For any of you who have known me for any extended period of time, like pre-college to now, you know that I run my entire life on mostly whims. I went back to regular public school because I was bored, I applied to LVC because I heard about it in passing from a friend, I chose to get a PhD because I liked the idea of being called Dr., and I threw together an application for the Fulbright because I had friends in Hungary I wanted to spend more time with.
None of these things were really planned parts of my life.
So needless to say, it shouldn’t be surprising if I tell you that, when I travel I am exactly the same way.
Which brings us to the topic of this post, my weekend in Sarajevo. (gonna be a long one folks but there’s pictures.)
One day in the end of January, I decided that I wanted to go out of Hungary somewhere around my Birthday. (Because I have been really gung ho about hitting thirty countries before age thirty) (God, I don’t even want to think about it)
Thus, I began researching flights. Now I’m not going to lie to you I started with places I actually wanted to go, saw they were incredibly expensive flights, and somehow found a 25 dollar roundtrip to Sarajevo. I roped two of my American friends into going with me, and off we went to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On Friday at an ungodly hour, we departed. And during the quick 50 minute flight to the smallest airport I have ever been in, I realized that I had not researched a single thing to do in this country, per my usual. Thankfully I pick my company well, and the always prepared Helen came with a list of sites to see and the creative Tanya had museums covered. Basically all I ever worry about is eating good food, so we were set.
Once we landed, Helen told us that there was a really important attraction within what seemed like walking distance of the Airport, so naturally we wake up with coffee and head out.
The man who served us our coffee was incredibly sweet and taught us our first Bosnian word, the word for thank you.
Because we are stupid Americans, what we heard and what he said are two very different things. So for the beginning half of the trip we went around saying Koala, giggling to ourselves and saying bear under our breaths. (New flash you morons, it’s actually Hvala, disgraceful fulbrighters.)
I knew how interesting the trip was going to be when we walked out of the airport and were confronted with no signage and absolutely no clear way to walk off of the premises. (Yes, I know… Like the horror movies that probably should’ve been our sign to stay there).
We ignored it and followed the gate in the general direction we wanted to go until we found a highway, with no sidewalk. Undeterred by the cars wizzing past us about 15 cm from our bodies we began trekking through a pretty sketchy run down little village.
It was pretty clear, from the disrepair, guard dogs, and bullet holes, this area was not somewhere you would let your two year old skip down the non-existent sidewalk.
But like any other white person in a horror movie we ignored common sense and scurried on. (Although I did have a moment of worry that I had never checked the gun laws of the people who could be seeing us as trespassing on their property. It was either road or grass so we had no choice).
About a half mile away from the Airport, Tanya (seemingly out of pure attempt to make conversation), mentioned that she read that BaH had a severe wild dog issue.
And as I chuckled to myself that she seemed wary of one of my favorite creatures on the planet, we ran into a pack of five very wild, very not fluffy dogs.
We turned around, thus abandoning the Tunnel of Life museum we wanted to see.
Being that I have travelled with my Aunt Mary, I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded, not quick to judge an area kind of person, but I have to tell you the outskirts of Sarajevo are scary. It looks akin to a CoD map because all of the buildings still have the wounds of war from the 1990s
And it didn’t help that there was absolutely no signage anywhere about bus schedules, stops, or directions. So my fears weren’t much settled when we found this nondescript area where older people were congregating and we entered the first bus that came.
And after about six stops the bus we went on stopped, and everyone poured out. Confused, because we weren’t in Sarajevo, we kinda just sat there until the bus driver turned around and said “Finished, bye”.
Thankfully, because something in the universe realized we did not have this together on our owns, there was a lady dressed in a shocking pink shade that beckoned us to follow her. (Here we go again horror movie.)
Even though she didn’t speak a lick of English, she did manage to get us to where we wanted to go instead of murdering us, so thank you older Bosnian woman. (Don’t worry this isn’t the last chance Bosnia has to murder us).
So now that we are finally in the city we can start doing our touristy things, starting with a Traditional Bosnian Coffee.
