Ever what would happen if you smooshed together Austria and Turkey and dropped the outcome in the Alps? Well wonder no longer!
I have been to Serbia now seven times I think and for every trip I said that I wanted to go to Sarajevo for a weekend. Seems that seven is my lucky number because I finally made it! Granted this was the busiest and most stressful visit I’ve ever had to Serbia (including the time I was evacuated) so maybe the timing was not perfect but I was not turning down the chance. One of my colleagues here is from Sarajevo and, happy for a chance to go home for the weekend, went with me and toured me around the city.
If I ever go back to Sarajevo via Belgrade I am going to make sure first that I have an international driver’s license and rent a car; because dude. The trip there was not horrible…per say. The bus was comfortable and empty enough that it was ok, air conditioned, left on time, kept the volume of the techno folk fairly low, and only took 7 hours give or take. I was dreadfully ill the entire trip though. I started it with a migraine and the windy mountain roads did me no favors at all. It was like a horrible flashback to the horrible bus ride from Delhi to Dharamsala that was the most horrible trip I’ve ever taken.
Seeing Sarajevo made the trip worth motion sickness. It was like Austria and Turkey got smooshed together then dropped in the Swiss Alps; completely charming and familiar with a hint of the exotic. According the great wisdom of Wikipedia, there are 186 mosques in Sarajevo which I am more than willing to believe. There is also a Serbian Orthodox cathedral, a Catholic cathedral, a Franciscan monastery, and two synagogues. To the casual observer (i.e. me) everyone seemed quite laid back and happy, or at least resigned, to living with the various religions. The monastery and attached church of Saint Anthony of Padua are home the inter-faith Pontanima choir. The choir, which means bridge for souls (or of or soul bridge or whatever, my Latin is only so-so), was established after the war in 1996 by Franciscan priest Ivo Markovic. Lacking enough Catholics to create a choir, Father Markovic reached out to the community. Now the world famous choir consists of people of all faiths, has a repertoire that includes religious pieces from Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Orthodox, and Jewish traditions and helps bridge gaps and heal wounds from the war.
Sarajevo, like many cities, has an old city which is where all the charm is, and a new city that is generally not so attractive and full of tall buildings. We, with no argument from me, stuck entirely to the old city. And like most of the Balkans, Bosnia has seen its fair share of wars and rules from the Ottoman Empire to the Austrian Empire to Yugoslavia and now independence as Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of things I found so interesting about Sarajevo was that the heart of the old city, the baščaršija, or market, was built during the Ottoman Empire and the Austrians built around it, preserving the original buildings and streets. So while you wander around the very Austrian looking pedestrian area
all of the sudden BANG!
Turkey. Cool, no?
Food in Bosnia is brilliant. Typically Balkan it is meat heavy and Turkish influenced, Bosnia is the home of the best cevapci and burek ever. In fact, the only thing all my Balkan friends and colleagues (those from Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia)agree about is that the Bosnians make the best burek. Breakfast was an intriguing affair. I went with my colleague to a restaurant up in the hills called Biba. Breakfast was Bosnian coffee (i.e. Turkish coffee) and this:
I cannot remember what the bread is called but it's like a not sweet donut. There was also several kinds of cheese and a cured meat. Two of the cheeses I couldn't identify, one tasted a bit like a cheddar and the locally made cheese tasted like I would think licking a cheese coated sheep would taste. But kind of good all the same.
Speaking of food, we also visited one of the open-air markets in the city. The space was full of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as flowers. I am normally shy about taking pictures in these kinds of situations (which is why Moglie took all the pictures in big market in Beijing). However I tried a technique in this market that I'd never thought of before. My camera was hanging around my neck but I held the camera with one hand, as if keeping it more secure, angles it a bit, and started clicking while hoping for the best. The pictures didn't actually turn out too bad.
And while it now looks like a nice venue at which farmers sell their flowers and produce, in 1994 it was the sight of a bomb that killed 68 people and wounded 200. called the 'single worst atrocity' of the conflict in the 90's, the market, like the people, survives.
I also got a good look at the bridge near which Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 thereby beginning the first World War. Like many places in which such major events have occurred, the bridge, which is one of many, is very unassuming and is in fact, quite charming.
After a lovely weekend I sadly had to leave Sarajevo. And I was even more sad to leave the city during the actual trip. While I was a little motion sick on the way, the trip back was so very much worse. Rather than take the bus back we got seats in a tour van. It was jam-packed, the driver smoked, I couldn't see anything in front of me except the back of some guy's head, and it took longer than the bus! I tried to fight the nausea as we careened madly down the twisty turney mountain road. Convinced that I was about to die I did the only sensible thing a person could do...I started my Rosary. Now (small aside) when I was in college I decided I was going to learn how to pray the Rosary in every language I knew. German and Spanish were easy enough as there are readily available booklets for those. Chinese had to wait until I could buy said booklet in Taipei and have a friend painstakingly write out the bo po mo fo for all the characters (which I'm very sorry to say I have since misplaced), and Latin came after I started regularly attending Latin Mass. So all this together means that I pray a weird Rosary. The Apostle's Creed (which opens it) I only know in German. I actually couldn't recite that in English to save my life. The Our Father (Lord's Prayer) and Hail Mary I can do in Latin, the Glory Be is a little shaky and comes out half and half, and the Fatima Prayer and the Hail Holy Queen in English. And you know what? It totally worked.
At one point during this oh so miserable journey through, what I am quite sure, were beautiful mountains and countryside, my colleague told me to look to the right. We had apparently been driving along the Drina river for sometime and at that moment were passing the city of Visegrad and the bridge immortalized by Nobel prize winning author, Ivo Andric, made famous in his work Bridge over the Drina. I had jut finished reading the book about a month before I came to Serbia this time and thought it was very cool that I got to see the bridge. Even if it was while shooting past it at an inhuman speed while racing around yet another turn. Ave Maria, gratia plena/Dominus tecum...
While two days was not nearly enough time for me to have enjoyed Sarajevo, I was very grateful for the opportunity to finally make my first trip (motion sickness not withstanding). Fortunately tough, I drank of the waters from the fountain in Sebilj square and if legend holds true, I am destined to return.