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Trip Report Trip report Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia in October 2010

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My husband and I recently took a 10 day trip to Sarajevo, staying in the city except for a four day road trip to the Southern Dalmatian Coast.

We had never spent time in the Balkans before and were fascinated and captivated by our brief visit to this part of the world. Our main impetus for choosing Sarajevo was the chance to visit a friend who has been living there for several years. We originally thought we would just spend 7 days in Sarajevo with an overnight in Mostar, but she persuaded us to add on the extra days so we could see a little of the countryside and the Croatian coast.

Before we left I read:
Lie in the Dark, a mystery set during the siege of Sarajevo by Dan Fesperman. I
also read his second mystery, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, while I was
Love thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass (story of the 1990's conflict
as seen through the eyes of a reporter)
Black Lamb, Grey Falcon (sections on Croatia and Bosnia) by Rebecca West
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks ( novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah
through time, different owners)
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Back home I have just finished Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo by Roger Cohen

We watched the films Welcome to Sarajevo and Hunt for Justice.

We took an older edition of Tim Clancy's Bradt guide Bosnia and Herzegovina and
the Fodor's Croatia and Slovenia (I got the latter for free because I was quoted in
another guide). The new edition of the Clancy guide out this year looks good but it didn't seem necessary to invest in that edition for our trip when I already had the older one. We had access to many Sarajevo guide books once we got to our friend's apartment.

In this report I am going to refer to the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina as BiH. The country is small but divided up in several different (and confusing) ways. Bosnia is the northern section and western section, Herzegovina the southern part of the country. They are roughly divided by the Dinaric Alps. It is important to use the whole name Bosnia and
Herzegovina unless you are referring to one geographic section of the country or the
other. BiH is also divided into two "entities," the Federation of Bosnia (mostly Bosniak (Muslim) population) and the Republika srpska (mostly Serb population). There are sections of each in both Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We flew Lufthansa from Boston to Sarajevo. This was our only option with only one stop and was much shorter and less grueling and only slightly more expensive than other multi-stop itineraries. We left at 8:20 p.m. and arrived about 12:20 p.m. the next day, with time to see something of the city if we could manage to stay awake....

Day 1: Sarajevo
The weather report for our first few days in Bosnia had been for intermittent rain, and it was cloudy as we flew over the Alps all the way to the Sarajevo airport. But as we arrived the sun came out and for the whole trip we had remarkably good weather.

Our friend met us at the airport. We stopped to get some money (BiH currency,
KMs) from an ATM but were not successful. Although we had called in advance to report
where we would be traveling, the transactions for BiH and Croatia were all blocked during our trip. This would have been a major problem without our friend, but we were able to survive by changing US cash and euros we had brought with us and borrowing from her. Our credit cards did work so we used them in Croatia, but very few places in BiH take credit cards. We were able to use the ATM at the Munich airport for euros with no trouble.

We took a cab back from the airport to our friend's apartment. She does not have a car in Sarajevo and uses a cab (mostly the same driver) or public transit in the city and rents cars for some longer trips. She wanted us to get a sense of the different political entities so we drove through a section of the Republika Srpska that is near the airport before heading to the center of the city.

The city grew up along the banks of the Miljacka River which runs east to west. From the narrow flat river valley hills rise quite sharply on both sides. The population of Sarajevo is estimated to be about 300,000 now, but was over 400,000 in the early 1990's. There was a large diaspora because of the war/siege and about 10,500 people were killed. Many people relocated to other parts of Europe and the U.S. Burlington, Vt , for example, has a large (for Vermont) refugee population. English is widely spoken in Sarajevo. We also found German to be useful.

Most of those who live in Sarajevo now (at least 85%) are Bosniaks; before the war there was much more of a mix of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. The city had been known for its blending of the different groups. There were many mixed marriages and many close friendships across ethnic/religious lines.

On our drive into the center of Sarajevo we saw many war-damaged buildings--everything from totally abandoned shells to places with bullet and mortar damage in the walls.
The city has been largely restored since the siege but there are many building projects going on.

Our friend's apartment is within easy walking distance of the Old Town, at the northern end of a pleasant park. There are many embassies in the neighborhood. As we drove past the park, she pointed out a memorial fountain to children killed during the siege from 1992 to 1996. Of the 10,500 people who died, about 1500 were children. Many more were injured. Our friend explained that the city inhabitants slowly realized that snipers were actually targeting children to demoralize the population. I had read a lot about the war before our visit but had not encountered this particular fact and was in tears for the first of many times during this trip.

We spent a little time getting oriented to the city by sitting out on the terrace of the apartment while our friend pointed out key landmarks. She announced that she was going to try to keep us awake until at least 8 p.m. and recommended that we take showers. When I emerged she told me I had to dry my hair before we went out exploring because if I still had damp hair I would be accosted by old women who would lecture me about the health hazards of not having damp hair. Apparently this is true even in the height of summer.

Just before we set out, our friend called us out on the terrace again to hear our first "call to
prayer." This is a hauntingly beautiful moment repeated five times a day throughout the city. There are many mosques in the city (65?). After the war other countries like Saudi Arabia gave money for building mosques. Most broadcast the call to prayer but a few have live callers.

We walked downhill through the park and down into the main part of the old city and set off on the main pedestrian street, the Ferhadija. The first part of this street (heading from west to east) is full of older Austro Hungarian buildings. Then you reach an abrupt dividing line where east meets west and the Baščaršija, the old Ottoman part of the city, begins. Due to jet lag, my memories of that first afternoon/evening walk are a little blurred. I know we stopped twice to buy pastries, once at a very Austrian style bakery where we bought some strudel filled with poppy seeds and once to buy baklava and similar Turkish-style pastries. We went into the meat and cheese market. We stopped to look at a store with oriental rugs in the Morica Han, an old Ottoman Inn dating from the sixteenth century. We visited a shop on the Kazandziluk, a very old street/alley with traditional coppersmith crafts. We went into the courtyard of the Gazi Husrev Bey's mosque but decided to return for a real visit when we were better rested.

Our friend explained that we would see very few other tourists in Sarajevo. Shortly after this a huge group of people with badges appeared. She amended her observation to say we would see very few independent tourists; we might see groups like this who were in the city for conferences and a few tour groups from Turkey.

As our energy started to fade, we had some traditional Bosnian food at a restaurant on a side street then went home for a dessert of baklava. It was warm enough to eat outside with sweaters. We opted to do this for most of the trip in order to escape the cigarette smoke indoors.

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