Miss Sarajevo: Discovering the Bosnian Capital

You’re in The Balkans, you’ve got a few days off and a travel itch that needs scratching. What do you do? Easy. You get yourself to Sarajevo. Immediately!

I didn’t think it was possible to knock Lubljana off my ‘Favourite Balkan Cities’ top spot… but then I visited Sarajevo.

The bus trip from Belgrade took almost seven hours so I came up with a strategy to make the most of my visit. I would sleep on the bus, spend a limited amount of time in my hostel and pack in visits to all the places I’d been reading about. My bus back to Belgrade would get me in just in time for classes. Time was tight, but I’ve wanted to visit the city ever since I read ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ by Steven Galloway in 2008.

I hadn’t expected the snow. Weather forecasts have often gotten it wrong before, but not while my winter clothes were sitting in a backpack two hundred miles away. I had just brought a small backpack for the trip. The weather in Belgrade had been steadily improving over the past few weeks and I had been gradually shedding layers, delighted that winter was finally coming to an end. Sarajevo (and my weather app) had promised something similar. Grr.

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When the bus took one of its very many pitstops for the driver and conductor to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and have a good old chit-chat, I ventured out into the Bosnian night to stretch my legs. The cold smacked me in the face the moment I stepped off the bus. The snow was a few inches deep. I shivered. The leg stretching could wait. I got back on the bus.

I forgot about the cold once I arrived in Sarajevo. Or, if I didn’t exactly forget, I just made a decision to put up with it. Because it was worth it. My priority the morning after I arrived was to find the old abandoned bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics. I’d seen photos of it on Instagram and on a few ‘most amazing abandoned places in the world’ type listicles. I wanted to go there. I had an overwhelming urge to climb onto the track and pretend to be a bobsled…

According to some bloggers, it’s a relatively easy hike into the mountains and was going to take me less than 90 minutes to climb to the bobsled track from the old town. I walked for about 10 minutes before I admitted defeat. The snow was too deep and my runners weren’t going to hold up. I thought of my boots back in Belgrade and cursed. I hailed a taxi.

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The bobsled track looked even better in the snow than the pictures I had seen. Determined to get some kind of an adventure in, I climbed up a bank to a higher section of the track and followed it through the trees for a bit. In some parts, the snow was almost a foot deep and my poor runners were faring quite badly. I wanted to climb into the track, but I couldn’t make out the edge of the bank I was walking along. I knew there was a gap somewhere. For fear I would fall, I stayed back from the track and played it safe. I didn’t get to be a bobsled. I disappointed myself. When did I become so sensible?

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Back in the old town, I was blown away by the meeting of east and west. There’s no denying their history as part of the Ottoman Empire, or the Austro-Hungarian empire, or as part of Yugoslavia. It’s a city steeped in history and what I loved most is that the different cultures and religions coexist in relative harmony and a spirit of cooperation. At least that’s what I was told by the Sarajevans I met on my trip.

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Maybe it’s because of Sarajevo’s more recent history when citizens, regardless of cultural or religious background, were united by their shared experience of endurance. Almost four years of being indiscriminately shot at, targeted, blown up, raped and brutalised by their Serb neighbours, Sarajevans are a community of survivors above all else.

The Seige of Sarajevo went on from April 1992 to February 1996. 11,541 people were killed including an estimated 1500 children. Over half a million missiles were launched at the city. The targets were not only military targets. They were people queuing for bread and water. They were people walking on their own streets. They were children.

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We, as a global community, have been horrified by recent events in Syria. We gasped in horror at the deaths of civilians in Aleppo and we shouted loudly about the UN’s obvious failings. The UN has failed before. It watched as civilians were murdered in Sarajevo. In nearby Srebrenica, a UN safe zone, 7000 muslims and up to 30,000 refugees were killed. This was one of the biggest genocides since WWII.

I got talking to Ivan, a Sarajevan who was a child during the seige, and still gets flashbacks from the trauma. He is the assistant manager at Balkan Han Hostel, where I stayed (Incidentally, it was a pretty great hostel). He showed me an unexploded grenade that was fired at the city by the men in the mountains. It was huge. He told me that it had once held 1000 pieces of shrapnel that would fire, like bullets, once the device exploded. That’s 1000 potential victims. An estimated 500,000 such devices were launched at the city during the seige. It hardly bears thinking about.

