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Bosnia and Herzegovina

My favorite city in Europe on my backpacking trip was Sarajevo and I was thrilled to be able to visit again with a friend. We came back to explore the claim someone made when I visited last time that one could ski an Olympic mountain for $10. It’s jumped to 18 euros now, but that’s still pretty darned good and a great excuse to visit.

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My favorite thing to do a lot of places. Wandering the quiet streets in the morning or late at night when everyone else is asleep.

 

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One of the things I loved most about Sarajevo the first time was waking up to a melange of church bells and prayer calls. It’s still pretty magical.

 

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Sometimes there’s an adorable mosque kitty too.

 

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The first time I mostly remember the war roses, the bomb holes filled with red cement that hadn’t gotten paved over since. This time it was the building decay and bullet holes.

 

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I couldn’t leave Sarajevo without having as many burek as I could fit. Still delicious.

Among the amusing and delicious food finds was a great little cafe hidden on a back street where the young owner and chef regaled us with the differences with former Yugoslavian punk rock and modern Bosnian music. After celebrating new years at a local university craft brew pub, we headed into the mountains to go skiing. There’s a few places one can ski and we hit Jahorina. It ended up mostly being one really long run without the best snow the first couple days, we were a bit early in the season.

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When you think the blanket may be older than you and it’s all the more charming for it.

We stayed at what was the official Olympic hotel full of Bosnian families. The terrible buffet and decor were all I could have hoped it to be. I don’t know that I would recommend anyone go there who isn’t stunned by this.

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Now that I haven’t been traveling for a year, I was not landmark fatigued and made it to some more historical things my friend wanted to go to like the war tunnels. Claustrophobic much? Just in time for the 25th anniversary of the war.

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Not knowing what to expect in Sarajevo meant I didn’t know what I was about to eat either.  I arrived late at night, almost 11 pm, starving from being on a train all day.  I wandered into an almost deserted old town when it hit me.  Wafts of sweet hookah smoke and a 24 hour burek shop serving up pita, not the flatbread but the greasy phyllo dough filled pie.  The filling is rolled into the dough and then the dough is either laid out in straight rows or rolled into a coil and cut into pie like slices to be sold by the piece or kilo.

Such a large slice of meat burek that the tip had to be cut off and put on top before being doused in yogurt sauce. Just in case you didn’t have enough yogurt, the traditional drink to have with this is more plain yogurt.

While I ate at many buregdzinica shops, I often did so late at night so the pita were sitting out too long and not as crisp as they should be. So the best one I had was at Buregdzinica Bosna at lunch when they brought out this piping hot pumpkin (looked more like zucchini) burek with a flaky, perfectly crispy crust giving way to a soft steamy interior. Oddly this is the only time I didn’t get yogurt sauce.

Now it seems quite obvious that I would see some stuff similar to Hungary and the rest of the region mixed in with the delicious influence of Turkish food.  I still struggled with my budget but still found some tasty cheap eats to be had, particularly at the various pita shops and ascincas (cafeteria).  I just couldn’t resist all the delicious meaty things.

While I struggled to find a decently priced delicious stuffed pepper or cabbage in Hungary, I had no such problems here. The lady at Ascinica ASDZ noticed I was not a local and made me a sampler plate of everything.

Quite the opposite from the very modern Ascinica ASDZ was Ascinica Hadibajric with its tiny wooden interior.  I showed up near closing time (noon on a Sunday) in an effort to beat its progressively earlier closing time on weekends.  Either way the Ascinicas seem to be mostly a lunch event and are mostly closed by early evening.

One delicious veal chop, creamed spinach and beans. The nice lady refused my request for tripe though, saying it wouldn’t play well with the others, to trust her.

One of the most famous dishes of the area is cevapicici, little grilled sausages shoved inside a pita like bread with optional baseball sized cream cheese and onions. This is also traditional eaten with drinking yogurt. It is tasty and fast but a bit dry. After trying two places, I prefer Cevabdzinica Zeljo over Hodzic.

[748] The adorable stone streets are lined with lots of stores selling the same tourist crap you see everywhere but here there was a refreshing number of metal smiths still making copper coffeeware and burek pots by hand.  This picture darkened the window where you could see ancient equipment in use.

The weather wasn’t great while I was in Sarajevo so I found myself often ducking into places when it really started pouring.  One such time I ducked into a busy cafe I noticed earlier in a courtyard, full of what looked like students.  As the rain fell in sheets I sat down on a chair and was asked if I wanted something traditional.  Not a moment passed when someone would recognize a fried or colleague in the room.  It must be a place to see and be seen.

A traditional Bosnian coffee, coconut Turkish delight, and baklava. You drink the coffee the Bosnian way by dipping your sugar cube in the coffee briefly, then biting a bit of the dunked end off, and drinking your coffee. Somewhere in that complex method, you find time to eat your sweets.

