12 September 2014
Sarajevo is Splendid
I first had the good fortune of coming to Sarajevo in 2004 when I was studying abroad in Europe. My program was based in Brussels and focused on the European Union. The EU has just taken over administration for the transitional faze of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government. It was less than ten years since the siege on the city and less than five years since the regional conflict ended entirely. Blown up buildings were still commonplace. Those that were still standing were riddled with bullet holes. Even our hotel - The Holiday Inn and only major hotel at the time - still showed signs of having been mortared when the Serbian separatists and Yugoslav Army parked themselves in the surrounding hills and spent years shooting rockets, bombs and bullets at its residents. They were literally trying to bomb them into submission.
The citizens of Sarajevo didn’t waiver, however. Faced with almost certain death and no arms to fight back they built a secret underground tunnel (pictured above) beneath the airport that led from the city to “Free Bosnia” through which they funneled telecommunications, electricity, food, and armaments. The Serbs had also cut off all water supplies into the city. Thankfully, they were unaware that the Austral-Hungarian built beer brewery had tapped into a separate natural spring 100 years before. This became the lifeline of the city and people smuggled in large canisters to fill up and take home on an almost daily basis. The Serbs couldn’t figure out how the residents were staying alive and in the end, they won out though there was still a horrific loss of life and property. Just for some perspective, this was taking place while the US was entwined with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal and the UK were ushering in a new era of politics with New Labour’s dramatic landslide victory. The internet bubble was still expanding and meanwhile there was a full-out ethnic conflict (and genocide) in Europe. Amazing stuff.
The lat ten years have seen monumental change in the city and it took no more than an hour for all of us to be completely endeared by its charm, character, and all-around perfection. From fascinating history museums (this was also the place where World War I started) to beautiful architecture, adorable pedestrian lanes to bustling market squares Sarajevo has everything a city needs to charm you. And lets not forget the food and drinks. Our “food highlight” was definitely a recently moved (thanks for nothing Lonely Planet) restaurant where there are no menus. You simply tell the waiters what you like and don’t like and the chefs whip up a culinary masterpiece accompanied by soup, dessert, and bottles of champagne all for the price of a meal at McDonald’s. The local brewery also housed a spectacular beer hall serving up pints for under a dollar. The sites, sounds and tastes were further magnified by the people. Lovely, kind, warm, generous, smiling people. Our first apartment even came with its own grandma, who nattered on in Bosnian while wearing a massive smile as she cooked us local specialties in her oven.
Four days simply wasn’t enough and Sarajevo is on the top of my “return as soon as possible” list.