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For all of their hardships, though, the people of Sarajevo also know how to enjoy themselves. Ivan took myself and another traveller, Gaby from Australia, out to meet his friends. With Bosnian beer in hand and Bosnian music to entertain, everyone was in good spirits. The bar wasn’t really a bar. It was a cinema before the war and is now a disused building. Except for Monday nights when the young people of Sarajevo descend en-masse to sing loudly and drink plenty. I was glad I chose beer. Gaby drank a few shots of Rakia, the liqueur of the Balkans, before someone thought to mention that it was 40% alcohol volume.

No wonder people were on the tables, singing and dancing.

After very little sleep, I was up at 5am to catch my bus back to Belgrade and it was with reluctance that I left Sarajevo.

I’ll definitely be back. But next time, I’m going to be a bobsled.

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72 Comment

  1. That view is definitely breathtaking. I wish I will be able to visit Sarajevo in the future. Nice lovely photos!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Rexie. I hope you get there too!!!!

  2. robin Rue says: Reply

    What a gorgeous place. My sister was in Sarajevo a few years back and raved about it.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s fab

  3. Cristina Leau says: Reply

    Interesting post. Now I want to go to Sarajevo. And I’m really curious about those most amazing abandoned places in the world’ type listicles.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Hey Cristina. You should look them up – plenty of photos and really amazing ideas for trips!

  4. This looks like a lovely area. I’ve never been before. I want to bobsled too!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Hahaha… We could start our own cool runnings… The blogging bobsled team

  5. Gosh, it’s hard to believe all that happened in Sarajevo so recently. I would love to go there and see for myself, too.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      It’s amazing how well they’ve recovered. Such a sad history

  6. I’m so glad you had a good time in Sarajevo – I’ve never been but have always had a soft spot in my heart for that place and its people ever since reading Zlata’s Diary as a teen. Zlata Filipovic lived in Sarajevo during the seige, and her diary about life in Sarajevo during that time had a major impact on me and the way I saw the world. It’s good to know the city has come through and is recovering in such an open way.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I hadn’t heard of Zlays’s diary but I’ll look it up now. Thanks

  7. This looks so beautiful! I will be adding this to my travel bucket list!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Do! It’s very special

  8. Sarajevo looks beautiful! So glad you had a great time! I am slightly jealous haha

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I had a great time. Hopefully you will make it there some time

  9. Looks like a beautiful trip! I would have loved if the pictures were a little bit bigger, but that is just because they look so interesting!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks so much. I’ve made the photos suitable for viewing from a mobile device so they’re pretty small, but you can have a look at them and a few others on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ramblingruthblog/posts/1929197300646068 or instagram http://www.instagram.com/ramblingruth

  10. Bernadette Callahan says: Reply

    All that history, snow, and adventuring! Looks like a great time. I want to roadtrip us somewhere with snow hopefully this upcoming winter. My middle son would love to bobsled. He loves the outdoors and adventures.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      There’s a working luge track near the old bobsled track. So if you fancy road tripping in the Balkans, I’d recommend Bosnia

  11. colleen wool says: Reply

    Your pictures look amazing. I want to visit there.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Do it!!!!! You won’t be sorry

  12. So sad to hear about the wars, the effects must have been devastating. How beautiful though is this place and full of wondrous history as well!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      It really is amazing

  13. Steve says: Reply

    I would like to be there some day – to hike the mountains. Beautiful place.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      There is so much hiking! It’s a paradise. Also, Macedonia and Kosovo are all a bus ride away and have beautiful mountains

  14. Helene says: Reply

    My son visited that area and told me how beautiful it is. Your photos are lovely.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Helene. I hope he had fun. You should go with him next time

  15. Amanda H says: Reply

    Your post is beautiful and heart wrenching. It’s one thing to hear about all the destruction and loss. It’s easy to put away when so far away. It’s a huge hit of reality when you see it. Thank you.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Amanda

  16. Happy that you had a good time on your trip and your story made me think about how much we Americans take it for granted that we live in a place without war… so much that we have to create our own wars for social injustices of our own makings.

