All told I had 2.5 full days in Sarajevo. And the verdict? Two words: os some!!
On Saturday morning I meandered around Baščarija (the old Turkish quarter). Sarajevo’s mélange of mosques, orthodox and catholic churches and a smudge of (sephardic) shul makes for many eyegasms. There’s a bit of Istanbul, Belgrade, and Split on offer–often the best of each. And it was great to seems many locals milling about in what could easily be a tacky tourist trap. Of my out and about time I spent about half in Baščarija.
Saturday afternoon I took Sarajevo funky tours’ “Siege of Sarajevo” tour. Slender Skender, an entrepreneurial young man loaded 4 of us into his 4WD and zipped us through “sniper alley” (actually more sniper boulevard: it’s the main thoroughfare across the city), past the airport to the Tunnel Museum. If ever there’s an archetypal story of tenacity and cleverness it’s this 800m tunnel under the airport runway that allowed the city centre access to food, weapons, and outside medical care. This is no kiddie tunnel: engineers designed it, wired it for lighting, added a track for carting supplies back and forth, and developed a pumping system for when it flooded. Which apparently it did…a lot. Your 5KM admission includes a 10m walk through. That’s €2,50/$3 folks. And props to the Sarajevo office of Siemens, who gave the materials for the tunnel’s electricals.
Next we went up into the mountains overlooking Sarajevo for a Serb’s eye view of things. Sarajevo is surrounded on three sides by mountains–and therefore by snipers and artillery. Skender pointed out all the things targeted symbolic reasons: the national library, hi rise buildings, parliament and presidential offices, even some of the facilities built for the 1984 Olympic Winter Games. Over several days in town I didn’t find a single neighbourhood without bullet holes, shell sites, or other evidence of the war.
Our last stop was an Olympic venue: the former bobsleigh run. It’s still intact, now embossed with grafitti (some wonderful, some not so much), and we took a stroll down it. Sarajevo’s already bid to host the Games again: the bobsleigh run would need to be rebuilt from scratch. This wouldn’t get through homologation. The siege lasted over three years–longer than any other in the era of modern warfare. Shocking…
After the tour I found a nice Bosnian restaurant for a steak dinner and had an early night. The day–my whole, brief visit to Sarajevo, in fact–left me with one persistent question.
Really WTF is wrong with people?
On Sunday I traded in my shorts for slacks so I could visit some of the houses of worship. There’s stuff from the 15th century onwards on offer. Much of it beautiful. I also chased down Skendarija, an Olympic venue. Monday I hit Kosev Stadium and Lektra Arena, along with the Bosnian Olympic Museum, before heading out to the airport for my flight to Croatia, which I nearly missed because the flight monitor in the business class lounge was defective.
What a great city!