Bosnian cuisine is Turkish-meets-Central Europe. Hearty, simple, way too filling. If you’ve recovered from our run down of Turkish food, here is a little taste of Bosnia.
We dropped some coin at Dveri, a restaurant a little more upmarket than we usually visit. Goulash with beef, mushrooms and plums. Polenta with smoked beef, cheese, tangy cream and an egg. Flaky, buttery rolls. So rich. We actually did not finish it all, if you can believe it.
Carrot ginger soup.
Burek – flaky pastry filled with your choice of meat, cheese, spinach or potato. Best for breakfast, as long as you don’t plan on moving for the rest of the day.
Grape leaf dolmas – just as good as the ones we had in Turkey, but served in broth and smothered with sour cream.
We don’t remember the Bosnian name for this, but the English menu called it a “mince meat omelet.”
Sogan dolmas – little onions stuffed with minced meat.
Ćevapčići – little beef or chicken sausages stuffed into an incredible flatbread (warmed by being grilled in the sausage fat), with chopped onion, sour cream and kajmak (a type of clotted cream).
Fresh friend doughnuts with a side of kajmak… topped with regular cream.
Sarajevska pivo. (Fun fact: the Sarajevska Pivara supplied the city with fresh water during the war.) Živjeli! Cheers!
“The bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. …I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky.” – Evliya Çelebi, 17th Century
“I was in my office, working to the sound of mortar fire, when we heard the cries in the street—cries that the bridge had fallen. And what happened then was so impressive that I will never forget it. Everyone came out to see. Grenades and bombs were falling everywhere, but still they came out of their hiding places: Young, and old, weak and strong, Muslim and Christian, they all came, all crying. Because that bridge, it was part of our identity. It represented us all.” A. Bubić, 1995
Although we were vaguely familiar with Sarajevo before we visited there, Mostar was a huge blank. Several people we had met along the way said we needed to go there. So we made plans to visit on our way through Bosnia to Dubrovnik.
Mostar was yet another urban battleground during the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia. The pieces of its destroyed bridge were hauled out of the river and the span was made whole again in 2004. Mostar itself is still decidedly not whole, as the broken shells of buildings remain untouched and the impossibly blue Neretva River separates most of the minarets from the steeples. Maybe a future generation will make the symbolism behind the the bridge’s reconstruction a reality.
As visitors just passing through briefly, it’s easy to look at the reconstructed center of town, the amazing bridge with its daredevil high divers and the cobblestone streets and miss noticing the separation. We missed it. It wasn’t till we were double-checking place names and doing research to get our facts straight that we learned these things. How much more would we have noticed if we were looking for it?
One conundrum of travel is the question of whether or not to do a bunch of research in advance. If you don’t do any research, you might end up reaching ignorant, superficial conclusions… or if you’re lucky you’ll come away having your own fresh and unbiased perspective. Do you risk accidentally overlooking “important” things, or do you experience a place through a lens of what another traveler said you are supposed to see?
We met some fellow American travelers (so far a less common animal) and a few Australians (they’re everywhere!) when we met up with Jasmina to see the airport tunnel. We spent the rest of the day visiting the now-indefinitely-closed Bosnian National Museum, sampling a pint at Sarajevsko brewery, and wandering the hilly neighborhoods of Sarajevo.
It was a long, relaxed, full day. And what can make you feel quite so right with the world as a puppy?
(Answer: two puppies.)
The puppies followed us, and a few blocks later we met a guy named Fudo who told us that the puppies were called Brownie and Blackie. Naturally.
Later that night, we discussed important sociological issues like the merits of in-home hookah usage.
Sarajevo had a serene, subdued feeling to it, at least during the week we spent there. It was easy to see hints of the worst of what was, but there was a definite flow of life moving on. It’s difficult to describe.
Pigeons swarmed Sebilj Fountain.
Cafes filled and emptied day after day.
Dogs were walked. Sometimes they had ice cream.
Parliament and the Holiday Inn, buildings that would have seen engulfed in flames on nightly newscasts less than two decades ago, stood shiny and whole.
Ammunition boxes found a new purpose as beer garden seating.
Eid, the end of Ramadan, arrived so quietly, we hardly noticed.
And the Miljacka River, shallow from a summer of no rain, crept past the Latin Bridge.
Hello, and goodbye, beautiful Sarajevo. We were lucky to have met you.
Our families usually had the national news on tv while we ate supper, so we had vague memories of the Bosnian war and of Sarajevo. Explosions, buildings on fire, wounded people being carried through the streets. But we were in middle school and high school when it all started, and the evidence of war that still remained on the drive between the airport and the city center reminded us of how much we didn’t know.
Image courtesy of Ulicar
So if you’re like us and need some background information, here is a crash course in what happened in Sarajevo two decades ago.
Yugoslavia was a country that unified six ethnic republics in the Balkan region. Following the death of leader Marshal Tito in 1980, many of the republics tried to become more autonomous, but Serbia, which had held most of the political power, wanted stronger federal control. The situation deteriorated and Yugoslavia began to break apart.
In 1992, Bosnia declared independence. The Yugoslav federal army exited Bosnia, but left its arms with the Serbs, who used them to attack Bosnian cities. The Serbs entrenched themselves in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo, which gave them the perfect vantage point to bombard the city with heavy artillery and sniper rifles for nearly four years. Over 10,000 adults and 1,500 children were killed, an additional 56,000 Sarajevans were wounded.
