb leader had said,
“In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
Hopefully this isn’t too much of a history lesson, but it was such a shock to learn. During the massacres, each side had help from other countries. The Serbs had help from Neo-Nazis from Western Europe, and Europen Christians; the Greeks even raised a flag after one massacre. The Muslims had help from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah (wow!). The Serbs had “concentration camps” they kept and tortured their Bosnian Prisoners in. 12,000 kids died. The photos were shocking.
in memoriam of the children lost.
Bottom line: it was horrible.
I was not only shocked by what I saw (the destruction) but in awe of all the hardened people I met who had lived through it. It’s hard to believe something like that can happen in Europe after the Holocaust! Interestingly, some buildings were still destroyed; the Bosnians want to rebuild exact to the original and they are doing it slowly as the money rolls in.
What To DO In Sarajevo
Walking through the city now isn’t all sad and gloomy. At Pidgeon Square, kids play in the fountain and old men play life-size chess (this is a can’t miss). The restaurants are spectacular and the shops sell unique handicrafts. The market is full of honey, tin and copper, Bosnian/Turkish coffee dishes, and cute bohemian dresses and shawls. I bought a tin coffee set and coffee grinder for 40 Euro. Décor is stunning; with lanterns and beautiful “Arabian nights” look to the skinny alleyways. There are calls to prayer throughout the day, a sound that is so beautiful.
Pidgeon square & cute old men playing chess… it was serious business.
Markets full of local honey, and alleyway stalls selling tin & copper
It’s a place that refills you with hope and makes you appreciate everything around you. Although it has a rough history, it’s booming and full of people. Now they have the tallest skyscraper in the Balkans! Tourism in increasing and hostels are readily available. They even have their own beer: “Sarajevo”. Other than enjoying the cute town and Vrelo Bosne Park, you can walk across Latin Bridge, where Franz Ferdinand was killed, give back by paying 12 Euro to see the “tunnel tour” of passages used to get food and weapons in during the siege; the Kolar Family kept this a perfect secret, hike through the hill and rivers, or go in the winter and ski!
Largest skyscraper in the Balkans & the tunnel that saved lives during the war
The BEST BEST BEST part about Sarajevo:
- CEVAPI (cevapcici)! Oh. My. Gosh. It’s my favorite food now. It sounds gross; but it’s a pita filled with sausage fingers, some cheese that looks like feta, and raw onions.
- Bosnian Coffee. It’s so strong, I can’t drink it alone. It comes with a little chewy candy to drop in, and lots sugar cubes.
- The hostel we shifted to after the “hostel” we stayed at the first night. All wooden like a tree house, cool common room, 12 people to a room, free breakfast and wifi. This is where we met Jay and Brian, who we traveled with for a little while after to a music festival in Serbia, and to Budapest. They were cool bros.
- The shots come in these awesome potion bottles, and the bars are really fun! We even danced to techno at a club.
The WORST WORST WORST part about Sarajevo:
- This hostel we stayed at our first night: 21 people, 1 bathroom, 1 gross communal kitchen, and many stray cats in my bed.
- The shots in the awesome potion bottles taste like tequila and poison mixed with gasoline and a dash of 151. Don’t order “quince”.
- Don’t order pizza, it’s like ketchup on a pita.
- The money is worth about half a pound, so when you order a beer for 2.80 mark, don’t expect change– they say it’s worthless. Except it can buy fruit, etc. That was a bit annoying.
- Make sure to pay in Marks, not Euro because they will always round up, like most countries do.
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