After not couchsurfing for quite a while, I was quite eager to get back to this style of traveling. It was what lured me into this world, the meeting of people from all over the world, living their lives for a few days and of course, traveling cheaply. M kindly agreed to host me at his place a little out of the city center, but still close enough to it. A Italian, M had moved to Sarajevo for work. He picked me and C up at the airport and dropped C at the city center, which was an extremely nice gesture as there seemed to be no public transport from the airport to the city. I had a comfy sofa bed and a whole room to myself, and we agreed to meet in the city in a few hours time, so I could walk around a little while he continued with his work. As Bosnia still uses the Mark, I went to change a EUR 50 bill to Marks, as I didn’t think I would need much money here anyway. As I was leaving the money changer, I could feel someone watching me from behind, but didn’t think much of it. Walking around the old town was quite a pleasure, it had a good mix of European and Turkish styles.
It was also much poorer than Slovenia where I was at previously, with children busking along the streets as their mothers were tugging at tourists asking for money. As I entered the first mosque I saw, I discovered to my horror that my wallet, the one with the money I had just exchanged, was gone. The bag was still unzipped. I had a feeling it happened when I stopped to take a photo outside a pastry shop – it was an opportune moment for the thief to take it out. He probably noticed (from the currency exchange place) that it wasn’t very difficult to get it as it was at the top of my bag, and since I wasn’t paying attention, I was literally asking to be robbed. I thanked my lucky stars that my other envelope, which had most of my cash and my passport, which was just next to my wallet in my bag, were still with me. Things could have been much worse. But from then on, I made sure to carry my bag in front of me. After that, I went to a church, and prayed hard that the thief would burn in hell. Later when we met, M was really nice and treated me to dinner to make me feel better, and I was grateful to have been couchsurfing. Nonetheless, Sarajevo was beautiful, in a dark way. With the war barely 20 years ago, evidence of it could be seen all over town. There were many Sarajevo roses – imprints on the floor where bomb shrapnel had left their mark. And a park dedicated to all the children who died during the war, the park had a rolling list of the children’s names and there were easily thousands of them.
Despite this pickpocketing fiasco, some of the highlights in Sarajevo for me were:
- The day tour C and I did, where we learnt about the war. Our guide F was a 30+ year old guy who had lived through the war as a kid, and he shared many anecdotes of his scarred childhood with us. Having lost many relatives during the war, I could sense his numbness to pain and mental strength in the way he talked. His dry humour and positive outlook on life despite what happened was probably what helped many of the war survivors to get through the pain. We went through a portion of a tunnel where the soldiers had dug out with their bare hands as their escape route. The entire tunnel was rather long, as they had to carry supplies to and fro everyday. I guess men collapsed out of exhaustion, lack of air or even died along the way, and his comrades either pushed him along or just had to leave him behind. It’s kind of hard to imagine that the city had more or less recovered within such a short period of time. We also visited the Trebevic mountain, where the 1984 winter olympics were held. But now all that remains are the bombed-out shell of what was once a top restaurant and hotel, and an abandoned bobsled racetrack which was covered with graffiti. The ironic thing is that the view from the mountain was crazy, yet the place held so much sadness. Along the way, we saw several mass graveyards, and F showed us how to differentiate a muslim grave from a christian grave. I guess because of the human ego, religions will always be a war kickstarter, however little sense that makes.
- Bosnian food. Although very basic and lacking in variety, I couldn’t get enough of the cevapi and bureks. Cevapi, which are like minced meat sausages, were served everywhere, and for some unknown reason I found them very comforting. And after the tour, C and I went to this shop selling many different kinds of bureks and we ordered pretty much one of everything. Although I’ve had burek in turkey, eating it fresh from the oven made all the difference.
- Walking up the hills near M’s house. I read that view from the hill were decent, and since the previous day had been really foggy, I was eager to get some good shots of a panorama of the city. Sadly, it was still rather foggy, apparently it always happens in winter because the cold air is heavy and pollution from the cars can’t escape fast enough. At the top of the hill, after getting all sweaty as it was indeed a steep road, I stumbled across the remains of an old fortress, and just beyond it, there were houses which I think were left behind from the war. I literally felt a chill run down my spine as I walked around the area, as I saw toys lying on the floor, clothes which looked like they had not been touched for a while hanging outside empty houses and pot and pans still on stoves of houses which had doors blown apart. It was quite surreal, until a few stray dogs started barking and advancing towards me. I panicked inwardly, trying hard not to show it as I knew dogs could sense fear, and slowly made my way back to the city. Quite an adventure.
On our last night in Sarajevo, C and I joined M and his friends at a pub for some craft beer. M’s friends were part of of the orchestra and they were from all over the world, Russia, the US, Albania, Germany. I think times like these, where you take a break from traveling and talk in a language you’re comfortable in, stop taking in new information about the country you’re visiting and meet other foreigners can be quite a welcome break when you’re traveling for an extended period of time.