Travelogue: Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Hey, friends! Since I’m asking you to let me help with your independent travel, I think it’s important to share some of my own travel stories with you. I want you to understand how I see the world and the kinds of experiences I focus on when planning trips! I’m currently traveling through London and Norway with my wonderful mother, and I’ll share some of the stories from this trip a bit later.
Today I want to share a journal entry I came across from my six-week solo trip driving through Central and Eastern Europe in 2015. I know the writing isn’t perfect, but it was my real and raw experience that day. I’ve only done minor edits for grammar and understanding. 🙂
June 27, 2015 – Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Well, day two in Sarajevo started with a bit of a hiccup. As I went to get in the shower, I realized my dirty clothes bag was missing. I went out and checked the trunk, but sure enough, I left it in Jajce. In times past this would have totally ruined my day and sent me into a panic, but I called and emailed the hostel and they said they would mail them to my hostel here. Today is Saturday and they won’t arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m really okay with this!
It’s actually good for me to be forced to slow down and really just BE in a place. I spent three nights in Plitvice National Park, but everything else has only been a night or two in the same place. While I like to be on the move and have things to do, but it will be good to just slow down. This may be hard for me so it might be just what I need.
Walking Tour of the City
This morning after straightening out the dirty laundry (ha!), I went on a walking tour of the city. What an awesome experience on so many levels! I learned a lot about the history, people, and culture. Our first stop, after a brief intro to the city and country, was the Eternal Flame. This was created in 1945 or 1946 as a monument of gratitude to the people (Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks) who liberated the city from the Nazis.
The only time the flame has been out was during the siege (1992 – 1996), which ironically was fighting among the same three groups. You can still see where the bullets and shells damaged the monument. The people chose to leave them as a reminder of what good can come from working together and the bad from fighting amongst ourselves.
Remnants of the 90’s Siege
Our next stop was the open-air market. After not being hit with a single shell for two years, in 1994 a shell hit the market killing 67 and wounding more than 100 others. It was the largest massacre during the siege. They have left the small crater where the shell landed and the back wall of the market is now a memorial with the names of all 67 who died that day – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats. I love that they preserved and remember what happened instead of just glossing over the troubles.
From there we moved to the Cathedral of Jesus’ Sacred Heart and a spot where another shell killed someone. The hole has been filled with a red material and the damage to the building was left in remembrance of those who died. The red filled mortal holes are called Sarajevo Roses and you can see them all over the city. They’re used to mark a place where one of the shells took a life.
WWI Starts in Sarajevo
Next we visited the place on the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand’s car drove and had to turn around, giving one the assassins the perfect opportunity to kill him and his pregnant wife Sofia. Tomorrow is 101 years since the assassination.
The rest of the tour was the covered market, Bey’s Mosque, the Old Synagogue, the city park with the giant chess board, and the oldest hostel in the city (now offices). I found the parts about the siege most interesting because I remember hearing about it on TV when I was young.
What I found most striking was listening to our guide talk about her experience as a Bosnian. The jokes about the people living in Sarajevo being missed (by snipers) and how they were very athletic because they all ran everywhere in hopes of avoiding sniper fire. The stories of the horrible UN rations of rice that had to be boiled for five hours to be edible and the bright pink meat gelatin are a stark contrast to the first world problems and Junior High drama that was my own life during the same time.
She talked about how the unemployment rate is currently about 50% and even higher (65%) for those under 35. About how they sit in cafes and drink coffee for 1 mark (50 cents US) comparing who has the crappiest life, like a one-upper game. She said overall life is okay, and people are pretty happy just to have the simple things because they have known so much worse.
This got me thinking about the sliver I had in Bled (I got a painful piece of wood stuck in my finger that took up a ridiculous amount of head space until I got it out) and how we spend so much time and mental energy on things that really don’t matter and miss the joys of simply being alive!
Coffee and a conversation with people you love or just met, fresh fruit on a summer morning, being able to walk the streets of a new city, are things many of us take for granted. These are the things Sarajevo is meant to teach me. That’s why I’m here. I have much to learn from this city and its people. (Damn, reading that now makes me all choked up – this was only the beginning of what this beautiful city would send home with me…)
Enjoying the Sarajevo of Today
I spent the afternoon eating Čevapi, walking along Marshal Tito street, hiked the road to the Olympic Stadium (the 1984 Olympics were in Sarajevo), had an espresso, read my book, met some other travelers from Germany and Ireland over a beer, and enjoyed a simple backpacker dinner with funky roast chicken puffy chips before a nice chat with my hubby.
When I’m in the bigger cities, I find myself running through the list of things to see. Again, I have much to learn from the Bosnian way and pleasure in the simplicity of life. I will do my best to just relax and let things flow more easily. The best part is that I have the time. There’s no reason to rush!
Learning to Slow Down
The next place I want to see is Budapest, so maybe I can learn to chill and I’ll head straight there and spend a week rather than a few days in many of the places along the way. I think part of the mentality for me is, “I’ve come all this way, I should see as much as I can!” rather than slowing down and really enjoying the place, not rushing through it.
Appreciating the simple things and embracing more of the “slow travel” idea is where I’m going to focus for the rest of this trip.
In hindsight, I can see how much this single day changed my life. If not for a bag of misplaced dirty laundry, my experience in Sarajevo would have been much shorter and probably just the “highlight reel” of sights. Instead I spent a full week (Bosnian post isn’t the speediest) and fell completely in love with the city. I was able to see and feel the daily flow of life, make friends, and really soak in all it has to offer. I even returned that September and stayed for a full month!
Last fall, I went back for a visit and took a friend along so I could share the magic of this place. It’s become such a huge part of my consciousness and changed my worldview in ways that are difficult to put into words.
I always say, “Sarajevo is where I go when I need to remember how to live.”
Have you had any experiences that blow your mind wide open like this? How did you process that huge shift in awareness? How has it changed the way you see and interact with the world now?