Friday, May 2, 2014

A Salute to Sarajevo

April 12th - April 17th.  Rome to Istanbul was a nice transition from life in the heart of urban Italy to the beating heart of Turkey. The crossover in culture from Roman to Ottoman rule and beyond was interesting to see. Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a perfect next step in exploring Roman, Muslim and European influences on a city's culture and architecture.

We arrived in Sarajevo on Pegasus airlines from Istanbul and took a taxi into town. We were expecting to see dilapidated, bombed out buildings and desolate areas along the route (the areas surrounding the airport were hit very hard during the 1992-1995 conflict). And we did, but we also saw gleaming new buildings and slow progress towards rebuilding a new, vibrant city. Both Michael and I read The Cellist of Sarajevo ahead of our visit. It is a good read in it's own right, but an especially good primer about life in this city during the war.

Bomb Damage in the center of the city still waiting for repair
One of many cemeteries filled with fallen victims. This one is in town.
We pulled in front of our new home and were met by our host Emir. He had been really helpful in gathering information for us and helping Michael organize a chance to see a local football match. Emir loves his city - and that is one of the best parts of being an airbnb traveler, meeting your host and getting great insight and tips from a local.
We found the neighborhood store so we stocked up on basics and then headed out. The apartment location was great, of course hills and stairs to get to the city center were involved - but we have come to appreciate and expect that now. Got our phone SIM cards installed so we could use maps, text and make limited phone calls. We had a free walking tour booked for Monday morning so we wandered through town without an agenda. The highlight was an great lunch in old town and then watching two dozen men centered around a chess match underway in the town square. This takes place all day, everyday - and it's serious. I loved the giant plastic pieces that had been battered and duct taped together many times.

And when we didn't have stairs, there were free exercise machines in the parks
The chess games played here are serious business.
We attended Palm Sunday mass at the Catholic cathedral. It was interesting ... lots of waving of palm fronds, incense and somber music. Early in the service the entire congregation (well those under 75, and those that could walk - so really about half) followed the Bishop and other important men in hats along with the clergy outside for a precession around the church to symbolize Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Two hours later we proceeded - or perhaps sprinted to the nearest doner stand and devoured lunch. We found a free guitar concert to attend later in the evening.

Returning to church after the Palm Sunday procession
Food shopping here is not the best. I did find a fresh market that I could visit on Monday - but meanwhile the offerings in the grocery stores in our neighborhood were meager. I was ready to roast my traditional first day chicken and I started to prepare it and the chicken was, lets just say, funky. As in spoiled. Yuk. Pizza anyone?
Just a peek at the potatoes in our local store. No thanks.
While I was dealing with that, Michael attended a football match, and as always made a new friend and learned the secret to cracking pumpkin seeds - the official snack of Bosnian football along with Capri Sun. No beer and peanuts for these fans.

Michael and his new friend Paul at the Olimpico Sarajevo v Zeljeznicar match
Monday we met our walking tour guide Neno. He was young, enthusiastic and full of knowledge.
We were joined by a dozen others and headed out under sunny skies. Neno was a young, 7 year old boy when the war began - but he had strong memories of being frightened and then becoming used to the constant shelling and gun fire. He also remembers always being hungry. And of his mother doing whatever she could to bring food home along with occasional packets of sugar that he would make last for days.

The shell craters in the city where civilians died are filled with red cement and called Sarajevo Roses. And once you started looking for bullet holes in buildings they were everywhere. The whole experience gave us chills.

Our free walking tour guide Neno. He really made the city come alive.
A Sarajevo Rose mark a spot where citizens died in the shelling
Bullet holes could be seen everywhere - they seemed so random.

More evidence - just around the corner from our apartment
There is ancient history to be found here that pre-dates the conflicts of the 90's. Roman ruins, rule under the Ottoman Empire and the extensive Muslim influence that came with that, several sighting of the Virgin Mary in the hillsides, The Austro-Hungarian occupation, the First World War (the fuse was lit here), and then the Nazi invasion during World War II. This city can't catch a break!

In happier times, Sarajevo hosted a successful Winter Olymoics
I'd had my fill of sad stories so Michael went to the Srebrenica Memorial Museum on his own. He was given a nice personalized tour from a young women who appreciated his interest and gave him great insight into the past and the current political situation here.

Here are Michael's thoughts on Sarajevo:

It is hard to know where to start with the story of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its capital Sarajevo. As a student of European History and a follower of current events and politics I looked forward to seeing Sarajevo in person. for me, it turned out to be the most educating, fascinating and eye-opening stops we've had since leaving home last July.

The country really is called Bosnia and Herzegovina but  is often shortened to Bosnia. Sarajevo is the capital. The population is around 4 million people which is the same as Oregon. Bosnia was part of the Yugoslavian Federation from 1945 - 1992. You may remember that Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and while the Soviet Union was falling apart, the various countries of the Federation sought their own independence which, before long, resulted in a full-scale civil war. Bosnia suffered the most during the war which ran from 1992 - 1995 because its population was pretty evenly divided between three factions: the Croatians (Roman Catholic) Serbians (Orthodox Christian) and Bosniaks (Muslims). It was during this time that Sarajevo was under siege from the Serbs for almost three years. In the last decade three key Serb leaders have been tried in the Hague at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide.

One other piece of history, it was in Sarajevo where Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand  was assassinated in 1914 next to the Latin Bridge that proved to be the start of WW I. Today, the country is one of the poorest in Europe with 44% unemployment, the highest in Europe.

All in all, this is a fascinating city that I encourage you to visit.

A surprise Spring snow shower from our window.
The next day we woke up, stretched, yawned looked out the window and gaped at a sky filled with snowflakes the size of goose feathers! It had been sunny and 68 degrees the day before! It snowed most of the day. As you can see from the photo our nieghborhood wasn't picturesque - and even snow, which has a way of making everything look pretty didn't have much to work with. But it was fun - and made for a nice walk.

Tomorrow we are off for almost three weeks in Croatia. A country that has been on our must visit list for some time. We are traveling 8 hours by bus from Sarajevo.  First stop Split, then Hvar and finally Dubrovnik. Sun please.

Thanks again for following along!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads

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