Days: 496-498 (3 November 2015 – 5 November 2015)
Total distance travelled: 129,385.2 kilometres (80,363.45 miles)
From 1992 through to late 1995, Sarajevo, Olympic city (then part of the former Yugoslavia, it was host to the 1984 Winter Olympics) and capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina was a city under siege.
The 1,425 days it lay at the mercy of Serb and Croat backed forces was ultimately the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.
Twenty years late, on a sun filled, but fresh November morning, we turned up.
After lingering a little longer than we’d felt necessary in Serbia (as I tried to get an appointment to arrange a new passport), then re-visiting some familiar turf in the south of Hungary, it felt good to be getting somewhere new again.
We found some cheap beds in a hostel staffed by the friendly tour office next door, the English signage on the bathroom doors suggesting that the city, despite the apparent peace these days, still has some issues to contend with.
Situated as we were, literally across the road from the old Turkish quarter and the aptly named ‘Pigeon Square’, there was nothing for it but for us to get out and appreciate another beautiful Autumn day.
In reality, the square didn’t in fact resemble the shape it bore so prominently in its name, and with a major bit of restoration work in full swing, it was more a case of tip-toeing our way between pavers and broken concrete.
The reward for this slight delay however was the lovely heart of old Sarajevo.
Here, the marbled alleyways and promenades had already been lovingly restored.
Small eateries fronted the narrow street, the occasional souvenir or trinket shop, and in between the minarets, especially the deeper we wandered, some high end fashion stores.
The odd large church highlighted the truly diverse nature of the peoples here, but the further we wandered and the taller the buildings that surrounded us, the less sun we got and therefore the colder we were.
Another small square delivered us a bevvy of old locals playing chess, the pieces chipped and worn through hundreds of hours of touch.
We didn’t have to glance far in any direction to see chips and marks on almost every building as well, the scars of so many years of conflict ever apparent in the capital city.
Eventually our path took us down towards the Miljacka River which disects the centre of the city and is fronted by a plethora of once grand buildings.
It is also here, metres from the Latin Bridge, that the history of Europe and indeed the world was changed forever.
On the 28th of June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian and the empire of which Sarajevo was then a part, was assassinated, an event that allowed building political tensions to boil over and plunge Europe and eventually the world into the horror that was to become the First World War.
Looking at the intersection that fronts it, there is no way of telling if the scars the nearby walls bear are from that infamous date, or rather wounds carried since the almost daily shelling that occurred during that more recent one thousand four hundred and twenty five day siege…
Then, after briefly taking some more memorials to that horribly recent war, it was time for lunch.
Having heard that some of the best Ćevapi in the Balkans could be had here, we figured it was an obligation we had to ourselves, to put these claims to the test.
In a call that will have descendants and residents of all neighbouring countries up in arms, I think the claims were well founded!
Simple sure, served with bread, yoghurt (apparently as a beverage, however we quite enjoyed tipping some over the meat) and chopped, raw onion, but delicious enough that we had it for lunch whilst in town on more than one occasion.
We were out early the following morning, a breakfast of some kind of pastry under our belts and on a city tram effectively to the end of the line.
Although not exactly the middle of nowhere, the Ilidža light rail station (essentially just a series of stops, rather than a terminal) was the point where we ceased our roughly west, south-west heading and took a left turn.
Here, our legs would carry us along a fairly main road, we’d leave it a little early, get vaguely lost, but it was always going to be okay, as long as we had the runway on our left hand side, we couldn’t miss it… could we?
This, the Aerodrom Sarajevo (Sarajevo International Airport), it too was here back in the siege, occupied for much of it not by the local Bosniaks, nor by those who besieged the city, but rather by NATO/United Nations forces.
Even though most places, excepting those few new constructs bore scars, there was always the occasional cameo by one that would never be a home again.
Still, it was towards a home we were headed, the location of which is now a revered place in recent local history.
Here, beneath another pockmarked home was built a testament to human spirit, the Tunel Spasa, the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ (or Tunnel of Life, depends who you ask).
