A year ago I was in Europe and lately I’ve been thinking over some of the places that were the most memorable from that trip. If you read my travelogue posts from back then you already know the details of each place I visited, but I thought I’d do a series of short writing pieces over the next three or so weeks where I give my thoughts on particular cities or regions as a whole. I’m not going to talk about every location; just the ones that have been on my mind. The order that I write about them will be in the approximate chronological order of when I visited and each writing piece will feature two locations with a photo from the trip to accompany each of them. As a bonus, at the end of each writing piece I’ll note where I was, one year ago that day.
I skipped over Sarajevo on my 2012 trip across Europe, which in retrospect was a mistake, but last year I made up for it and journeyed to the city. Sarajevo is a city of culture, history, and scars. It’s one of the few where you can walk in one direction and move through multiple distinct historical periods, and you’ll know by the architecture. Throughout central Sarajevo you’ll also see memorials to the siege in the 1990s, the longest urban siege in modern history. Among the most prominent are the mass graves, which were dug into parks and other open spaces in a disorganized fashion. But the city has rebuilt, to the point where if there were no monuments and you were historically ignorant you might not guess anything had happened, and with the rebuilding has come modernity. You can still purchase locally made wares, but western firms have moved in and staked their claim. Even McDonald’s is now there, and yes, I did eat at the Sarajevo McDonald’s. It was the best McDonald’s I’ve ever had. If you want something more traditional, there are plenty of local Bosnian restaurants throughout the city, though if you’re vegan or vegetarian you might have trouble, as the Bosnian diet is very meat heavy. Also be aware that there are packs of stray dogs wandering about in certain areas near the old city. They’re not a threat, but it’s not the sort of thing someone like me is used to seeing.
The great metropolis. Istanbul is one of the largest cities on the planet, to the point where it covers almost the entire strait between Europe and Asia. One day I took a cruise up the Bosphorus that went north for an hour before turning around, and I never saw the end of the city. And yet, somehow, despite overflowing with millions upon millions of people, Istanbul keeps running every single day. Traffic jams are terrible, but people still get to where they are going. Each day I woke up to the Muslim call to prayer at sunrise, which is projected over loudspeakers across the city. I wouldn’t call it culture shock, but more than anywhere else on the trip, Istanbul made me aware of just how far from home I was. Whereas in many European cities the skyline is punctured by church towers, in Istanbul it is minarets and mosque domes that stand out. You can also buy just about anything if you know where to look, and things are generally cheaper than what you’d pay in the West. In the old city you can visit places like the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, but if you take a walk north and cross the Galata Bridge in the direction of Taksim Square, you hit modern, western Istanbul. There Starbucks has your coffee ready and not as many women are wearing the hijab. Hagia Sofia was a definite highlight of my time in Istanbul, even with all the scaffolding from the restoration work being done on the inside. I also was able to purchase a Turkish tobacco pipe as a wedding gift for a friend of mine, thus completing one of the main tasks from the entire 2015 trip.
On this day, one year ago, I started my day in Mostar, Bosnia. I had a few hours before my bus to Sarajevo, and I spent it around the town’s famous bridge (I even got to see one a guy take the leap off of it and dive into the river below). Later that day I got on the bus to Sarajevo and arrived there in the late afternoon.