January 13, 2011
Today we were going to Sarajevo and after checking the bus schedules yesterday we decided to get a bus around 11am. We weren’t in a rush to get up and although we were supposed to be out of the room by 10am we hung around a little longer as we didn’t fancy having to deal with the begging gypsies at the bus station any longer than necessary. The owner didn’t seem to mind us hanging around – it looked like they were in the process of sprucing up all the rooms for the summer and he had enough on his hands painting another room to care about cleaning ours!
We got on the bus and enjoyed the scenery on the three hour ride to Sarajevo. I was surprised how hilly Bosnia is and the road followed the river through a valley almost the entire journey. It was really picturesque and, unlike the last two days, the sun was out.
We arrived in Sarajevo and made the most of being at the bus station by enquiring about buses to Belgrade, our next stop. This bus stop only had one bus per day at 6am but we wanted the overnight bus which goes from the other bus station. We decided to leave getting tickets for now as we didn’t want to trek out to the other station so we jumped on the tram and headed into the centre. We got chatting to two Aussie guys on the tram and they had actually stayed at the place we were going to a few days ago so were able to direct us. For the first time in a while, we encountered a few flights of stairs as the hostel was on the third floor. I couldn’t believe how out of breath I was by the time I got to the top! We got checked in and headed out for some lunch, choosing a nice quiet (near empty, in fact) café over the busier, smoke-filled pub nearby. We both got a decent burger and shared a portion of fries and at least the food quality made up for the lack of reasonable service. We’ve noticed in many of these countries how the restaurants and bars have a very “local” feel to them and this usually means that all the staff spend their time chatting to their friends rather than bothering about paying customers!
We hung out a bit in afternoon, popping out to visit the tourist information centre and to see the old town. It had been rebuilt like all the others but there was a lot more life here than we’d seen in some places elsewhere, this almost seemed like a proper city with people going about their everyday business.
In the evening we went for pizza for dinner, deciding to truly skip local food for the day and sticking with what we knew. Local food is all well and good in some places but the entire Balkans consists of much the same menu and it isn’t very different to Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, etc, etc and I wasn’t in the mood for a big plate of meat and starch. OK, it’s not like pizza is any better for us but that’s not the point!
We were staying in a 4-bed dorm room and the other people in our room were nice and were also quite quiet. Unfortunately, there was a large group of Slovenians staying at the hostel and they weren’t so respectful. One lady in particular had a very loud, high-pitched voice which carried over everyone else and was really annoying. Thankfully they eventually shut up and we got some sleep!
January 14, 2011
Today we visited three museums. We got out quite early although we had been woken even earlier by the Slovenians going out around 7am. The first stop was the Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum which talked about the city and culminated with the shooting of Franz Ferdinand by Serbians in the city and the effects of WWI. In fact, the museum is housed at the spot from where the assassination happened and there is a plaque outside marking the spot. The museum was tiny and had lots of memorabilia from the time but nothing much by way of text or description.
After that we took a long walk along the river to where the National Museum is located. It is a huge complex of buildings but thankfully not all of them are open to the public so we didn’t have to walk around two or three floors in each of the four or five buildings! The main building contained mostly archaeological items, including many Roman headstones. Given the location of the city, the effects of the Greek and Roman empires are obvious from the archaeological remains that have been discovered. This section of the museum also contained the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish codex estimated to be worth several BILLION dollars. Needless to say, the room was completely shut off and we could only see it from a distance through the glass doors. This was one of the things we really wanted to see here so that was a bit disappointing. The other larger buildings in the museum contained an ethnographic section and one on natural history. The ethnographic one was a series of rooms which had been redesigned in an Ottoman style and were really interesting, even going so far as to show the clothing people would have worn, too. The natural history museum contained lots of very dated, very dusty looking exhibits and we didn’t spend too long looking around there.
The third place was the History Museum. We weren’t going to do this museum today but given the long walk to get here and the fact it was next door to the National Museum we thought we might as well. The museum’s main exhibit was about the war from 1992 until 1995 and focused on the people on the city and how they lived and survived and did its best to ignore the political angle. It was really sad seeing so many pictures and news stories of the things that were happening here and all the while the UN and NATO placed embargoes on Bosnia restricting their ability to get arms and fight back against the Serbs. The first retaliation by NATO forces only came after the second attack by Serb forces on a central Sarajevo market, where residents were queuing to get bread. The fact it took so long is really scary as it is obvious that lessons have not been learnt from places like Rwanda and Cambodia where the global community was slow to step in and provide real support and here they firstly backed the wrong side and then compounded it by secondly coming to help the Bosnians but only by means of a “UN presence”. By the time NATO stepped in, thousands of Bosnians were dead and even more had been made refugees and it is interesting to note that the war ended with the Dayton Agreement only a couple of months after NATO made its first strikes against the Serbs. How many lives could have been saved by growing some balls and telling Serbia they were wrong 2 or 3 years earlier?
