Bosnia…

When I was talking to people about my trip and telling them where I was planning to go, everyone made this face when I told them I was going to Bosnia, and Sarajevo.

Bosnia is the most beautiful country I have ever visited, and Sarajevo itself was incredible. Keep in mind, I’ve been through the Alps, seen the Sahara, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and visited all the countries listed on the right. That’s, possibly, a little hyperbolic, but if that’s the case, only barely.

Don’t get me wrong, the country is relatively (to western Europe) basic, but it still retains an awful lot of charm for a country that’s been through so much in the last century. I will happily admit my ignorance with reference to not only the war in the early ’90s, but also pretty much all the rest of the history of Bosnia. So much stuff happened here. I’m not going to wax lyrical about that here because I’m sure the Wikipedia article is much better written, but I have now stood on the spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which caused the start of the first world war, I have walked down a street listening to the call to prayer from a mosque as I pass and then a few steps later been in front of a cathedral, and I’ve walked through a section of tunnel that the locals dug to try and get supplies into the city while it was surrounded by Serbian forces. I’ve also spent a Saturday night out on the town at a bar called Cheers, listening to a live five-piece band play fantastic jazz.

I’ve updated the Photodump with some pictures from both Sarajevo and Mostar, the two places in the country I visited. Incidentally, those pock-marks in the walls aren’t the result of shoddy masonry, they’re bullet holes from when the city was shelled to hell by the aforementioned Serbs. Notice, won’t you, that they’re not just on the walls of big buildings that might look important, but also lining the underside of residential balconies.

Damian (remember him?) and I arranged a tour to see the tunnel that the citizens of Sarajevo dug under the airport during the siege so that they could smuggle supplies into the city. A part of this tour was taken by the mother of the guys who ran the hostel that I stayed at. She was a lovely woman in, I’d guess, her mid ’50s-’60s who was living in Sarajevo for the entirety of the war. She drove Damian and I on a private tour around a few notable landmarks of the city, including the Olympic mountain used during the winter Olympic games decades ago, as well as a huge Jewlish graveyard. At first, Damian and I were confused as to the significance of said graveyard, other than the fact that it was on one of the hills surrounding the city and so afforded us wonderful views of the whole place.

The lady, whose name I regretfully forget, regaled us with a story, which I shall now pass along, though not nearly with as much emotion as it was told. The lady used to work for the Bosnian government, and during the war of the ’90s she was working as head of diplomatic relations, or foreign relations or something like that. The city was under siege by Serbian forces on pretty much all sides, being attacked daily by rockets, shells and bullets from all of the surrounding hills. It was not safe to go outside, to go to work, to go to the shop (not that there was anything to buy because the city was cut off). Her children were having to be schooled in basements and bunkers because it was the only place safe for them.

One day while she was at work, she walked to the window of the tower block her office was located in, and gazed down on the park outside, bathed in the yellow glow of the midday sun in the middle of summer. She stood at the window for some minutes feeling incredibly sad that she could not walk outside to experience the beautiful weather and the surroundings of the park.

Then the sniper bullet missed her head by about three centimetres and blew a crater in the wall behind her between two co-workers. The Jewish graveyard was used by the Serb forces as their primary sniper spot, and they used to lie up there all day taking shots at anyone standing still for long enough. For fun. They weren’t under orders to aim at specific targets, just shoot anyone that moved, or didn’t, for long enough. She pointed to another tower block just under two kilometres away in which a friend of hers was working one day when he had three fingers taken from his hand by a sniper. So, the next time you think you’re having a bad day at work, be thankful people aren’t trying to shoot you in the face.

For the mash of three different, and fairly contrasting religions all pushed together into such a small city, Sarajevo was a lovely place, with a fantastic atmosphere and very friendly people. I never once felt remotely unsafe walking around, despite the occasional crumbling building and line of bullet holes.

Visit if you can.

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