In Bosnia, and over the entire breakup of Yugoslavia during the 90′s, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in acts of war and genocide, and millions of ethnic minorities across the six republics were displaced.
(**That’s a hugely oversimplified version of a complex period of history on which we have no expertise other than Googling skills, so please don’t quote us.**)
Image courtesy of Ulicar
Even though the war ended nearly 17 years ago, you can see it everywhere.
In the city parks that were turned into cemeteries, with most of the inscriptions bearing years 1992… 1993… 1994… 1995…
In buildings never rebuilt.
In the Sarajevo Roses – shell craters filled in with red resin where people were killed – now fading and chipped all over the city.
In the damaged World War II memorial.
In the evidence of reduced population and industry and an economy that never fully recovered.
In the official memorial for the children who were killed.
In the National Library, whose 1.5 million volumes were incinerated.
In the bullet holes that speckle so many buildings, even underneath bright graffiti.
One thing that particularly made an impression on us was when we visited the Tunnel Musuem. During the seige, the only way to get food and supplies in and out of the city was the UN-controlled airport. But to get between the airport and the city was practically a suicide mission due to sniper and rocket fire. A tunnel over half a mile long was dug from a civilian home, underneath a field and the runway, and 20 million tons of food passed through to keep the city fed.
Jasmina, the woman owns the hostel we stayed in, was a student at the University of Sarajevo before the war broke out and was trapped in the city. Her family lived in Dubrovnik, which was also heavily attacked, and neither she nor her family had any way of contacting each other. Food was scarce and no one knew what the next day would bring, or if they would live to see it. By the time the war ended and she was able to return to Dubrovnik, her parents were no longer living.
After all that, you might think that our visit to Sarajevo was extremely depressing. But it wasn’t. We’ll post more later.
After two months in Turkey, it was past time to head north. We were losing the summer and still had more to see. We thought we should head straight to Croatia so we could enjoy the beaches while it was still warm. After a lot of research, we found that the overland options would be expensive and time-consuming… but the flights were pricey too. We started looking at major cities in neighboring countries that had easy ground transportation to the coast. Winner: Sarajevo.
Since it was a morning flight, we decided to save some money on accommodation and sleep at Ataturk International. The tone was set for the journey when a man, who had been standing too close for most of the tram ride, reached back for a little pinch before rushing out the door at his stop. I had heard from several unaccompanied female travelers of having multiple similar incidents in Istanbul, but I hadn’t had any problems. It’s nice to have a husband who looks intimidating. Unfortunately, Tony’s presence didn’t deter the creep and it happened so fast that he was out of sight before I could shout and shame him. Besides the icky feeling that comes from something like that, I was more upset that after two months of coming to love a place, the actions of some anonymous perv would be my very last memory of Istanbul and Turkey.
At the airport, we used some carabiners to attach our packs to each other, and pushed some plush chairs together at a deserted cafe. I’m pretty sure these chairs are specifically engineered to be usable only for sitting bolt upright. I found an uncomfortable position that allowed me to lay flat, but required my neck to be twisted at a funny angle and my legs to dangle over the side. A few hours of fitful unconsciousness followed. I don’t think we can exactly recommend this cost-saving strategy.
Finally, dawn came and we are able to check into our flight. We have always been able to take our bags with us in the cabin as carryon luggage, but according to the Bosnia & Hercegovina Airlines website, they would be too big. But the woman at the desk didn’t bat an eye and said checking the bags would not be necessary. A bright moment at the end of an otherwise all-around bad night. We trekked to our gate which ended up being somewhere in a nearly deserted section of the terminal. Nearly deserted, except for our fellow passengers whose size and number of carryon items far exceeded our own. Then I grumpily paid $4 for a Lipton teabag and some hot water. We didn’t actually board the plane from our gate; we boarded a shuttle bus which took us to our plane. Our aging, twin propeller engine, rear loading plane. Interesting.
The inside smelled of stale cigarettes and was about as comfortable as an old school bus with half the leg room. The tiny overhead compartments might have served well as glove boxes, but there was no way our packs were going in. We put them on the floor under our feet, which did nothing to enhance the comfort level. But somehow our attitudes changed, despite the tram groping, the airport slumber party, and sketchy plane. We found a cheap flight! To a new country that we didn’t expect to visit! Even through the plane’s dirty windows, Istanbul looked beautiful and mysterious from above in the morning fog. It would be another scorching day there, and we were headed for the Bosnian mountains.
After a few hours, the plane passed the border from Serbia to Bosnia, and a group of ladies behind us began singing. They continued until the city came into view. We landed smoothly. It was a smaller airport than we expected, and there were no other planes in sight. Before the exit hatch was even opened, the B&H maintenance crew drug out a ladder, popped open the engine cover and began pouring in fluids. We googled the airline out of curiosity later, and found that not only was B&H on the verge of financial collapse, but that we had ridden on its one and only plane. Good things to know once you’re safely at your destination!
We got a cab and headed for the city center. The bullet holes sprayed across almost every building we passed reminded me that I was only a little girl during the years that the video clips of fire and explosions and misery in Sarajevo filled the evening news. I’m sure I never dreamed I’d actually walk down those same streets one day.