|Life-size chess in a park.
October 5, 2007
I made a terrible mistake yesterday. It consisted of drinking three coffees. I lied in bed for hours…HOURS…with no luck. I
think it might have been 3:30am or 4am when I finally got some actual sleep. Only to be awoken by my alarm at 6:30am to
catch my train to Sarajevo…
I decided to open my handy Western Balkans Lonely Planet while on my train ride out here. And then it dawned on me. How
the hell am I going to get to Athens when I need to? Why did I not think of this sooner? Why did I think it would be so easy?
I realized I had two options: I could change my departure city for my India flight or I could find a cheap flight to Athens.
One of the first things on my agenda: Find a travel agency.
But that’s just boring stuff. Now onto Sarajevo…
This city is like a step (or four) back in time for being a ‘capital city’. It’s hard to believe this city held an Olympic Games. And I
mean this in the nicest possible way. The Ottoman architecture gives it more of a ‘town’ feeling than a city. Yet this is the
capital of Bosnia.
One site (or I should say many) that was not here back in 1984 when tourists most likely flocked here for the Games was the
number of grave sites spread throughout the city. In many situations I would consider it a bit morbid to wander around
cemeteries. But here it’s important. Virtually every death date ends in the years between 1992 and 1995. While in high school
it seemed geographically so far away – practically a different world – now I was looking directly at the impact and the death
toll. In fact, I’m high up on a mountaintop as I write this staring down at countless graves. Just a testament that the war of the
90’s will never ever be forgotten here…
I capped my night off in the old town at an adorably small restaurant. By the time I left, the city was filled with people heading
out for the night. This was when the ‘city’ feeling came out. It was difficult to walk down the street there were so many people.
But I managed.
And then I decided to get a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy watching the people of Sarajevo in the nighttime hours…
October 6, 2007
What was the first thing I saw today when I looked outside of the window during my shower? Rain. My first day of the stuff
during this trip. Shoot.
I guess it worked out well that I was intending to do the Tunnel Museum tour at 9am. Not exactly the best of days to walk and
And let me take this moment to voice how it’s important to take those good-weather days for granted. Yesterday I climbed the
hills of this city (and climb is a good word to use as this place gives San Francisco a run for its money) to see different views and
relax while sitting on rocks. I walked aimlessly around the old part of the city. I walked aimlessly around the new part of the
city (I lie – I wasn’t walking aimlessly – I was aiming directly for the café with the amazing looking pastries). Thankfully I did
these things yesterday as not only would it have been more difficult to climb the slippery hills today, there also wouldn’t have
been much of a view since everything seemed to be covered by fog.
Four of us had an adorable Bosnian driver and guide (for the life of me I wish I could remember his name…but I can’t…so I am
just going to refer to him as Joe in this journal) to the Tunnel Museum. On the drive out there, he gave us somewhat of a tour
of central Sarajevo. We drove down one street that housed a mosque, an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a synagogue.
How many places will a person find that? We also passed the National Library. This was the place where all of the archives of
the country were kept. This was also a target of the Serbians where in the course of two days, they destroyed over 2 million
pieces of literature. We were shown the Holiday Inn which was the only place in town where the reporters stayed. Joe showed
us pictures of the hotel during the war – shell marks all over the place. This would actually be the case for many of the
buildings on this main street that we were passing. Many have been renovated; others are still in need of desperate
renovations. A little bit down the road was known as ‘Sniper Alley’. The Serbians had closed in and this is where the front line
was in this part of Sarajevo. The airport was originally taken by the Serbs but then NATO intervened to bring humanitarian
aid to the area. The only way the Serbs would agree to this was if they received half of the aid. A deal was struck and now the
Serbs didn’t surround all of Sarajevo – just everything with the exception of the airport and three little towns nearby.
Talk about a blessing for the Sarajevo people. They would use these towns to their advantage and build a tunnel to the
mountains where they would be able to receive supplies and ammunition. Thankfully, the Serbs were never able to find this
The war began in 1992. It went on for years. Once America intervened, it only took a week or so for it to end – in 1995. Their
question is 'Why did America wait so long?'
