Friday, September 16, 2011
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sarajevo. My knowledge of the city was dominated by what I had learned in school during the war in the 1990′s, and I didn’t know many people that had traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had wanted to visit for a long time, and it fit well with my 90 under 30 Travel Project, so I was excited to go on a two-week trip to the Balkans and do some Sarajevo sightseeing to discover what the city had to offer.
What I found completely surpassed my non-existant expectations.
I landed at the airport on Wednesday afternoon and was picked up by the owner of my hotel, the Halvat Guest House. When we arrived at the accommodation, I discovered that it was right in the heart of the picturesque old town, which was called Bascarsija. The location was ideal.
My room was on the ground floor next to the reception. It was a good size for a single, and in addition to the bed it had a television, a desk, and a bathroom with a shower. There were plenty of maps and Sarajevo city guides in the room, and I helped myself to one before setting off to explore.
I started my afternoon of Sarajevo sightseeing at the center of the old town. There was a square there known as Pigeon Square because of its avian inhabitants. In the middle was the beautiful Sebilj fountain, which was modeled after one in Istanbul.
All around the square—and in fact, all around the old town—were mosques. Their minarets stood proudly above the tile rooftops and sounded the call to prayer at the appointed times.
But mosques weren’t the only religious buildings in Sarajevo. No, this was a city with centuries of multiculturalism—sometimes working more peacefully than others—under its skies. Near the square was a beautiful Orthodox church that dated back centuries. Across the street was a synagogue, and down the road was a stunning Catholic cathedral. It was amazing to see so many different kinds of houses of worship in one small area.
Another stunning part of Sarajevo was the water. The Miljacka River cut through the heart of the city and was spanned by many bridges. The most famous of these was the Latin Bridge where Archduke Frans Ferdinand was shot in 1914 at the start of World War I. It was a pretty amazing experience to walk across a structure that played such a pivotal role in 20th century history.
On the other side of the bridge were more majestic mosques and several green spaces filled with cafes. Speaking of cafes, the old town was full of them. Most of the streets in Bascarsija were conveniently pedestrianized, and the restaurants and cafes that lined them didn’t hesitate to fill the walkways with tables and chairs.
I enjoyed dinner al fresco at one such place, a corner restaurant called Cevabdzinica Special. There I enjoyed a classic Bosnian dish called cevapi, which consisted of minced beef and onions in flatbread with sour cream. It was amazing, and at 2 British pounds, very well priced.
I also had a strong Turkish coffee at Baghdad Cafe, an Arabian Nights-style spot in the heart of the old town. Afterwards I took a walk around the historic shopping markets, which were laden with metal goods, earrings, scarves, and all kinds of other wares.
When I needed a break from the bustle, I walked across the river and up a high hill. On it was a historic Muslim cemetery, its thin white tombstones resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. From there I had great views over the city.
Back down at my accommodation in Sarajevo, I slept through the night and woke up to enjoy a huge breakfast in the downstairs dining room. Afterwards I walked around the old town a bit more before hopping on a tram to get to the bus station. The next destination on my Balkans travels was Mostar, a pretty Bosnian town with another famous bridge.
As excited as I was to see more of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I couldn’t help but feel like doing more Sarajevo sightseeing. The city had won me over with its rich history, vibrant markets, unique mix of cultures and religions, and great food. Far from the war torn Sarajevo I remember from my studies, it was a city full of life, and I wanted to spend more time living in it.