Getting to Sarajevo from Mostar was an easy task, we could have gone either by bus or train but we chose the train: faster and cheaper!
Judging from the state of Mostar train station, we thought we would have had a not so comfortable journey on a very dated train, but to our surprise we were both very wrong!
The train we went on was so new that it looked like it was on its first ride:it had TV screens showing some Bosnian TV, very shiny-new seats and a little bar with a waiter who came to get our orders. We were both amazed and happy to discover we were going to have a relaxed and comfy trip.
Once we reached our destination, we met our CouchSurfing host Matija that kindly offered to pick us up from the station, what a legend! We went out straight away with him, to explore the city and take advantage of his great knowledge about the Bosnia & Herzegovina capital.
I didn’t know what to expect exactly from this city. Knowing the recent history and coming from Mostar, I definitely knew that Sarajevo would have been a different capital city from the rest of the European ones already visited, this was the main reason why I wanted to go in the first place.
Mat showed us so many relevant buildings, squares and streets in the space of two hours but I couldn’t take anymore in for that night, so we decide to get something to eat and leave the sightseeing for the following day after a good night’s sleep.
We were in the Bascarjia – Sarajevo’s Old Town – and Mat took us to a restaurant he’d usual go to that was full of locals which is always a good sign. He said we needed to try a very special Bosnian dish: Ćevapi or Ćevapčići as I prefer to say. We didn’t need to hear that twice, we are always eager to try local cuisine, it’s part of the culture right?
This was a grilled dish of minced meat of 5 or 10 pieces in a warm and soft flat bread served with chopped onion (happiness for our breathes, shame for the people we were going to talk with!). Needless to say that Dale got the biggest one even though Mat suggested that the 5 pieces would be plenty, greedy!
To make the whole experience as per the real tradition, we also ordered some kajmak, which is a creamy dairy product, similar to clotted cream with high percentage of milk fat, typically about 60%. Better not to think to our cholesterol level after that dinner!
The Day After Was Way Busier
We realized that many of Sarajevo’s most famous sites are located at walking distance to each other in the center and in the Old Town including the Mosque, the Catholic church, the Synagogue and the Orthodox church. Unbelievable don’t you think? So many different religions coexisting in the same neighborhood. It was very unusual and interesting at the same time!
No matter when you go, the pedestrian cobblestone street in the Old Town will always be busy because it is where most of the Turkish coffee bars, food stores and shops full of crafts, old antique wares and handmade (and not) souvenirs are. Perfect place to go if you like shopping, if you are willing to try some cheap and tasty Bosnian food/coffee (like we did) or looking to smoke the shisha.
The smell you get from there is overwhelming, it’s a mixture between the scent of coffee, the sweetness of sugary pastries, the sharpness of the spices and the smogs of the shisha.
As soon as we walked out in the new part of the town it was hard not to notice how it changes into a more ‘modern looking’ European city with very few branded western chain stores such as the two floors McDonald (opened very recently apparently).
We didn’t have a precise itinerary in mind, we just walked and walked (like we usually do) and bumped into sights like The Latin Bridge where across the street the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand took place and sparked the beginning of the First World War (and inspired the name for the famous Scottish art-rock band).
Not far from there there was the City Hall which is apparently one of the most important buildings that we unfortunately couldn’t admire as it was under reconstruction works (and it’ll still be for a while yet).
We kept walking along the river side until we saw a very different looking bridge in front of the Academy of Fine Arts, named Festina Lente which only opened less than 2 months ago in August 2012.
We were quite delighted to see a different kind of architecture, with a visible new style, shape and materials used. It was more our cup of tea, considering we are always looking for some new modern structures alongside of the historical ones.
On the other hand, we were a bit disappointed when we finally found the Ars Aevi Bridge which was designed and inaugurated for free by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. It looked to us as nothing too special, maybe when the rest of the project of building the future museum of Modern Art will be completed, the whole structure together will make more sense, maybe. Sorry Mr. Piano, there is nothing personal there!
We ended up being in the newest part of Sarajevo, which today is one of the fastest developing city in the region with various new modern buildings both residential and for business.
We then walked our way up through what during the recent civil war it was known as sniper alley, where some of the scars of the war are still visible on buildings.
Every now and then, while walking, we stepped on some kind of concrete red scar on the pavements. Later we learned that those are known as Sarajevo Roses and were caused by mortar shell explosion during the war and then filled with red resin not to be forgotten.
It felt very odd walking on or by them thinking that somebody might have lost his life in that spot, it makes looking things in a different perspective.
That feeling grew even stronger when we reached the Martyrs’ Memorial Cemetery Kovači up a little hill, which has only a small percentage of tombs compare to the large amount of people who died during the recent civil war.
After getting up to the highest panorama viewpoint (we thought why not considering we were already up there), we headed back to the old city to enjoy my favorite time of the day, and capture some nice sunset lights over the river.
Sarajevo is definitely changing very quickly. People are friendly, they don’t ask you to enter in their shops, they don’t offer set menus like in other places we’ve been too. I really like that and I hope it won’t change in the future as more and more tourists discover this city.
People are willing to tell their own story, they don’t want to hide what the past had done, but at the same time you can tell how they are moving on.
I loved this city and I’d love to go back in few years to see how it has developed.
How did you feel about it?