Constructed at a time when the city was cut off from the outside world, it literally became Sarajevo’s online lifeline, allowing food, people, weaponry and medicines to reach the desperate city.
For works that were conducted around the clock, legend has it that the workers were on a pack of cigarettes a day (that is, they were paid that, a princely sum given any true Balkan man would knock a pack over before breakfast).
It was an impressive and moving place, like much of the city really.
At random points all over the Bosnian capital, one might find brightly coloured patterns that almost look like paint splatters.
In all likelihood you’re looking at a Sarajevo Rose.
Basically at some point after (I’m assuming it wasn’t during) the Bosnian war, somebody had the idea that these blast marks (from either grenades, rockets or shells) might look better painted, and thus was born these lasting monuments to the fallen…
Back down in the heart of the old city and only a handful of minutes from our hostel, we found ourselves at the beautiful National Library, so beautiful that I haven’t even bothered to feature a picture of it here (hey, some things I have to leave as a surprise)!
In all seriousness though, I wasn’t bullshitting, it is a very nice building, but again it suffered much during the conflict of the early nineties (the very same conflict that led to international war crimes trials and made Slobodan Milosevic a household name in the west… well at least in Australia he was anyway!)
Here in 1992, Serbian nationals set fire to this fine building, resulting in the loss of roughly two million books, documents and manuscripts, some surely irreplaceable.
With the beautiful scene before us, it’s hard to have imagined all this pain, loss and hardship here…
Now we’d arrived in Sarajevo knowing little of the city (I knew more of its place in history than of the city itself), however there was one destination that I’d penciled in as a must visit.
The only problem was, despite it being a fairly famous and once prominent site (it is the 1984 Winter Olympic bobsleigh track of which I write), perched on the slopes on Mount Trebevic, we could find little to no information on how to actually get there.
We didn’t want to get a taxi, and after managing to find some vague GPS coordinates, used these in conjunction with Google maps, and procured an equally vague map.
At least as long as we were headed upwards, it would surely be in the general direction.
It was another achingly beautiful morning, cold enough in the shade that any ice or frost would linger and not melt without additional aid.
Still, the higher we climbed, the more stunning the vista!
We were wary to not go too rogue with our searching, as apparently there is always the chance should we wander too far from any of the obvious paths, that stray landmines are still about.
Having to explain how we lost limbs or even worse, one of our lives was not something we fancied (plus we kind of like our lives and one anothers company), so tread carefully and sensibly it was.
Climbing another small rise, past a few ruined buildings, and there it was.
The site of past Olympic glories, and apparently a perfect site for Serbian artillery and snipers back during the war.
If you’re curious, take a peek at some of the footage from the ’84 Winter games to check out the place in happier times…
It was a fascinating place to wander around, these days it’s high walls now serving as the perfect canvas for those artistically inclined.
There was some really cool video footage of our wanderings, yet sadly, for now at least that is lost to us, after an unfortunate incident in a dorm in Tbilisi saw me drop the portable hard drive on which it was stored from a top bunk!
The 1984 Winter Olympics were obviously a source of much pride for the former Yugoslavia, but more locally, for the Bosnian people as well.
Even as we were making ready to depart what had quickly become our favourite city in he Balkans, we were being welcomed to Sarajevo ‘84…
* Our bus from Szeged back across the border into Serbia to Subotica cost 1,000.00 Florint each (with no additional fee for our luggage).
* Our onwards bus from Subotica to Belgrade cost us 1,075 Dinar, and with our arrival just after the daily 4pm departure to Sarajevo, we were forced to spend the night there.
* Rather than wait until 4pm for the only bus from Belgrade to Sarajevo, we used a shuttle service recommended by our hostel which departed around 7am and cost €20.00 (2,400 Dinar) per person.
* Entrance into the Tunel Spasa (Tunnel of Hope) cost us 10 KM each.
* A one-way ticket on the city’s tram network cost us 1.60 KM per person per ride.
* Those GPS coordinates for the Mount Trebevic Bobsleigh Track we used: 43.842503, 18.4424723