We watched a video at the museum that began with about ten minutes of watching streets and buildings blow up into smoke
and/or fire. We watched missiles and grenades going off. We watched streets that were absolutely empty. Then the video
switched to scenes from the tunnel (which took a bit over two months to build the 800 meters). This tunnel was not used for
people to escape. It was used for transportation of supplies. Joe was not here during the war. His parents sent him in a children’
s convoy to Split, Croatia and then moved to Germany. He was reunited with his family in 1996 (he finished his schooling in
Germany before coming home).
Joe also told us a bit about the political system out here. There are three presidents (along with a whole slew of ministers and
premiers). One president is a Bosniak Muslim, another is a Catholic Croat and the other is an Orthodox Serb. They don’t all
work together; instead, they rotate every 8 months. Not much is able to get done with a system like this. Joe was a firm
advocate that this needed to be changed in order for his city and country to see changes. It dawned on me this evening that
maybe this is a big reason why government money isn’t really put towards things like the Tunnel Museum (a family is to thank
for opening this and bringing it to people’s awareness). As if a Serb would really agree to this…
Joe also told us a bit about the Jewish population out here. Sephardic Jews originally arrived here because of the Spanish
Inquisition. At the time of World War II, there were 10,000 Jews living in Sarajevo. After the Holocaust, only 2000 survived
(though my Lonely Planet said that only 10% survived). Afterwards, many moved to Israel and America leaving very few
here. And those ‘few’ are the older people. My guess is that in 20 years Judaism will be a thing of Sarajevo’s past. As Joe
pointed out, why would people move back to a city where the economy is so bad when they don’t have to?
In my group today were an American sister and brother – Lily and David. Lily is traveling for six months and her brother is
here for two weeks in the area to travel around with her. We ended up spending most of the afternoon hanging out. At on point
I showed David my hand as a testament to my clumsiness while telling them about the hike they should do in Dubrovnik.
David started inspecting my hand – and not in a ‘Eww, how disgusting’ kind of way. When Lily came out of the bathroom,
David called her over to have a look. She started asking me questions about the pain and whether I could make a fist, etc. This
was when I asked “Am I in the presence of medical care?” And sure enough I was! Both David and Lily are doctors. Turns out
that Lily just finished her residency and is doing this trip before getting a job (and David is an ears/nose/throat doctor). They
assured me that my hand seemed fine. This was good news.
After an oh-so-tasty burek lunch, we went to the Latin Bridge. This was the site where the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz
Ferdinand and his wife got assassinated by a Bosnian Serb which, in turn, ignited World War I.
We also passed things on the sidewalks known as ‘Sarajevo roses’. These are in random places where there were pockmarks
from where a mortar shell hit and are now filled with concrete and painted red. I only saw a few but I read that there are some
spots in the city where they are all over the place.
The end of our time together would take us to a pastry café. Shocker!
I have to say that I am still quite confused about this area. A lot of it stems from my needing to catch a bus from here to
Montenegro. When inquiring about this at the tourist office, they had a certain tone in their voice to say ‘You will need to go to
eastern Sarajevo. In the RS.’ But what is the RS? It turns out this is the Serbian part of the city (and much of the country is
RS, for that matter). Little ol’ me thought this country was only made up of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nope. Bosnia and
Herzegovina (Muslims and Croats) are basically grouped together as one part of the country and the Republika Srpska (or ‘RS’
– made up of Serbs) makes up the other part. I am sure locals are very clear when they move into the RS territory. But I am
still trying to figure out if there is going to be a difference that stands out to me. I guess I will find out tomorrow morning.
I had my final Sarajevo dinner at a great restaurant with an even greater waiter. He came by and chatted with me for a bit. He
even gave me some of their homemade fig ice cream along with my dessert. On my way out, he offered me an apple from their
fruit bowl to take home. I wasn’t shy. I took him up on his offer – nice bus-ride snack to have!
|At the river near the Latin Bridge.
|Copper shops galore in the old part of the city.