I was a teenager when Sarajevo was under siege. The internet wasn’t part of our daily life then and we relied on one of the five TV channels we had to feed back the world news to us or one of the tabloid papers. I remember knowing there were terrible things happening in Bosnia but I think due to my age and probably my parents trying to shelter me somewhat from the badness of the world it wasn’t until a few years later I became more aware of the enormity of it all when a friend of mine was serving in the British Army in Bosnia as part of the peace keeping. After this time, one of my first travel guides I bought was Katie Wood’s “Europe by Train 1998”. I found it shocking that 3 years after the end of the war that the below was written and somehow in my own mind vowed that one day I would travel to Sarajevo and prove that tourism could bounce back from a war torn country.
15 years later and we were finally off to the Western Balkans! Our ten day trip was starting in Belgrade, Serbia > Sarajevo & Mostar, Bosnia > Kotor, Montenegro > Dubrovnik, Croatia. This had been the itinerary I had dreamed of for years and so lucky to have such wonderful adventurous travel companions who I embark on these exciting trips with at least once a year.
There still aren’t any direct flights to Sarajevo so Belgrade was our starting point. GEA Tours run a door to door mini bus service from Belgrade to Sarajevo. Our hostel called them the day before to book us in. The pickup time is all dependent on who else is travelling that day. We were lucky and given a 7am pickup. For 25 Euros each this could not have been a better way to travel. The roads are winding up and down the mountains and the scenery is just beautiful. The mountains are covered in lush greenery some were still snow capped. We arrived in Sarajevo at 1pm and dropped off at the door of our hostel as promised.
We stayed in a triple room at the wonderful Travellers Home Hostel. At the time of our visit the name of the hostel wasn’t written over the door but marked with a suitcase hanging over the entrance. The location couldn’t be better, a short walk to the Latin Bridge and the area of the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand which triggered the start of WWI. In fact we walked everywhere – to Baščaršija (Old Bazaar), Pigeon Square (where it’s said if you drink from the fountain in the centre you will find love and come back to Sarajevo and marry), the still shelled Holiday Inn, Cafe Tito (complete with army tanks in the beer garden) and even up the steep hills to a wonderful restaurant with sweeping views of Sarajevo.
Before our trip I made sure I was armed with literature to try and learn a bit more about Sarajevo before we arrived. One of the books we all read was Besieged by Barbara Demick. The book follows the lives of people living on one of the streets in Sarajevo – Logavina Street. The street is a few blocks from Pigeon Square and situated on a hill which was an easy target by the snipers positioned in the surrounding hills. We wandered along the street taking in the sight of houses which the families we had so heartbreakingly read about lived. Where homes were shelled and families hid in their basements for 2 ½ years hiding from the snipers. The street is dotted with cemeteries for the casualties of the time. Absolutely heartbreaking.
To learn more I can’t recommend enough the free Sarajevo walking tour that Neno & friends do. Neno was a young boy during the siege and is very open to sharing his stories whilst taking you on a 2 hour walking tour of the city. Afterwards we were lucky to join him for a coffee and carry on discussions.
If you want to delve even further into the war history then I also recommend Gallery 11/07/95. Set up as a memorial gallery about the Srebrenica tragedy and the 8372 persons who perished in the massacres.
Sarajevo was always going to be an emotional part of our journey but without a doubt stole my heart….. here’s to a happier future.