The country of Bosnia-Herzegovina has been an unexpected delight.
Sarajevo, in particular, is one of the most culturally diverse cities I have experienced. I use the term “experience” because when I travel, it is more than just sightseeing or visiting a destination. It is a sensory adventure that requires letting down all barriers and becoming fully immersed in sights, sounds, smells, and local tastes. It is also important to allow emotions to be involved and, in Sarajevo, where craggy, war-torn grief is surmounted by human warmth and kindness, there was a massive amount of emotion incorporated into the experience.
I spent nearly a week in mosque-dotted Sarajevo will not much of a plan. I walked through the Bascarsija, relaxed in many of the city’s squares, watched groups of men play supersize games of chess, sat by my friend Sebilj, and embraced the sounds and sights of the city.
I loved how Saravejo exuded an East meets West charm and offered a harbor for religious harmony where churches, mosques, and synagogues could huddle closely together.
Bosnia-Herzegovina certainly has lingering scars from the recent brutal Balkans conflict of 1992-1995. The short history of the war is that it was a campaign for ethnic cleansing through a network of concentration camps, rape camps, and terrifying Genocides. The much longer and more complicated history is that there were criminals and “bad guys” on all sides: the Croats, the Serbs, and the Muslims. I have listened to nearly two dozen different stories, and I am still confused by war’s complexity.
If you have just a few days to spend in Sarajevo, spend some time wandering around the Old Bazaar. Kazandziluk boulevard is lined with souvenir, coffee stands, and burek shops. It eventually leads to the Gazi-Husrevbey Mosque, an outstanding imposing building. Stand outside during prayer time. I guarantee some wonderful picture opportunities.
If you are a history buff, visit the spot where WWII kicked off with an assassination near the Latin Bridge in 1914. In 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungrian empire, and his wife were shot and killed during a visit to Sarajevo by an 18 year old Serb assassin. Following the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which led to the Central Powers declaring war on the Allies. World War I began one month later.
Later in the afternoon, hike up to the hilltop at the Yellow Fort. Just before sunset is the best time to visit the Fort. Not only is it a cooler time of day to make the trek, but you will see fantastic colors and reflections in the hills, churches, mosques, and red-rooftops. If you time it right, you will also hear the calls to late-afternoon prayer which I have decided is one of my favorite all-time sounds.
Other options while visiting Sarajevo include touring the Tunnel of Hope, visiting the Srebrenica gallery, heading out to the old Olympic Park (I certainly recommend this day trip), or simply lingering in the Old Town, sipping coffee and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of one magnificent town.