I arrived in Sarajevo late at night with bus from Belgrade. As I exited the bus I discovered that for some reason unknown to me I’d ended up not at the central bus station in downtown Sarajevo, but at ‘the other’ bus station 15 kilometres outside of town… Damn…
Lucky for me a local girl whom I’d chatted a bit with on the bus was being picked up by her boyfriend at the bus station. She was kind enough to offer the desperate tourist a ride downtown. Thanks to her I got to my hostel at around 10 pm. After 20 hours of travelling all the way from Skopje, I was extremely tired.
But this is where the fun started. The bed I’d booked wasn’t available when I arrived, while another guy was already occupying the couch in the kitchen. Fortunately after an hour of waiting they found another couch for me which I immediately threw myself at falling asleep.
Rising the next morning, I couldn’t help think how this was the beginning of the end to my travels. Sarajevo is my last stop on this journey through the Balkan peninsula. It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining over the old town.
The hostel was close to the old Turkish parts and I began my day walking to the old centre of Sarajevo. Here I happened upon two American guys from the hostel with whom I got a Turkish coffee and a piece of bürek.
One of the guys was enthralled by the idea of the old Olympic Stadium in Sarajevo and before long he’d convinced us to attempt to find it. All he knew was the general direction.
And so it began a slow and pleasant, but immensely long walk up the hills of Sarajevo. We walked for hours through quiet neighbourhoods, passing by massive cemeteries filled with white headstones.
Finally we reach the entrance to City Stadium Koševo – which was closed.
But we were lucky. After standing there looking lost, the old man acting as guard at the front gave us permission to enter the stadium grounds for ten minutes. What a treat!
Completely empty, it felt as if we were the only people in the world. With a clear blue sky, we ran around the field bare-feet on the wet grass, pretending to be soccer players shooting for goal or simply lying on the grass watching the sky. I wonder how it must be for soccer players when the tribunes are packed with people. Feeling alone yet surrounded. To me this was a definite highlight of an already amazing journey.
After returning to the hostel we joined a ongoing party in the kitchen, which after we became too loud was moved outside to the main square. hanging out at the fountain, I met Aaron the Aussie and soon made plans to join up for a tour planned by the hostel the next day.
Tunnel Museum, Jewish graveyard and Sniper Alley
The hostel tour started at the well hidden tunnel museum a short drive outside of Sarajevo in Butmir. Butmir lies on the other side of the airport and was – during the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted from April 5 1992 to February 29 1996 – the last remaining link between Sarajevo and the world beyond. In 1993, the Bosnian Army built a tunnel underneath the airport strip reaching 800 metres from Butmir to the neighbourhood of Dobrinja through which people and goods were transported.
The Serbs knew of the tunnel but not where exactly it was located, and they managed to bomb pretty close to the entrance in Butmir. Through the siege 3-4,000 people and tons of goods were transported through each day both soldiers and civilians alike, while the tunnel furthermore provided oil to Sarajevo through a pipeline and electricity through a cable.
Today, only 20 meters are left of the tunnel. It is only 1.60 meters high and extremely narrow and the idea of it being filled with people in a time of war was really moving. The museum moreover showed a terrible video of how people were gunned down in Sarajevo by Serbian snipers. The stress of having lived through such times – I can’t even imagine.
Behold! Our next stop was an old Jewish graveyard in the hills of Sarajevo from where Serbian snipers shot people who ventured out into the streets of Sarajevo. They shot at Meša Selimović Boulevard, which is the main boulevard in Sarajevo and connects the airport area to the rest of the city. I imagine that many people coming out of the tunnel into Sarajevo would afterwards have to cross what became known as Sniper Alley.
According to later data the snipers wounded 1,030 people and killed 225 – 60 of whom were children.
Along with the bullet and shell holes in the buildings and the large cemeteries with white headstones, this trip has made it clear that less than a decade ago Sarajevo was under siege for almost four years.
But what I have come to truly love about this city is how it has returned stronger than ever. When walking in the streets you will see shell holes filled with red paint. These are the Sarajevo Roses and represents the fact that someone died when that particular shell hit. It is terrifying, yet beautiful. While I was there the hostel owner was underway of painting the façade of the house pink, but the massive shell hole in the side of the façade was not covered – it was still there as yet another evidence of how Sarajevo survived.
And at the Jewish cemetery our guide told us how he and his friends had taken a trip to the Croatian coast immediately after the siege ended with t-shirts on which it said “I survived the Siege of Sarajevo”.
Today Sarajevo is a city full of life. Young people were relaxing in chic cafés while the older generation enjoying a game of chess in the park.
Rumour has it that if you drink the water from Sarajevo you will one day return. I definitely drank the water!