Balkan Adventure Stop 3: Sarajevo

Sarajevo Fast Facts

  • Country: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Official language: Bosnian
  • Currency: Bosnia and Herzegovina Convertible Mark
  • Population: approx. 555,000 in the Sarajevo metropolitan area
  • Famous for: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggering WW1, the 1984 Winter Olympics, the Siege of Sarajevo
  • Fun fact: Sarajevo was the first European city to have a full-time electric tram network through the city
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The Latin Bridge, Sarajevo, at sunset

Day 6
We had another very early start and boarded the Topdeck bus from Belgrade at 7.20am. Drove for a few hours on a mixture of highways and narrow 2-way roads (sometimes getting stuck behind tractors filled with watermelons!) and had a quick morning tea break. It was already very warm so Laura and I got an icy pole each which turned out to be 18+ alcoholic mojito calippos.

We drove for another couple of hours through increasingly windy and hilly terrain and were lucky to have another efficient border crossing from Serbia to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Had our lunch on the bus and arrived just out of Srebrenica at the site of Srebrenica Genocide Memorial.

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Srebrenica Genocide Memorial with gravestones as far as the eye can see

We had some time to wander around the memorial to over 8,300 victims (and counting – remains are still being found) of the July 1995 massacre and I was horrified to see how many youths were among the murdered; including infants and toddlers. As we were there only a few weeks after the anniversary, there were several fresh graves visible of victims whose remains were found in the year since the last anniversary, and many flowers and tributes on the graves. We also visited a small gallery at the site of the memorial which featured haunting images of victims and the aftermath of the genocide and did a masterful job of putting faces to the atrocity and making it feel real.

From there, we walked across the road to a former battery factory where thousands of Bosnian refugees were held during the Yugoslav War under the ‘protection’ of the United Nations. We had time to explore the exhibits in the factory including more graphic and haunting photographs and several damning photos of anti-Bosnian graffiti by the Dutch United Nations peacekeepers. Laura and I had always been very pro-UN, but this museum gave a very different account of the role of peacekeepers and their utter failure to protect the innocent during the Yugoslav war.

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Graffiti in the Battery Factory

We then went next door to the newly opened Srebrenica Documentation Centre to hear the heart-wrenching story of a Srebrenica survivor who had lost several family members in the conflict and watch a documentary featuring very confronting real footage of the massacre. We had another half an hour to explore the rest of the museum before boarding the bus to Sarajevo.

Needless to say, visiting Srebrenica was a very confronting, draining and emotional experience, but something I would recommend doing at some point in your life. For me, I found it incomprehensible that this is something that was allowed to occur during my lifetime. Even more incomprehensible to me, is the fact that ‘the Butcher of Bosnia’, Ratko Mladić; the man recently convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role orchestrating massacres, torture and rape during the Yugoslav war, is considered a hero by many and whose “portrait adorns bars and office walls in Bosnia and Serbia…[and] name is sung at football matches” (Vulliamy, The Guardian).

Visiting made me feel very ashamed of how little I know of the conflicts that are occurring around me now and determined to educate myself better on them having seen first-hand the horrific consequences of apathy.

For more information about the Srebrenica Massacre (which I highly recommend you educate yourself on), see here or take a virtual tour of Srebrenica here).

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8372 victims and counting…

After checking in to our hotel, we were dropped in downtown Sarajevo for our walking tour. We saw the river, main fountain, the location of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, the Cathedral and walked through the bazaar until we reached the restaurant we were going to for dinner.

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Sacred Heart Cathedral, Sarajevo

Dinner was delicious – chicken and vegetable soup, grilled chicken with rice and potatoes and baked apples filled with spiced walnut and whipped cream. After such an exhausting and draining day, no-one had the energy to stay out late so we all opted to take the bus straight back to the hotel after dinner.

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Pretty lanterns in the Grand Bazaar

Day 7
Had a sleep-in (6.20am!) and headed down to breakfast which featured delicious local specialties such as dates and turkish delight.

Travelled about 30mins on the bus to the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum. We watched a 15 minute documentary about the Siege of Sarajevo and the building of the ‘tunnels of hope’ which acted as the city’s lifeline to the outside world when it was surrounded by hostile Serbian forces in the 1992-95 siege. We then heard from a lovely local who had spent her childhood hiding in an underground cellar through the siege.

We had a chance to look through the siege museum on the site which was fascinating, especially seeing what rudimentary tools were used to build the tunnels that saved the city – including spoons! We also got to walk through 25m of the original tunnel which terrified me, but showed just how small and basic the lifesaving tunnels were.

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The remnants of the ‘tunnels of hope’

After being dropped back in downtown Sarajevo, a small group of us went to Sarajevo City Hall to admire the stunning Ottoman inspired architecture:

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and stunning stained-glass ceiling of the newly rebuilt Hall (the original was bombed and burnt in 1992 during the Siege, destroying over two million books and manuscripts).

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We spent time in the City Hall Museum which showed the best and worst of Sarajevo’s history between 1914 and 2014 and then walked back through the bustling bazaar, shopping for souvenirs and enjoying a delicious and very cheap lunch.

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Some of the beautiful items on offer in the bazaar

We walked through the city to the Avaz tower for amazing views over Sarajevo before heading back to the hotel for a rest.

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Views over Sarajevo from the Avaz tower

To end our time in Sarajevo the tour group went to a gorgeous authentic Bosnian restaurant in the bazaar for dinner where there was enough food to feed more than double the number of people!

Overall, I thought Sarajevo was a really cool city with a lot to offer – I can see why Lonely Planet ranked it as one of the top cities of the region. The food was outstanding both in terms of deliciousness and value for money, the locals were friendly and helpful and despite the sad recent history of the country, there was a perceptible sense of optimism and hope for the future. As corny as it sounds, I feel like I left Bosnia and Herzegovina a better and more informed person than I was when I arrived and I know that my experience at Srebrenica will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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Bobsled Track (Image credit: Trover)

Top 5 Things to Do in Sarajevo

  1. Explore the Old Bazaar and pick up some beautiful souvenirs while you’re there
  2. Visit the stunning City Hall to admire the architecture as well as visit the museum
  3. Indulge in local specialties such as ćevapi, burek, baklava, turkish delight and turkish coffee (as well as crowd pleasers like fresh ice cream)
  4. Visit the funky graffitied Sarajevo bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics (note: best to go in a large group as there are gangs in the vicinity who have been known to target tourists, but a group from our tour went and had no trouble)
  5. Take a day-trip to Srebrenica or the Tunnel Museum to better understand Bosnian history

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