Sarajevo … surrounded

My first evening in Sarajevo, I took AK’s walking tour. An enlightening five-hour walk through the city, learning about it’s history from Ottoman rule to today. There were times where tears filled my eyes as he spoke of the war, the mortars, the Sarajevo roses that fill the holes were people were killed and serve as a memorial to the lives lost. AK, barely out of his teens, told his stories with the words of someone well beyond his years, with soul … with pain … with passion.

The next day, four people I had met from the tour and I decided to continue to explore the history of Sarajevo. We hopped on a tram, and then a bus, to the Tunnel museum.

During the war, Sarajevo was essentially cut off from supplies. Serbs controlled nearly all of the city, sans the airport, which was operated by the UN. On the other side of the runway was freedom. Sarajevo soldiers, in an attempt to get supplies, dug a tunnel under the runway. It was dangerous. The tunnel carried wires to provide energy and often times the narrow and low-ceilinged route was flooded.

The four of us first watched two videos in the museum, one showing soldiers haul supplies and people through the tunnel, and the other a collage of images during the war. Buildings being hit with mortars. The National Library with Sarajevo’s history in books, being burned. A woman shielding her baby in her arms as she ran to escape sniper fire. It all was gruesome. And real.

Then, we walked through the tunnel portion that was open and out into a field of grass outside the home which housed the underground path.

A clear view of the airport. The runway.

I looked around. Everywhere I turned were reminders of the fighting 20 years earlier — homes riddled with bullet holes and schrapnel scars from mortar attacks.

After the tunnel, we went to the History Museum, a building which still also bares the scars from the war. Upstairs there are two exhibits — one of the history of Sarajevo and one that shows the brutality via photos of the war – “Sarajevo Surrounded.”

The images were horrid. Bodies with intestines coming out. Letters and pictures from children depicting their living situations. Everything I saw brought to life the words AK had spoken the night before.

To lighten the day, we decided to go and see “Inception” that evening at a local theater.

A few of us, along with AK, headed to the theater ($4 USD for a Friday night screening) to decompress.

After, we went out to Cheers — yes, there is a Cheers in Sarajevo — where we sipped Sarajevsko and listened to the haunting voice of a local as she sang along to house music.

The next day, I finally worked towards solving my lack of music problem. I hauled it to an Apple store and ordered an iTouch.

“It could take five days to get here,” said the girl at the counter.

Five days in Sarajevo.

I looked outside at the water. At the pockmarked buildings. At the sun shining.

I can do five days here.

“No problem,” I said, smiling.

Then, I walked into the gorgeous Sarajevo afternoon.

Blog Bosnia/Hercegovina

The City of Roses

iPod. iPod. iPod.  Music. Music. Music.

The four hour bus ride from Budva to Sarajevo left me sitting in my seat longing for music. The thought of listening to music consumed me as we weaved through the mountain roads, crossing the border and eventually ending up 12 km outside of Sarajevo proper.

I sat in the bus, laptop propped in the seat next to me, headphones on, as I tried to satiate my craving for tunes by plugging in to my computer and listening to the music I hadn’t deleted (accidentally, in Goreme) weeks earlier.

The bus stopped and I continued to stay seated, looking out the window at the small town around me.

There was no one left on the bus.

What the hell?

This couldn’t be Sarajevo. We seemed to be in a small town, not a pulsing city.

I looked outside. My ugly brown backpack that I had come to love was placed outside of the bus, alone on the ground.

Oh my God. Sarajevo?

I quickly threw my laptop in my bag and jumped off the empty bus.

“Sarajevo?” I asked the bus driver.

He nodded his head.

I thought back to the directions Hostel SA had given to get to them — there were two bus stop options, one in town and one outside of town. But this …?

OK.

I stepped of the bus, suited up in my travel gear and looked around.
I saw no bus stop to take me into the city. In fact, I saw little of anything.

Budget, screw you.

Along one road were a row of cabs and I walked up and grabbed one.

My driver was fantastic. He spoke English with me the entire drive to my hostel, explaining where we were, what I was looking at … the best cab driver I had the pleasure of being with since my arrival to Brasov so many months earlier (what now seemed like an entire lifetime).

He dropped me at SA and I entered into the guesthouse, taking off my shoes and piling them with the rest on the floor at the bottom of the steep stairs.

I met AK, who’s family owns SA, first. He walked me upstairs, showed me around and then informed me of a tour he offers nightly.

I had stayed at SA for a reason — the tour. It had rave reviews on Hostel World. I had been tight with my money, skipping out on most tourist things, but in Bosnia, with a history that fascinated me as much as it hurt my heart, money was not deal-breaker.

In fact, I spent more money in Bosnia and Hercegovina than I did in any other countries up to that point. It was my pleasure to spend money there, to give back to the country that so warmly welcomed me, that showed off its war wounds with its head held high, with its residents smiling kindly and eager to speak with me.

Sarajevo, within minutes, had won my heart.

Blog Bosnia/Hercegovina