The adorable stone streets are lined with lots of stores selling the same tourist crap you see everywhere but here there was a refreshing number of metal smiths still making copper coffeeware and burek pots by hand. This picture darkened the window where you could see ancient equipment in use.

Only later on my walking tour did I realize I had ducked into Cafe Divan, occupying the courtyard of the oldest surviving example of an Ottoman era inn.  Getting out of chocolate cake town would’ve been good for me but there are still tasty desserts to be had.  The best one is tufahija, a poached apple stuffed with a walnut filling and topped with a whipped cream topping.  It was hard to find but our walking tour guide finally told us Kuca Sevdaha was the place to get one.

I did end up cooking a few meals as this was pretty heavy fare. Luckily my hostel not only had a great view of the National Library, but the windows were lined with grapes still on the vine! This particular bunch looks pretty decimated because I’d already eaten a bunch.

Not having any expectations means I was rather pleasantly surprised with the meaty food of Bosnia.  Now I wonder why Chicago is the only place in America with lots of this type of food, I think Los Angeles could use some sausages, burek, and yogurt sauce.  I’m already planning how much burek I can take with me when I pass through Sarajevo again on the train.

What did I really know about Bosnia before I came?  I didn’t even know it was technically Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took me days to learn how to spell.  I walked into a world I didn’t expect.

A beautiful train ride and a world away from Hungary.

Bosnia evokes images of a brutal war not so very long ago and I didn’t know it had destroyed a rather metropolitan city.  It helped that I had a guide in this town.  I highly recommend going on a free walking tour here with Neno.  He wants you to understand and love his city as much as he obviously does, to see that their is a long history to love and a more recent one not to be forgotten.

Sarajevo is nestled in a lush green valley with a river winding itself through the middle.

I did not know about the 400 some years of Turkish rule bringing hundreds of mosques, strong coffee, and prosperity.  You can scarcely look around without seeing a minaret towering majestically in the skyline.  While the modern tragedies are quite prominent there are reminders all over the city of the more distant past.  Of old caravans and markets that hinted at the spice trade’s passing.

This is a centuries old Turkish cemetery in front of a more modern war cemetery. The Turkish gravestones are meant to look like little people wearing turbans.

I didn’t know about the 40 years of Austro-Hungarian rule that was the precursor to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on a bridge in town.  The short rule brought whole districts worth of buildings and modern conveniences like electricity and trams.

The Latin Bridge seems so mundane now. It is hard to imagine it sparked one of the bloodiest wars ever.

It is always interesting to see things from the other view, where the assassinator was a hero for fighting for independence rights.

It is impossible to avoid the impact of this most recent year.  It was not bringing foreign invades as much as an explosion of the various ethnic groups in the city.

A Sarajevo Rose is a mortal spot where more than three people died so they memorialize it by filling it in with red resin.

You can see the marks on the walls as well. Bullet holes are still visible on many walls. The Sarajevo Roses are disappearing as twenty years later, things are getting repaved.

One of the most tragic attacks occurred at the market, where people still went despite the danger as they had to eat. Today there’s a memorial in the back and it otherwise just looks like a normal market.  The high number of civilian casualties of this bombing at the market helped finally end the war.

Life has returned to normal in the last twenty years.  Walking down the street with luxury designer stores and trendily dressed youth going about does not exactly scream tragedy.  Yet people still carry with them their years of fear and hiding.  Of living off awful international aid rations and being in bases for years on end.

This group of old men played chess despite the oncoming rain. I appreciate the guy wearing a plastic bag on his head as a defense.

The strangest thing I saw in town was something from home.

The US Embassy put up the flag huge on a few trams to celebrate July 4th. Three months later, the trams still look rather oddly garish. If we followed what Eddie Izzard says, does that mean we own the tram by sticking a flag on it?

There is a mix of the modern as one could easily be confused that they were in any other major city in the shopping areas combined with the architecture of so many eras past.  Fancy cars mingle with rather old trams and even donated train cars, relics others were done using.

There are a lot of people living in Sarajevo. They live in a mix of the old, the slightly less old, and the traces of the not nearly old enough wounds just starting to heal.

One of my favorite things that I saw is a photography exhibit called “See New Perspectives” featuring all Balkan artists showcasing how they view the region they live in.  There was a mix of the depressing realities of pollution, current economic woes, and wars past mixed with the strangeness of different cultures and topped with some optimistic views on life improving.  There was a display of heavy metal fans, university students discovering their world and themselves, and how a country like Macedonia deals with 10% of their population describing themselves as gay but being rather oppressive and hateful as a culture towards gay rights.  There were stories of whole Romanian villages that work menial jobs in Western Europe, scrounging every last euro so they can come home once a year to build gigantic mansions and drive luxury cars, showcasing a fake wealth.  In the brief time I am in Sarajevo, the exhibit perfectly captures my feelings on observing the myriad factors of so many different groups of people and different politics making this region so fascinating as it continues to evolve.