Going loco down in Sarajevo!

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Going loco - that's what the Bosnian Serbs did in Sarajevo during the early 1990's. Also home of the 1984 Winter Olympics where east German Katarina Witt won her first gold medal in the Ladies Figure Skating.

Our accommodation was in the Turkish quarter, so we wandered around the markets there, kebab outlets littered amongst the jewellery and souvenir shops. Our main mission of the day was to find the bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdindand had been assassinated. The murder that had started World War I. Some people say third time lucky. Franz had already survived two attempts that same day. He should have heeded the warning and stayed at home! It was a hard bridge to find as the commemorative plaque that had marked it's place in history had been pulled down in 1918. There is talk of a replacement though. Once found, we decided to attempt to cross. Luck was on our side, we both made successful crossings!

We walked down the road and came across a huge damaged building. It was the former university library. The Bosnian Serbs and set alight all the books. Over 2 million books were lost and the building almost completely gutted. There was a photographic exhibition in the remains of the foyer so we went in to have a look. It told of the ethnic cleansing of a village called Srebrenica. There was an explanation board that gave a blow by blow account of how the village had been cleared of it's inhabitants. Bosnian Serbs, backed by the Serbian Army, had gone in and separated the men aged between 16 and 60 from the women, children and elderly. You can guess what happened. The recounts given by the few survivors were horrific. In 2000 the surviving relatives had been brought in to help and try to recognise personal effects and clothes. The photographs were mainly of the recovery efforts of the UN and Bosnian Muslims to try and identify and recover those that had been killed. There were remains in mass graves and also those that had just been left where they had been shot. Possessions and all. There were people so disturbed by the pictures and captions that they were crying. I can't even begin to imagine what war is like. There were small excerpts from scripts from someone in the US government, like a state secretary or something. He eventually resigned his position because he couldn't handle lying anymore. The US knew all about what was going on the whole time but did nothing to help. Bosnia doesn't have oil.

We walked down the river to clear our heads and walked into a park. We could see a bunch of old men shouting and getting really excited. Instead of a brawl we discovered an outside chess game! The pieces were about 2 foot and the board was painted on the ground. It was getting very heated. Eventually one guy had to give up. He was surrounded and only had two pieces left on the board. They gave each other a big hug and someone else was up.

Next morning we dumped our bags in left luggage at the bus station and attempted to buy tickets to Zagreb. But the people at the bus station have to be the rudest people I've ever encountered in my life! As soon as they saw we couldn't speak Serbian they closed their window and waved us away to the next person. We finally got tickets but others weren't so lucky. We had wanted to get a train but the tracks were damaged during the war and hadn't been repaired so bus was the only way out. We went next door to look at the ghostly station. All the platforms and ticket offices were deserted. Left just as they had been all those years ago.

We walked back towards town and passed the Holiday Inn where the reporters and photographers had camped out during the conflict waiting for their next story or headlining picture. Apparently it was 300 Deutsche marks per night back then! We found some 'Sarajevo Roses' too which are indentations in the ground where shells exploded. Some of them are filled in with red cement, hence 'rose'. We visited a Jewish museum in the old synagogue and met some lovely ladies in the Iranian Culture Centre who gave me a hijab as a gift to wear when I reach Iran. They also wanted us to take an english copy of the Koran, but it was huge so we gracefully declined. We headed down the Turkish quarter again and visited some mosques. One of which had another photo exhibition on Srebrenica. The other was a more traditional type with a sign outside asking, amongst other things (like ice creams), to leave your machine guns outside! The Olympic Village had been destroyed during the war so no point in visiting that. But you can still go skiing in the winter if you want to chance it. There are still unexploded mines up there!

We went back to the bastard bus station for our overnight bus to Zagreb. The left luggage attendant just ignored us for about 15 minutes before deciding we could have our stuff back. Bastard. The bastard old man toilet attendant, stinking of beer wouldn't let me use the ladies, only the grim men's bog with no lock on the doors and soggy cardboard on the floor. Bastard.

There are still bombed out buildings and others with pockmarks throughout the city. So the war is still very evident. It's a bit depressing and I found the people a bit more weary than in other places. It's not the most fantastic or inspiring city I've ever been to but I'm glad I went. Could have done without the bus station hassle though.
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