Visiting Sarajevo was a sort of an unplanned adventure. Although I’d known for a while that we planned to visit the city I hadn’t really looked at what the city was about and I hold my hands up to being completely uneducated about Bosnia and Herzegovina in general. I’ve tried to write this post a couple of times but it never sounded right. It’s never had the right tone or felt real enough. It’s hard to capture the heartache a city has been through when it’s something that you don’t really understand yourself.
After a fairly emotional bus ride I wasn’t set for what Sarajevo was going to throw at me. I wasn’t ready to love it as much as I did. Ok so it’s not the most beautiful to walk around nor does it have the best view, it has no water around it (the trickily river does not count!) and being a girl raised on sea air this is usually a problem for me. I found myself completely absorbed in the history, again a bit of a shock to the system as I’m not someone that can usually take in museums overly well. I enjoy listening to people and hearing their stories (which came later) but as we wandered around the museum in the city hall I was getting it. The mist started to clear and I got a glimpse of what had happened to the capital city of the country nobody could pronounce at the Eurovision Song Contest. I saw the death and destruction that had caused the city to fracture and the devisions between religions that had never really been healed.
As we walked around over the next couple of days we saw the sites, sounds and smells that Sarajevo has to offer, we walked the hills and chatted to the locals. We stayed in what ended up being my favourite hostel of all time for a night before moving on to Mostar. The hostel was called The War Hostel, pretty self explanatory really. The father and son duo that own the place have made a real homage to the siege that shook the city between 1992 and 1996.
The dad (Jasmine) was part of the civilian army that fought to keep ownership of Sarajevo from the Serbs that were shooting innocent people from their hide outs in the hills. I don’t really want to get into the history as I’m sure my memory is
fairly really terrible but I fully remember the experience.
As part of what the hostel offers Jasmine takes you up in to the hills in his car and explains his role in the army and what it was like for him and his family during that time. The genuine pain in his words was and still is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever heard. Although the siege was 20 years ago the effects are still clearly evident in locals that lived through it and the city in general. He took us to places that were thriving before being invaded by the Serbian army, you can walk the bobsleigh track from the 1984 Winter Olympics that is now scattered with bullet holes and covered in graffiti. It’s bone chilling to see signs for mine fields that are still active and the hideouts that snipers would use to pick off their victims. The hills in Sarajevo are still thriving with bunkers and bullets that were left behind.
He drove us around for a couple of hours whilst telling us his not so ancient war stories. Ok it wasn’t light hearted or particularly what we know as enjoyable but it was enlightening and gave me a whole new outlook on Bosnia and the history of Sarajevo.
If you stay in Sarajevo stay in The War Hostel, even if it’s for a night.
I know I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of Sarajevo but whenever I tell anyone about my travels I always go back to it. Whether it’s because I love telling stories or that something resonated with me I’m not really sure. I had such a huge appreciation for the family that owned the hostel and all the people that were and still are affected by what happened there. Although I’m sure the Sarajevan people were pleased with the recent verdict that Radovan Karadžić finally got sentenced for the war crimes he committed some 20 years ago, I have a feeling it’s only a small victory for the likes of Jasmine’s family who are still so clearly traumatised by their beautiful city being ripped apart.
War is war, it happens and we move on, but it’s clear as day in Sarajevo that it’s not forgotten. I hope this post doesn’t put you off going, it really is an amazing city that has awesome people and places to see. Sometimes we visit places that have been coated in fairy dust by the tourism boards, but that’s not real, hearing what people went through and seeing it first hand is real and if culture is something you want to experience. Sarajevo is the place to go.
Have you ever been to Sarajevo or a place that left you awe-struck? Let me know! I love hearing your travel stories!