Now Bosnian coffee is basically a really really strong single brewed shot of expresso that comes out in a special pot, with the grounds in the bottom. And magically the Bosnians make that shot last hours, by drinking it through the medium of sugar cubes or Turkish Delight. (They dip it in and take a bite of the cube, rinse with water and repeat.)
Even though I’m not a fan of strong coffee I had to try it.. And I have to say I’m not the biggest fan. Although I will chalk it up to my own inability to properly pour this coffee, my single shot of espresso had the consistency of sludge, and I accidentally ordered rose flavored Turkish Delight to go with it… So for me it tasted like licking a grandmother after putting what’s left over after you brew a pot in your mouth. But hey, to each their own.
After we were all successfully strung out on coffee we ventured into Old Town Sarajevo. And for me, it was especially cool because it seemed like something right out of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. (Which for obvious reasons I probably won’t visit soon).
The streets were cobblestone and there were several mosques and minerettes in the area, it was so different from anything I had seen before and it was beautiful.
Entranced by it all, we decided to do two very touristy things and tour the public mosque in the middle of old town and take a guided walking tour.
Here’s a quick dose of reality that I experienced, and thus feel the need to share with you…
In both the mosque and the guided tour the Bosnians said something that really stuck with me, and I have a feeling they said it specifically because there were Americans present.
In the mosque the imam gave us a demonstration of one of the prayers, and made sure to highlight what the words really mean to those in the faith who don’t share the radical ideals that are often portrayed in our media. He said “these are words meant for worship of our one god, not for fear or harm. I need you to see that.”
For a second I felt really ashamed of our country making this man feel that he had to justify his religion and make it “safe” in our eyes. Especially since, generally, people who are not of the faith are meant to take part in their prayers.
Although that shame was nothing to that I felt when the woman who showed us around town kept saying, in different manners, “we are an important country, we matter.” And this sentiment stems from the fact that when the siege happened, and directly after, the world was concerned for the fate of the bosnians. So many countries, came, intervened, and left nothing but mostly ruins and a precarious peace in its place. And many are still suffering that effect. No people should have to feel like they have to prove to Americans, or Europeans or any other country in power, that they matter….
Anyways, rant over….
After those two experiences we closed an incredibly busy day with wonderful food, (BAKLAVA). And the final funny happening is we asked our waiter to direct us to the nearest supermarket to buy breakfast for the morning.
And in another wonderful display of American ears we ended up at Horse shit. (Horsh)
The next day was about as eventful as the last, because we woke up bright and early to take a guided tour to the tunnels we attempted to find earlier, and the Olympic bobsled in Sarajevo.
The morning started out with a particularly interesting event for me, because our bus driver hopped out and introduced themselves as Jasmin (Yazmeen), and they were a dude.
Now, I have never really considered my name masculine at all, but apparently someone else did.
Yasmeen successfully got us to the bobsled track, which was nothing short of a miracle because the fog was so dense you could barely see the road. And when we got there our tour guide told us to hop out, because we were walking down it.
As you all probably know, I’m world renown for my balance and ability to navigate flat surfaces without falling… (NOT). So when we stood on top of the bobsled, in freezing rain, with snow on the track, I knew the 20 minute hike down was going to be hilarious.
I actually made it through it without injuries, although other members of our group were lost to the sled or muddy ground. (RIP)
After we spent all morning trekking through abandoned areas of the mountains, we returned to old town and decided we were ravenous.
Cevapi was on the menu for lunch (stone fired bread with minced meat sausages and raw onions, Bosnian special.) And anyone who has travelled abroad, it is especially hard to gauge the amount of food you’re ordering because of the difference in currency and economy.
Total, each of us spent around 6 BAMS on lunch (1 $: 1.5 BAM) by ordering a small portion chevapi and a side salad. What I expected was a small pita-esque bread with tiny sausages and a dinky little salad…….
What I got was a personal pizza pan heaping with cabbage, tomatoes, and dressing and a full sized meal with bread the size of my face…. It was absolutely delish, but can you say FOOD COMA. And the Bosnian people we interacted with told us, if we don’t gain weight by the time we leave, we didn’t do Sarajevo right… It appears to be completely true.