We walked back into the centre after finishing up here and had a very late lunch at a café which served Bosnian food from a buffet style canteen. Picking pretty blindly, I ended up with a lamb and okra stew with a massive serving of rice and Elizabeth had some weird soup thing. It all tasted pretty good but it wasn’t somewhere we’d be rushing back to! Back at the hostel we just lazed around and were both feeling tired so had a nap. After just chatting and reading we realised it was quite late and we were starting to get hungry so we went to the 24-hour bakery around the corner and got a spinach burek. It wasn’t as good as the potato ones we’d had and I think I was reaching my fill on greasy pastry dishes!
January 15, 2011
Today we went on a tour to the tunnel which was built by the Bosnians during the war. The Serbs had created a ring around the city and this was only broken up by the airport, which had been handed over to the UN at the outbreak of the war. As this was UN controlled, the Bosnians knew that the Serbs would never fire missiles at it and they decided they could tunnel under it. Running across the airport was not an option as it still left people open to sniper fire. The tunnel was around 800m long, around 1m wide and about 1.6m in height and took just over 4 months to build. The entrance was just inside the city, by the airport and the exit was on the far side and led onto a path which went up into the mountains where the Bosnian forces were gathered. The tunnel was used for transporting goods both ways, trading food and arms in and out of the city as well as allowing people the opportunity to escape Sarajevo completely if they wished.
Our tour guide was a young Bosnian who was studying English at college. As we drove out to the tunnels he pointed out a number of buildings to us which had been key during the war, including the brightly coloured Holiday Inn which had housed many of the world’s journalists and was situated right along a road which received the nickname Sniper Alley. The drive to the tunnels was as interesting as the tunnels themselves and showed us how the city was still in a state of recovery, particularly the closer you got to the airport and the tunnel entrance.
We were only able to enter a small part of the tunnel, about a 25m long section, but it really gave you an idea of how cramped it was. There was a track running through the tunnel as they had laid tracks to enable people to move their worldly goods outside of Sarajevo much easier. We watched a short video about the conflict and our guide watched with us. Afterwards I asked him about his experiences during the war and he told us that he was about 4 or 5 when it started and that his family lived in the heart of the city. He told us how his schooling had suffered and this affected him into his early teens when he had to take additional tutoring on his maths skills to bring him in line with his peers. Apart from his dislike of the Serbian forces, he didn’t seem to mind talking about the war although he said that many people here won’t even mention it. So many people lost loved ones needlessly as the Serbs targeted anyone they could find, wanting to completely demoralize the Bosnians in the city rather than just a tactical or military victory.
The whole trip really brought everything to life and made the things we had seen in Mostar seem a bit more “real”, too. A hole in a building from a missile is real enough but being able to link it to the lives and fortunes of those still living and working in the country now certainly makes it easier to relate to.
Back in the city we were dropped off quite centrally and we were ready for some dinner. Just over the river was the city’s only brewery and so we headed there for some beer and food. I had a lovely steak with a mushroom sauce and Elizabeth had a goulash with potatoes. The beer was really good and Elizabeth finished up by getting baklava, which I helped her finish off. I’m still blaming that for what happened next…
January 16, 2011
As I had gone to bed last night I started to feel really sick but managed to fall asleep. About 4am I woke up and felt nauseous and had pains in my stomach and it wasn’t long before I was running to the toilet. The down side of staying in a dorm room with shared toilets was plain for all to see at this point! We were supposed to be checking out today and getting an overnight bus to Belgrade but I just couldn’t face it and so Elizabeth arranged with the receptionist for us to stay another night. I spent the whole day either in bed or in the toilet and I wasn’t able to eat a single thing. Elizabeth hung out in the common areas and read, did some cross-stitch and popped out later on to get some food for herself until it was time for bed. I felt bad making her sit around all day with nothing to do but given that I was in the toilet about every 10 minutes, an 8 hour bus journey wouldn’t have been much fun!