Zdravo from Sarajevo.. prounounced SARA-YAY-VO… i kept sayingit was SARA-HEV-O with a Spanish accent for the longest time… i can’t say it’s the most beautiful city I’ve been to on my trip, but its definitely one of those most interesting and nicest surprises thus far. I meant to stay for 2 nights and I'm on day 4 right now... The city has delightful Ottoman-era centre which evolves into neo-Moorish Austro-Hungarian architecture as you go farther into the new city.. and then turns into ugly communist buildings... it's surrounded by the mountains. the However, most people know it for two main reasons, both which are associated with war.
A century ago, a gun-shot fired on the street corner beside Sarajevo’s Latin Bridge killed Franz Ferdinand. That’s the Austro-Hungaran Crown Prince. His death proved the fuse that ignited WWI.
The other conflict, Bosnia’s messy 1990s civil war, finished 20 years ago. You can see clear evidence of the siege all over the city. There’s not enough money to renovate most of the buildings, so there tons of shrapnel scars visible on the buildings. During 1992-1995 there was an average of 300 bomb drops a day, resulting in over 427,000+ bombs dropped within the 1,425 day siege, the longest in modern day warfare. There are red splotches scattered throughout the city sidewalks to mark an area where blood was shed… it’s known as the Sarajevo rose. The city is still in mourning and coping to return to some sense of normalcy, which is perhaps why i’ve found it so extremely comforting to be here as I’m mourning my own personal tragedy. It seems like the place is giving me the space and another outlet to be sad, though I will also say I’ve had a wonderful time here and met some great people.
I coincidentally arrived to Bosnia on the day they were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. They were burying 100 newly found remains alongside the remains of the 6,000 other identified massacre victims.
For those who don’t know, back in July of 95, over 8,000, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica were slaughtered in a mass genocide. Despite being declared a safe area under UN protection, the 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers did not prevent the town's capture and the subsequent massacre. The killing was perpetrated by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) backed by the Yugoslavian National army, who wanted to create a “Greater Serbia.” The predominantly Bosniak region around Srebrenica had a primary strategic importance to Serbs, as without it there would be no "Greaters Serbia." They thus proceeded with the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks. The Secretary-General of the United Nations described the mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.
As visiting Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic tried to join other politicians paying respects at the Srebrenica graveyard during the 20th anniversary, people tossed rocks and bottles at him. The scene came days after Russia, a Serbia ally, vetoed a U.N. Security Council measure that would have labeled the massacre as genocide. There is a fantastic photo exhibition in sarajevo, entitled 11/7/95 gallery.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was pretty unaware of the history of the Balkans before this trip—I’m ashamed to admit that I probably couldn’t have even named the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia. Other than knowing a bit about Kosovo and the name Slobodan Milosevic, my knowledge about the region was very sparse. Being here has taught me loads, though I’ve only just scratched the surface. History is still being played out.
Anywhose, enough with the sad stuff.. let’s talk about the fun stuff I did here!!
I met a few fabulous folks from the hostel: Jackie, Catherine, Tamara, Sebastian, Barry and Kyle, and we all woke up and did a free walking tour around Sarajevo and then grabbed some delicious lunch, which included a savory pastry stuffed with feta and spinach.. basically flaky deliciousness. I’ve been eating a ton of good food here like stuffed peppers, baked apples stuff with walnuts, and yummy soups, as well as drinking amazing coffee,… apparently Bosnians are one of the largest consumers of coffee.. who knew?
We went to the old, abandoned Olympic bobsled park in the late afternoon, which was one of the places the Bosnian Serbs controlled during the siege of the city. They used it as a place to set up snipers and terrorize the citizens of the city. We got a little lost getting up to the top of the track, and I got a tad bit nervous since there are still some land mines in unmarked areas. And since I mixed up my timeline, I at first thought the Olympics was before the siege, so I was like.. they would have totally cleared out the landmines for the tourists. Then I realized the Olympics (1984) took place BEFORE the civil war (1992), so we got a little nervous but everything was fine. The track itself was rundown and dilapidated. It was filled with graffiti which made it the ideal location for a photo shoot. We hung around there for about an hour and a half, before heading back down to our hostel for a tiny break before going up to the Yellow Fortress to watch the sunset.
Since its Ramadan, there were hundreds of happy people gathered there, eagerly anticipating the loud shot from the cannon, which signals that to the people that they can break their fast. There was an incredibly electrifying energy lingering in the air with tons of families and friends enjoying each other’s company. One of the family’s waiting there gave me and the rest of the girls dates to eat since that’s traditionally what they consume to break fast. Despite being told that the cannon was going to go off at any moment, I screamed bloody murder and scared everyone around me, which soon turned into loud laughter. We met up with the rest of the guys in our group, drank a bit (+ more) and ended up spending the rest of the night out at a few bars by our hostel.
The next morning, Tamara and I went to the Tunnel of Hope. The tunnel was constructed between May 1992 and November 1995, during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel allowed food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and people to get out. The tunnel became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry. It was small but really interesting to visit. We took public transport which cost about 4Euros in total, compared to a 40Euro tour (love when i save $$!!!) I was pretty pooped at this point, so I went back to the hostel to chill out. I also decided to extend my stay an additional night (which I had previously done the night before) to stay and watch a soccer match.
The soccer match was a lot of fun. There was a huge riot the night before (hooligans) so I was a bit apprehensive about going, but it turned out to be real fun... and safe. There were loads of officers surrounding us the whole time... seriously more police in our section than fans. It was fun though. unfortunately bosnia lost :(
Still had a great time though.. what an experience. Heading to Mostar next, followed by Montenegro. Can't wait to relax for a few days! I'm getting kinda tired moving and runninga round so it'll be good to be a beach bum for a few days.