As my bus approached the outskirts of Sarajevo, it passed by a building with a gaping hole in the roof. Not far off was another building riddled with bullet holes. Once the bus entered the city itself there were no more damaged buildings, but the scars of war are not something you forget quickly. The Sarajevo bus station is located a ways away from the old city center (where my hostel was located) and I chose to walk the whole way there rather than take public transit. The sun was going down when I started walking and 35 minutes later when I arrived at the hostel it had gotten dark. The only notable thing that happened the rest of that day was that I talked with a guy from New Zealand and he was telling me about archaeologists had unearthed some sort of ancient underground tunnel network a few miles outside the city. He said he visited the site himself and the workers there allowed him to take a look around. Apparently there’s some sort of wall/door into the tunnel network that seems to have been built with techniques for more advanced than what should have been around back then and there’s strange things going on with the ground. I can’t verify if any of this is true, and honestly it sounds like something that would be on that History Channel show Ancient Aliens. Alternatively, it sounds like the premise of a movie like The Mummy. Perhaps there’s an ancient evil sealed within the tunnels and we are unwittingly setting it loose on the world. Of course, it’s just as likely that the hoopla surrounding this discovery is way overblown and the tunnels are something mundane. It will likely be years before anything conclusive is known. My personal favorite (highly improbable) theory, which I made up myself, is that this is the world’s most ancient practical joke, and the people who created the tunnels long ago set it all up just to mess with the people who would eventually find it.
On the following day I did my best to see as much of Sarajevo as possible. Although I didn’t get to everything, I saw most of the biggies. Sarajevo sort of reminds me of Zagreb, but with a more eastern spin. This makes sense, of course, because for a long time Sarajevo was controlled by the Ottoman Turks. I started the day at the Sebilj Fountain on Bascarsija Square. The square was all torn up for construction but the water was still running in the fountain. I walked around, doing my best to stay out of the way of the workers, and visited some of the nearby streets that were full of shops selling various goods made of copper. From there I roughly followed a self guided walk from the pages of one of my guidebooks. I stopped briefly into the Morica Han, a former travelers’ inn, and then moved on to the Gazi Husrev Bey mosque. The mosque is named for a local administrator from Ottoman times who built up Sarajevo and then willed his fortune to the city to continue building. While inside the mosque I overheard a nearby tour guide tell his group that at this particular mosque all the calls to prayer are prerecorded and then broadcast over the loudspeakers. The reason for this is that the local imam is very old and unable to climb the mosque’s minaret. After leaving the mosque I continued west along the main pedestrian road and then turned south the check out the covered bazaar. Nothing caught my eye while passing through and I moved on further south to the Latin Bridge. Right at the bridge is the street corner where Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, setting off the chain reaction that would lead to World War I. Today there’s a plaque that marks the spot where the assassin stood and a museum is on the street corner. I pondered for a few minutes these deaths which sparked a conflict wherein over 17 million people would die, but then I had to get back on schedule. I returned to the main road, and then went north to pay a visit to an old Eastern Orthodox church. After that I passed by the Sarajevo city hall and then walked up to a viewpoint on a hill. Along the way I passed through a graveyard that had been dug during the siege in the 1990s. There were a number of wild dogs in the graveyard but they weren’t aggressive. In America there would probably be a public outcry if there was a pack of wild dogs wandering around town, but in Sarajevo no one seemed to care. The dogs were only in one part of town and I would hope there would be some program to get them spayed or neutered, but I really have no idea what, if anything, is being done about them. It was a cold, foggy day in Sarajevo so when I got up to the viewpoint I couldn’t see the whole city. Sarajevo is in a valley between mountains with the oldest parts along the river in the middle and then as you look further out from the center the city gets more and more modern. There were a few skyscrapers in the distance that I could barely see through the fog. When I came down I walked over to Sarajevo’s Catholic cathedral. There was a school group in there and a priest was telling them something. I assume it was a history lesson on the church. I looked around in there for awhile and next visited the Eastern Orthodox cathedral. The curtains to the back of the church were open, so I could see into the place where the priests perform part of the mass that is normally hidden from the public. Outside the orthodox cathedral is a city park where old men play chess with giant chess pieces. The game that was going on looked like it was most of the way over, so I joined the group of people standing around and watched. I’ve never been big on chess and don’t claim to know much of the strategy behind it. The guy with the white pieces seemed to have his opponent on the ropes, having removed most of the black pieces from the board, but the other guy rallied and mounted a comeback before finally being outmaneuvered and forced into checkmate. With the match over and a new one about to start, I left the park and passed through a market hall and then a covered outdoor market. I didn’t buy anything, but some of produce did look good. I kept going west and came to the eternal flame; one of several war monuments scattered across the city. The flame is in an outdoor alcove of a building with bullet holes that have intentionally never been repaired. Scars like these serve as a reminder of the siege, the longest in modern history, and the people who died in it. Down the street, past the Bosnian central bank, is a park with more makeshift graves from the siege and another war monument. At that point in the day I stopped my sightseeing. There were a few more things farther west in the city that would have been interesting to see, but I had gone through all the things I really wanted to do. That is, except for conducting more “research.” I had passed by a McDonalds while walking around town and was really curious to give it a try. To my delight, the burger I got at the Sarajevo McDonalds was fantastic. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised – Bosnian cuisine has a lot of meat in it so it would make sense that the Sarajevo McDonalds would use quality beef. After leaving McDonalds I slowly walked back to the hostel, taking in the city as I went. At the hostel I spent some time blogging and looking up potential hostels for down the line. Later that night a group of people staying at the hostel invited me to come along for dinner. Some of them were going to one restaurant in the Austrian part of the city and two of them were going to a place in the old Turkish quarter. The restaurant in the Turkish area sounded more interesting, so I went with those two people. We found the restaurant and ate a traditional Bosnian dish, which was meat wrapped in some sort of thin, flaky bread. We chatted for awhile about our respective travels, so I got to eat Bosnian food and practice being sociable. Back at the hostel I did some more work online and packed my backpack for the departure the next day.
The next morning I had to get up early for my flight to Istanbul. The hostel staff called and arranged for a taxi to pick me up and take me to the airport. If I had hailed a taxi myself of the street there’s a decent chance the driver would have overcharged me, so I was appreciative of the hostel staff making sure I got a fair price for my ride. My driver spoke a little bit of English and a tried to converse as best I could using simple words and phrases. At the airport I had a few Convertible Marks left over and was hoping to spend them at the airport store, however everything there was for sale in euros. Thankfully the cafe was taking them and I bought a pair of sandwiches to eat later in the day. My last few “cents” I dropped in a charitable donation box. Soon enough, the plane to Istanbul arrived and I boarded. As I looked out the window I felt bad that I didn’t have more time for Sarajevo, but then again I now have a reason to go back one day. The plane taxied around the airport onto the runway. Then it lifted off into the sky and I left Bosnia behind. Next in line was the finale of my time in the east: Istanbul.