Friday, 28 July 2017

Bosnia: Four Things Not to be Missed in Sarajevo this May

Text by Albena Shkodrova   
By plane, Sarajevo is still not as well connected to the Balkans and Western Europe as other cities in the region. And that’s a pity. The smallest and least accessible Balkan capital has character – lively cafés and restaurants, a shimmering river, a mix of Eastern and Austrian architecture, memorable views from the hills and, in October, frequent fogs that seem to speak of the Balkans’ entire sadness and nostalgia. In May, however, there is an international chess tournament going on, and one can easily stumble upon impressive matches, played in the garden between some of the participants and the permanent local players.

Otherwise, the war is far from forgotten and although Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs in the republic are far from living in complete harmony, they seem to have found a kind of a daily routine amidst the political tension and, lately, Sarajevo has been living a new, electrified kind of life.

A börek at dawn

The city’s bakeries open very early and, together with the morning’s semi-darkness, its streets fill with the aroma of butter, cherry pie and börek. An unusual experience is guaranteed if you end up in this moment at the square with the emblematic wooden pavilion and pigeons, a piece of meat börek in hand. While eating your breakfast, you can watch the sky getting lighter, and people beginning to stir who, while hurrying along to work, startle the sleepy pigeons and make them fly in all directions with a loud flapping of their wings. 100 % Sarajevo.

The old town and Vijecnica

The neighbourhood with the small cobblestone streets winding between small stores, workshops, tekkes and mosques, and small restaurants – a décor of s series of novels by Meša Selimović, automatically attracts as a magnet every newcomer.

Sarajevo’s old part has become quite touristy but locals love it as well and still use it as a place for taking walks and shopping. Have patience and, after walking around it, go all to the way to its end, where the national and university library is located.

The building that houses it is known as Vijecnica and was constructed as a city hall in the 1890s. It is a curious illustration of the confused ideas for social engineering that circulated around the heads of the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the search for “a new Bosnian identity,” Vijecnica imitates… Moorish architecture. The building suffered serious damage in the war between 1992 and 1995 and 90 per cent of the books in it were destroyed. It has since been restored and is open to visitors.

The tunnel

Personages, relics and places connected to the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia have already gained important positions in the tourist routes around the Western Balkans. Among the first of them was the tunnel, used during the Siege of Sarajevo in order to supply Bosniaks with food and for the evacuation of people. The underground tunnel that stretched almost a kilometre in length from a house’s yard to the Sarajevo Airport passed underneath the territory blocked by the militarised groups of the Bosnian Serbs, in order to link the city with the zone controlled by the UN. Most of the time, its two sides saw queues of hundreds of people waiting to pass through it. Now the tunnel is a museum, open to visitors every day of the week between 9am and 5pm. You can reach it by taxi or by joining the organised visits by the city’s tourist agencies.

The chess players

Sarajevo’s chess players are very similar to those of Sofia – strange fellows who gather in their open-air club and spend hours on end immersed in thought, silence and moving the black and white pieces around. In May, an international tournament is held in Sarajevo and that is when world-class players come and often feel tempted to join the games played before a wide audience. The gathering spot is on Trg Oslobođenje, or Liberation Square, in a park just to the side of the city’s central shopping street, Ferhadija.

Practical Information:

How to get there? By air, Sarajevo is linked to some other capitals and cities in the Balkans, including Belgrade, Zagreb, Mostar, Rijeka, Pula and Istanbul, as well as to several Central and West European destinations, including Budapest, Ljubljana, Trieste, Vienna, Graz, Linz, Cologne and Munich, but the city’s connectivity – especially the access of low-cost airlines, still leaves much to be desired.

Where to stay? Hotels in Sarajevo are relatively pricey considering their quality. You could try hostels, which are well developed in the city – one of the best sites for information and reservations is

Where to eat? To be or not to be (Čizmedžiluk 5, Baščaršija, 061 545 846) – black risotto with squid ink; Dveri (Prote Baković 12, Baščaršija, 061 537 020) – Bosnian hominy; Pekara Edin (Mula Mustafe Bašeskije 69, Baščaršija ) -

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