After we recovered from the meal, we went back out to drink, instead of having dinner really because we were full. So we spent the night at the Sarajevo brewery (which has a touching story if you’re interested) and at a cocktail bar.
For the sake of not writing a novel I will tell you only about the cocktail bar. It was a really interesting, hole in the wall kind of place, decorated like a classy victorian hoarder owns it. The drinks were iffy at best (American is apparently the only country with a proper handle on cocktails) but we had lots of fun there, defacing American government property. (Bad boys, what’cha gonna do….)
The tables in the place had about a quarter of an inch from the table to the glass topper, so people did what people often do and stuck stuff between the layers. Mostly international currency. For whatever reason, there were no dollars and I happened to have one… So we spent the rest of the night turning good old GW into a party lad and gave him the quote “Party in the USA” (to hide how drab it is in reality right now.) Fake it until you make it right?
Of course the night cannot be over with that, so with a nice buzz on the walk home Helen decided to expose us to our third potential brush with death, by throwing a wrench in our already planned out and tested walk home.
Let’s just say there was a fork in the road on our way home and until that point we had ALWAYS turned left…. And just then Helen decided we needed to be spontaneous (12 am on a Saturday night) and turn right…
INTO A CREEPY ALLEYWAY, with a gang of people dressed in black ready to jump on unsuspecting, “spontaneous” girls.
Thankfully we made it back safe, no thanks to her. (We made fun of her so much that she automatically chose left from there on.)
Which brings us to the final day, kinda uneventful compared to the others.
We decided to spend the entire day shopping for souvenirs and going to museums, because it was snowing and too cold to really stay outside.
The first museum we hit was the national museum of Bosnia… However, we were delayed entrance for 20 minutes because they had shut down the entire street in front to film some new war film about the siege… (We stood there and watched a car zoom past) Unfortunately, none of the bulky bodyguards knew enough to tell us what this might potentially be in the future. (But if anyone sees three awkward af Americans in some famous international film, I’ll be happy to sign autographs. 😉 )
The museum itself was interesting and kinda disjointed, and their science section was downright hilarious. All of the mammal specimens seemed to have been stuffed by the same black market taxidermist, who was really kinda terrible at his job, because it looked like he had glued stuffed animal eyes on an eerily real body. (They looked like they had seen some shit in their lives.)
After we were done laughing at those creatures, we made our way to one of the only contemporary art museum in Sarajevo… And I use the term museum loosely and cautiously, mostly because none of the pieces were hung up, they sat on the floor, and none of the walls were drywalled… Now, this may be what they were going for, because… ART. But it really looked like they had gotten relatively famous artist’s works and plopped them on the ground and threw a label on them..
Funny enough the oddest part of this experience was not the art…. It was what I saw transpire at the art museum.
I was walking with Helen, still laughing about the poster where two raw chickens were laying on top of each other “clucking” (visual rendition of choking the chicken), when all of a sudden I saw the unmistakable flash of a gun barrel being slid into one of the only other people’s pockets in the museum. (Given to him by another guy.)
For my hungarian friends, because of the state of America, I knew it was a gun because my internal and evolutionary radar went off… *PING GUN INBOUND* I was not being paranoid.
Anyways, so I say quietly to Helen, “Did you see that gun???”
She assured me that that doesn’t occur in Europe and I was just seeing things…. (I swear at this point I heard it cock.)
So I politely and determinedly walked over to Tanya who was in front of us and calmly started conversation, until she, worried… mentioned the gun too…
AND that’s when we noped right out of there, because my guts are not about to become a new installation.
Later we determined we had witnessed an international arms deal. (Bad ass).
To end the day, we ate our fill of baklava (specifically the queen’s type.. You should look it up) and bought lots of souvenirs from slightly to extremely pushy sellers. (One guy tried to convince us to buy the more expensive version of what we wanted by physically destroying the cheaper one… I walked out)
Overall, that was an absolutely awesome girl’s weekend for the books, and I cannot wait to adventure again! Sziastok!