|Our Sarajevo day was exhausting and satisfying. My original inspiration was motivated by World War I; we spent a good part of the day learning about The Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s; and we concluded our visitations at the eternal flame honoring all of the World War II dead.
Before all of that we had a wonderful breakfast buffet that among other things, introduced us to Bosnian coffee, which we enjoyed a lot. It very strong and similar to Turkish coffee.
We planned to join a 10:00 walking tour of Old Town Sarajevo. We spent some time before that inspecting some of sites around our hotel and we had good instincts, because we were destined to return to several of those on the formal tour.
The site of the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was both sobering and disappointing. Sobering because of its gravity and disappointing because the area has fallen into graffiti-filled disrepair. Still it was chilling, thrilling to be there.
The 10:00 tour was an introduction to historic Sarajevo and a warm-up for our 4-hour afternoon tour which largely focused on the Bosnian war of 1991-95, and the Siege of 1992-1995, the longest siege of a capital city in modern times, at 1425 days, longer even than the Nazi siege of Leningrad in WW II, more than a year longer.
Sarajevo is often referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe, owing to the presence of so many active religious communities. They say that if you walk 200 yards in any direction you will encounter each of a Muslim Mosque, an Eastern Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church, and likely a Jewish Temple too. In addition, several less major faiths may be represented too.
The Muslim community was most interesting to me being the least familiar. On the main avenue of Old Town, there is a line painted in the street, signifying the point where the Eastern and Western cultures meet. It is both symbolic and literal. Facing in one of the directions, if you spin 180 degrees, you would think you’d been transported to a different place. One main theme of the morning was how peacefully the multiple cultures have co-existed here throughout most of history and that the modern troubles are very much an aberration. More even than co-existing, the communities have supported and defended each other time and again when one or the other fell victim to persecution.
Another theme was the spectacular beauty of the region, which is abundantly clear. The landscapes and architectures are a photographers dream. Tying those themes together, we were told/reminded that the word Balkan is derived from the Turkish words “bal” for honey, and “kan” for blood.
The afternoon tour included visits to the Tunnel of Hope (the lifeline dug in 1993 under the UN-controlled airfield, which became the only access into and out of the besieged Bosnian areas surrounded by the Serbian-controlled highlands); and to the site of the Bobsled and Luge tracks used in the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. Incredibly, those tracks were used by the Serbian attackers to shield some of the big guns bombarding the Bosnians. The tracks are abandoned today, except that they have become a rich site for elaborate “street art” and graffiti. In a fun and eerie adventure, we were able to descend the entire Bobsled track, walking inside it. It held two surprises for us: 1) the acoustics - we could hear low conversations a 100 yards in front of us; and 2) when we heard a thundering freight train-like rush behind us, to discover three mountain bikes bearing down on us from above. They couldn’t stop, but mercifully, they were able to climb a side wall enough to bypass us. I’m sure they had encountered that situation before, BUT WE HADN’T.
There’s more to tell, but I have to stop somewhere, right?
Tomorrow, onward to Zagreb and our 10th and final border crossing by car (likely the last, assuming we don’t try to squeeze in a day trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia - we’re tempted, but you have stop somewhere, right?)