Bosnia & Hercegovina p2

Written by on August 5, 2012 in Europe, General with 0 Comments

Sorry for delayed blog post – been having a little too much fun!  I can also blame the lack of wifi in a couple spots.  Anyway, remembering back to a couple weeks ago…the train ride from Mostar was awesome as we cut through breathtaking river gorges and mountains for most of the 3.5 hour journey.  Would have been amazing had the windows been cleaned anytime this century, and if they had air conditioning on the train as I was a sweaty mess by the time we arrived.  Ended up speaking to guy who lived just outside of Sarajevo, who happened to be a tour guide and gave me some tips on things to see and his take on what happened in the war 20 years prior.  It was great to talk with a local, but because I hadn’t befriended any travellers on the train, I was pretty much alone for my 2 days/nights in Sarajevo as the hostel I had booked wasn’t a hostel at all.  Lesson learned.

My hostel, Pansion Lion, was in a perfect location, but wasn’t good for meeting other travellers.  The room was interesting, to say the least.  It was kind of a mix of something you might see on That 70s Show and at grandma’s house.  Purple flower power wall paper mixed with other purple accents and then a floral quilt.  There was even a purple candy on the pillow.

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I liked the sign on my door!

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I dropped my stuff and headed out to grab a bite to eat and explore the city.  I don’t know why I expected something different, but Sarajevo was quite beautiful.  Maybe not the city center, but definitely the surrounding areas as it sits in a steep narrow valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, with the Miljacka River running right through the middle.  It would have been interesting to come in the winter to check out some of the ski areas so close to town.

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Like other Balkan cities, most of Sarajevo was either taking their after-dinner stroll through the center of town, or watching people strolling from one of the dozens of cafes lining the pedestrian streets.  I wasn’t up for having dinner by myself, but was happy to find a popcorn vendor on the street, so grabbed a bag and joined the strollers until I came across The Panarama Café, a quaint bar with wifi where I caught up on emails, etc.  They kicked me out around midnight when they closed and I really wasn’t feeling like walking into another bar by myself, so called it a night.

The next morning I took a tour called the Times of Misfortune.  Our guide educated us on the events leading up to Bosnia’s declaration of independence, Serbia’s siege of Sarajevo in 1992, and how Bosnia survived nearly 4 years at war while being almost completely cut off from the rest of the world.  I was a Freshman in college when this started.  I hardly ever read the paper or watched the news…unless it was the Life & Leisure section to check movie times, or Sports to hear how the Broncos or Avalanche were doing.  Even if I had read the paper, I have a feeling the Denver Post wasn’t writing any stories about Bosnia.  It’s unbelievable to me that such a thing could happen only 20 years ago, but really sad that the rest of the world didn’t seem to care and did very little to help.  When I think of wars, I think of people with weapons on either side.  I think of soldiers on either side.  Not soldiers vs civilians with no weapons.   At least not in civilized first world countries.

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We visited an area called Butmir, which housed the “tunnel that saved Sarajevo”.  Serbs had Sarajevo surrounded, but the UN stepped in and declared the airport in Sarajevo neutral ground and uncrossable, so no bombing was allowed to take place there.  Only Butmir village and a small piece of land remained in Bosnian hands, so the Bosniaks dug a secret 800 meter tunnel over a 4 month period underneath the runway that became the city’s lifeline for arms and food.

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To get to the Tunnel Museum, we drove down “Sniper Alley”, the main road in Sarajevo where men and women risked their lives to try to run to the tunnel to get food for their families while the Serbian snipers would shoot at them.  Our guides personal stories were so moving…so sad.  It made me so angry at Serbia and the people that let Milosevic get away with this!  I know I wasn’t getting both sides of the story, so to speak, but pretty much every traveller I’ve met who’s been to Bosnia seems to have taken away the same feelings.  This poor little country that is stuck between Serbia and Croatia…which is 60% inhabited by Serbs and Croats and only 40% Bosniaks.   One of the things that struck a big chord with me was that Serbia bombed their National Library with special phosphoric bombs intending to burn the books quickly.  90% of the books in the library burned, wiping away most of the history of Bosnia, helping Milosevic in his mission to wipe Bosnia off the map.Our tour also took us to the Jewish Cemetry, where graves of those killed in WWII stretched up into the hills.  Bosnia used to have quite a large Jewish population, relative to their total population, with a mix of Ashkenazi and Sepphardic Jews, although they were almost completely decimated by the Nazis.   Our guide had some good stories of good Samaritans who had hidden some Bosnian Jews, saving them from trains headed to concentration camps.   I went to visit both synogogues in town, although they were both unfortunately closed so I couldn’t take a peek inside.  I believe he said there are only 1,500 Jews left in Bosnia.

Sarajevo is apparently sometimes called the European Jerusalem, as there is quite a mix of religions and cultures, evident by the mosques, churches and synagogues spread throughout the city.  Crazy that such a small country with so few Jews carries so much history.  I visited the National Museum to get a glimpse of the “Sarajevo Haggadah”, a unique 14th century haggadah with colored illustrations which was first saved in WWII and then again during the war in the 90s, is apparently one of the most valuable books in the world, worth an estimated $1 billion.

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On a lighter note (literally and figuratively), after my tour I felt like I’d seen the major sights in Sarajevo and had a little time to find a hair salon, as my dark roots were definitely starting to show and I wasn’t sure when I would have time to get my hair highlighted over the next couple weeks.  I found a nice looking salon called “Friends”, which actually used the logo from the TV show, and popped in to see if they actually did highlights and if they could fit me in.  I should have known better when I heard the price – 50 KM for highlights AND a haircut.  That’s US$25.  I pay anywhere from $150-$200 back home, and should have been my warning.  But, it had to be done, and she seemed to know what she was doing.  About 4 hours, several coffees, and great conversation with the stylist and her friend, who was also the masseur, I was really hoping that my hair would look the same as it did when I left San Francisco, but alas…it was a few shades blonder and the roots had a new orange tint to them.

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I think Loreal should rename this color Sarajevo Blonde.  It’s growing on me, but glad I’ll be heading through SF again in early September so Paul work his magic and make it look a tad bit more natural again.Before signing off, I was asked by a couple foodies to start including pictures of some local cuisine to start including in the blog.  This is called cevapcici, a cylindrical pastry with sausage inside…I’ve seen this served all over the Balkans.
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Otherwise, there’s a lot of grilled meat with veggies and potatoes on the menu, and a lot of seafood near the coasts.Anyway, after a lot of time looking at bus, train and plane schedules, I decided to shift the initial plan to go to Montenegro and take a bus to Serbia and hit Belgrade on a weekend to check out how they’ve earned all of these “Best Nightlife in Europe” accolades I keep hearing about.

 

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