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Trip Report Sarajevo in the springtime. julia_t makes a return trip.

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After my mini road-trip through western Bosnia & Herzegovina last year I wanted to spend some more time in Sarajevo. While planning my return, my ex-mother-in-law – Mo - and I were talking about travel, and one thing led to another, and it was agreed that she would join me on this trip.

We flew from London Gatwick with Malev. There are no direct flights from the UK, and this was the quickest option, with a 50 minute layover and change of plane in Budapest. Total travel time LGW-SAR was 4 hours 10 minutes. The flights were uneventful and we landed 2.30pm local time. We didn’t check any bags, but this didn’t save any time as by the time we’d gone through security everyone else’s bags were waiting.

There is now a bus that runs from the airport to the central bus station, but I am told it tends to be unreliable. A taxi should cost in the region of 30KM (15 euros) though I have heard one should be very careful with using taxis, making sure the meter is switched on and that the driver is clear where you want to go.

I had arranged a guided tour for later in the week, and the young man who takes the tours offers airport pickups for 10 euros if you are taking the tour. His brother met us and drove us into town in a smart Mercedes 4WD.

Although there is a reciprocal currency agreement with 2 Bosnian marks (KM) being worth 1 euro, there is virtually nowhere in town that accepts euros as payment this year. The exception is hotels which will take euros as cash, and many of the tours are quoted in euros and will accept either currency. Also Bosnian marks cannot be obtained or used outside the country.

I had originally booked an apartment in the Austro-Hungarian quarter, though still right in the centre on Strossmajerova, and close to the Cathedral. A couple of weeks before we left I had an email telling me the apartment would no longer be available as there were problems with the heating. All other available apartments were either too far out of the centre or only had one bedroom and a sofa bed. Although most apartments are priced around 50-60 euros, we really wanted 2 bedrooms.

Luckily the lovely little hotel where I stayed last year had 2 rooms free for our dates, and offered them at 50 euros for single occupancy. This is the Hotel Safir, http://www.hotelsafir.ba/engleski/index.php in a terrific location 100m from the Sebili Fountain in the heart of the Bascarsija. The hotel only has 8 rooms and the staff are marvellous. Fatima, Elma and Amra are all so helpful and cannot do enough to help. The place is spotless, the showers are hot and powerful, the sheets and towels are changed daily, and my only quibble is that the towels are a bit on the small side. Most rooms have a small kitchen area, and they all have a mini-bar (very reasonable prices!). The television has something like 50 channels with lots of English speaking ones. Interestingly, all the other guests we met there were fellow Europeans who work in Sarajevo with the EU or UN. They have been staying here regularly for several years. One Danish man stays for 3 weeks every month. Breakfast is excellent, with home-baked bread, cereals, cold meats and cheeses, honey and jam, yoghurt. You can also have eggs, scrambled, fried or an omelette. Plus coffee, a wide selection of teas, and fruit juice.

Once we’d dumped our bags and freshened up, we walked down into the Bascarsija, and stopped at Hodzic 2 for cevapi and a Sarajevski beer (from the brewery just across the river). Then we just wandered through the streets of the old town. The main through-street, known as Saraci, was being dug up and pipes being laid, so we tended to avoid this street – I have a tendency to turn my ankles on uneven surfaces (indeed I had an ankle strapped up at the time) - but it was easy enough to find another route. This afternoon was surprisingly hot, 26 degrees. All the online weather forecasts I’d looked at had only prepared me for heat of 16-18 degrees! So I’d packed long-sleeved t-shirts! We returned to the hotel late afternoon, following a stop at a café which is between 2 streets, with scarlet chair covers with coca-cola logos under the shade of scarlet coca-cola logo-ed parasols and trees just coming into leaf. It’s a very pleasant place to sit and people watch. I think it is called Kobalana. Maybe Kolabana. Either way it is hard to miss if you are walking through the Bascarsija.

Last year I’d not been particularly impressed with either of my evening meals in the city, so I had made sure to do some restaurant research this time. Tonight we headed west into the Austro-Hungarian quarter, turning up behind the Cathedral and Markale market into Ulica Dzenitica Cikma. Here we found Karuso. The owner – Sasha – is also the cook, waiter, wine pourer, washer-up. He does it all himself so service is not quick. You have to be prepared to settle in for a few hours here. There are only 7 tables inside and a couple outside. Sasha’s motto is painted above the stairs to the kitchen – Life is too short to eat anywhere else but at Karuso. The cuisine here is traditional Bosnian, based on fish and vegetables (but meat eaters need not fear, it is on the menu too!)

Still fairly full from cevapi, we only ordered a main course each. We chose off the daily specials board – and we both ordered vegetarian. Mushroom risotto and a wholewheat pancake with eggplant, butternut squash and puy lentils. Both were absolutely fabulous! With 3 large glasses of a very pleasant local red wine from Trebinje, the bill was 56 KM (28 euros). Here we met an Englishman who lives in Sarajevo while working for the Foreign Office, and the Danish man who ‘lives’ at the Hotel Safir while working in the city. He spends weekends on the coast and had just returned from Dubrovnik.

We ambled back to the hotel. I slept amazingly well. So too did Mo, who is suffering quite badly with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome while she waits for an operation in May.

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