  17. Glenda says: Reply

    I’ve never been outside the United States. Sarajevo looks like an awesome place to visit.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      It’s incredible. If you ever get a chance to visit Europe, I’d really suggest the Balkan countries – they’re also really cheap so you can get a lot of traveling in much cheaper than western Europe

  18. Looks like a beautiful place to visit. You looked like you had a wonderful time on your trip

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I really did . It’s amazing

  19. Oh my goodness how beautiful! I visited Slovenia when I was little, and if you say Sarajevo beats it, I must go!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      It’s just incredible. I’ve been so impressed with all of the Balkan countries. You should do a road trip through a few of them if you can. Macedonia is breathtaking

  20. This looks like a beautiful area to be in. Someday if I can get back to Europe, I would love to visit.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I would highly recommend it

  21. Leah says: Reply

    The history of Bosnia is interesting and so sad. The Seige of Sarajevo was poignant enough that even as a pre-teen I remember hearing about it on the news. Such a beautiful country and beautiful people.

  22. Elizabeth O. says: Reply

    Wow! Saravejo sounds like a cool place, no pun intended! I think it would be awesome to visit and just enjoy what it has to offer.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      It’s very chilled!!! 🙂

  23. It looks like a great place, I think it’s awesome that you got to see the old bobsled track from the Olympics! It looks like the people are amazing as well. It would be nice to go there!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Yep, the people were definitely very welcoming. Hope you get there one day!

  24. I would love to travel to the Balkans. They have really wondrous landscapes. I like to experience their culture too. You have captured great photos of Saravejo. Good job!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank you. Yes, it’s gorgeous here. It’s perfect for taking photos!

  25. This looks like a beautiful place to visit. I wish i could visit this soon

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      If you can, I’d highly recommend it

  26. I had no idea that Sarajevo was this pretty! My only point of reference for the city was the siege in the 90s–I remember watching it on the news when I was in elementary school. It looks like the city has found new life after such a tumultuous time, which is wonderful. I’m adding this to my list of places to visit whenever we’re in that part of the world!

  27. Ashley says: Reply

    That snow makes it look beautiful and serene. I would like to see it in person.

  28. Samantha says: Reply

    beautiful! Looks like you had a great time!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I did 🙂 Thanks

  29. I would love to visit one day! Love the pictures and the way you share the essence of this beautiful place/country.

  30. I would love to visit one day and it look so beautiful. xx

  31. It looks like you had a ton of fun (despite the cold haha!). I love the pictures – what a beautiful city!

    | diaryofasouthernmillennial.com

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Cameron, I had a blast

  32. So much snow!!! Sarajevo looks like a nice place to visit. I hope I could do so one of these days.

  33. Hannah says: Reply

    Wow! Sarajevo is such a nice place. I wish i could go there.

  34. Dermod says: Reply

    Ruth, I’m totally knocked out by your posts to date. With your flowing style of writing and colourful descriptions of people and places, you bring a freshness to every location and every story. Whether it’s the Metro Hitler in Paris or the Kurdish refugees in your English class, you set the scene beautifully. Keep up your blogs – they’re really good!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Dermod! Glad you’re enjoying them 🙂

  35. Dermod says: Reply

    Why do they tell me my comment ‘awaits moderation’? Is there a limit to the number of words I can use or do they think I’m praising you too much?! Too many superlatives!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Haha! That’s my fault. Comments can’t be seen on the blog until I’ve approved them – it’s to stop any spammers from posting junk comments and also because there are a surprising number of people with unpleasant things to say when I write about refugees. As much as I respect free speech, there’s a line that won’t be crossed on my blog!

  36. blair villanueva says: Reply

    Snow might be the least of my favorite, but in the photographs it is undeniably beautiful. Thank you for sharing us this magical white beauty of Sarajevo 🙂

  37. Shannon says: Reply

    Amazing photos! Definitely will have to add Sarajevo to my bucket list for travelling. Wasn’t on my radar before but it sure is now.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      I would definitely recommend it

  38. I would love to visit Sarajevo one day. It’s not on the typical travel list and should be super interesting to explore!

  39. Such a pretty view! I love all of the graffiti too!

  40. Looks like a beautiful area. I don’t think I could make the hike, but it is breathtaking!

  41. I have just read about Sarajevo in context to the bombings never ever have I imagined it as a tourist destination. So this post is really beautiful on so many counts. Love the way you write. Always a pleasure reading about your travels. Hope I can travel to such lovely places one day.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank you Shaheen. It’s such a surprising place and much more beautiful than I had expected. It’s a joy to see the positive sides to places that have been hit so hard by conflict

  42. Sauumye says: Reply

    That looks amazing!! Will surely add it to my bucket list!!

  43. This looks so beautiful! Would like to visit one day!

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