BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
I’m so excited. I’m about to take the train from Mostar to Sarajevo. I’m told the train will whisk me through some beautiful landscapes! The strange thing is, there only seem to be two trains a day, at 6am, or late evening. I’m hoping for enough light to see the terrain, so opt for 6am. I get to the train station and find its made of concrete, and feels, well, almost like something I’d expect in another era of the past. I go to the ticket window and learn no one speaks English. Somehow I manage to combine “Sarajevo” with one finger and get a one-way ticket. My sigh of relief turns to panic as the agent seems to imply I have to go to track 1. But there are no signs.
I ask, “Where is track one?” and point, and hope somebody understands. A couple people point to my left. I say, “Where’s the elevator?” Heads shake. This would be my first lesson that services for the elderly and handicapped are pretty much non-existant. With my torn meniscus in my knee, I’m wearing a brace, and had hoped to avoid as many stairs as possible with my bags. I get to the bottom of the staircase. Correction, it’s three staircases to the track. I sigh in defeat and begin slowly carrying my bags. Once again, the travel fairy appeared, in the form of a nice young man who carried one of my bags up for me! I’m early, and one of only a few people on the track, awaiting the 6am train.
Unfortunately, by the time the train arrives, the track is packed with people. There are no seat assignments on the tickets, and I see people push and crowd the doors to get on as fast as possible. I follow suit, though I hate doing it. Once inside, I see there are plenty of seats, and all the crowding was unnecessary. I sit down, and await the beautiful views. Unfortunately, waking up at 4am and dealing with all the stress at the station pulls my eyelids shut. I do get to see some of the views, but not as many as I would have liked.
Arriving at the Sarajevo station, I’m approached by a man asking if I need a taxi. As a native New Yorker, conditioned that this is a scam, I tell him I need a moment and move away. I try to find a regular taxi but they are nowhere to be seen. (This will not be the first time that it turns out you have to walk a fair way from the station to find “legal” taxis.) There is no Uber. I eventually see 4 people that speak the local language get into the car with the man who had approached me. So, I figure it must be safe, and head off with one of his colleagues. He charges me 10 marks and I keep my Google Maps on to be sure we’re heading to my hotel. When we arrive, he opens his trunk and tries to sell me a white polo shirt for 10 marks. I politely refuse. Otherwise, the ride was fine, though I later learned, double the normal price. (In dollars, however, that amounted to about 2 dollars extra.)
I’ve cashed in some points for three free nights at one of the Marriott hotels in the area. I didn’t know that I’m in Sarajevo at the same time as their film festival! What a treat. I check into my room (luckily it’s ready) and head into the city.
Sarajevo is a city that challenges the perceptions of the world. It is predominantly Muslim and being bombarded with so much negative media, I find it refreshing to let it sink in that we must remember there are wonderful people out there of all ethnicities and races. Here I can focus on meeting and speaking to everyone without the media labels getting in the way. In fact, I’m finding my pre-fears of coming to this region were ridiculous.
Sarajevo has a wonderful old town. It becomes one of my favorite places to be, and the Bosnian coffee is delicious. One of my favorite places to have it is at the Tea House Dzirlo. The old town is influenced by the Ottomans who ruled the area from the 1400’s for almost 500 years.
Throughout my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I’m struck that though there is a definite Ottoman influence, everything is done the Bosnian way. From coffee to food to religion, they have made it theirs. I will find this later in my travels as well.
Another thing I delight in is the local water fountains. I don’t know why these have become such a fascination for me, but, I suppose, in New York, I’ve never seen the steady stream of people filling water bottles to save plastic. Instead, I just see thirsty people taking a drink with their mouths. And, to be honest, when I first saw the fountains, I wondered if it was safe to drink from them. In any case, though the Torino water fountains were an obvious fascination for me, here in Sarajevo, I just love watching the crowds at the water fountain.
I spend part of one of my afternoons at the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity And Genocide. This is not a place for the feint of heart. In fact, I had to leave before seeing it all because I couldn’t take it. The crimes took place in the 1990’s, not so long ago. There are graphic stories that I cannot get out of my head. As I read story after terrible story, and watched films of the atrocities, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this happening in the Ukraine right now?” And we are supposed to be the evolved version of humans, and this is what we do? I think this museum is an imporant part of a visit to Sarajevo, and, it will take you an immense amount of courage to see it.
Since I had the good fortune of being in Sarajevo at the same time as the film festival, I chose three short films one evening that truly opened my awareness to what happened here. “What’s This Country Called Now?” by Joseph Pierson, taught me the experience of daily life through the war through the perspective of a local journalist. “Cutting” by Davor Marinkovic taught me what it was like for the children of regufees to grow up away from their native country and not be accepted in the country they were detailned in, and B4 by Alen Šimic taught me the tragedy of a young man orphaned by a bomb that killed his parents (and almost him) when he was a baby, and met his rescuer in apartment B4 years later. Each story is tragic, and also allows an important understanding and perspective of the history of this area.
On a more uplifting note, I’m delighted that cats are treated well. I don’t see any dogs, but the cats seem to live on the street and be well looked after. I left some food on the ground for the cat in this photo. A man came over with a heart shaped tin, and asked me to please put the food in it. 🙂
Sarajevo is rich with history, beauty and tragedy. On my free walking tour and subsequent war tour, I learn infinitely more about it. To be continued….
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