Day in Sarajevo

Trip Start Jul 23, 2007
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Trip End Aug 23, 2007


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Friday, August 17, 2007

I checked out quite early this morning, and went round the back of the reception for my free breakfast (6.60 for B&B, you can't really complain). I wasn't sure if the omlette was undercooking or just really greasy so I tried to leave the runny bits.

I started my visit at the Gazi Husrev Bey mosque, the largest Turkish (as opposed to Islamic or Iranian, I think the guide said) mosque in Bosnia. There are some minor difference between the types of mosques, the Turkish mosques have a half dome as well as the main dome, and only 4 pillars instead of 12. Or something like that. Anyway, I arrived in my shorts and vest top, and was given a long sarong type skirt to tie around my waist, and a headscarf to cover my head and shoulders. I think that probably heightened the experience for me, although I was undecided whether I felt opressed or dignified at having to cover up. Neither I suppose, it was only for half an hour! Anyway, the mosque was fascinating. We happened to have a guide provided by the mosque, who was able to explain all the different parts of the building to us, as well as the (very) basic Islamic faith. I'll put what he said here, just in case you don't know, but also to remind me when I read this back.

There are calls to prayer five times a day, and every man should come to pray at least once a day. Women are not obliged to come, but are allowed, provided they cover up sufficiently so as not to distract the men. The men have to wash their hands, legs and feet in the fountains outside to clean themselves (presumably spiritually as well as literally) before entering the mosque, and the guide said it's sometimes quite hard to get from the fountain into the mosque without catching sight of a woman, and possibly making them unclean again! They pray in the direction of Mecca, not because of the place itslef particularly, but because that is where the first Mosque/church was founded by Abraham, and they remember his dedication to his family there. (Again, sorry if this is wrong, this is just what the guide said!) They have to learn at least 11 full sentances of the Qu'ran, but other than that can use a translation. The prayers are led in Arabic, because some parts of the Qu'ran cannot be translated, but every Friday and on special days, the priest stands on this little platform to- what I would call it- preach, in Bosnian about how you should live your life and apply the Qu'ran etc. They believe in 4 Holy Books, including the Bible, but believe that the Qu'ran is the most recent, as documented by Mohammed, the last prophet. I think I knew bits of this, but it's really interesting to learn about other people's religions, especially in a country like Bosnia in one of their grandest mosques! The mosque itself is one of the few that actually has someone speaking out the call to prayer every day rather than playing a pre-recorded message.

One of my favourite things about Sarajevo was the representation of different faiths- within 5 minutes walking distance of the mosque was a Catholic church, a Jewish orthadox church an a synagog. And another mosque. It was incredible to see 'Religion' represented in such close quarters in it's many forms. While I was listening to the guide in the mosque, I blithely thought 'Well that's great, but of course he's wrong', and I'm sure he would think exactly the same thing I told him I was a Christian :D

Sarajevo also allows you to almost walk through history. The old part of the town is a maze of stalls and cafes, within dark wooden huts including a blacksmith's street, where metal was traditionally made into pots and pans etc (I think!). I walked on through to the new part of town, where commercialism takes over. Shops aplenty, the streets are filled with people milling about, stopping occasionally for a quick kava (coffee) or icecream. The Sarajevo international film festival was running for the week after I was there- starting today- so it probably doesn't get much busier. Feeling a bit surrounded by the crowds and traffic, I retreated back to the old part of town to sample one of their many cakes- cream filled sponges, rich tortes, baklava, the list goes on. Afterwards I went for a sneaky burek, but feel I was quite healthy as I had a spinach one, and it wasn't too greasy. Passing through the lively fruit and veg market, I crossed over the river to the Old Jewish Synagog. I couldn't work out how to get in, so went into the cafe next door to ask. An old man, who didn't speak any English, said something to me in Bosnian, so I signalled next door and posed a questioning look on my face. He understood, and his face broke into a smile. He signaled for me to follow him, and he led me up a marble staircase, withdrew a key, and unlocked a big door, ushering me into the centre of the church. Again, it was ornately decorated like the Catholic church and mosque, but in a different way. There were dark woods and intricate patterns unlike the gold of the church and pale arabic shapes in the mosque. After a few minutes I thanked the man and made my way back outside.

Walking along the river, I came to the Latin bridge, where Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian terrorist, famously shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia in 1914, sparking off World War 1. There was a plaque on the wall to mark where the shot had been fired from. Yet again I found it incredible to be standing in a place of such history- this trip has been as much a learning experience for me as it has a holiday! Moving on to the other main atrocity Sarajevo has seen, I visited the National Library, which was ruthlessly shelled during the Bosnian war, destroying the thousands of priceless books and documents stored within in the resulting fire. The building is still in a state of utter disrepair, but you are able to go inside and see how majestic it once would have been, and wonder at the thoughtlessness of man to destory such a place.

I decided to go on my first guided tour of my trip, to the Sarajevo tunnel, located some way out of town, enabling me to learn more about the history of the place on the way. We drove down the road that during the war had been nicknamed 'Sniper Alley'. During the Bosnian War, Serbs surrounded the city, and focused particularly on this one main road. As Bosnians tried to go about their everyday life as much as possible, going to work etc, Serbs would shoot down anything that moved along this road. Apparently they would often shoot people in the leg first to try and lure others out who came to help the injured, and then promptly shoot them all. The guide proudly said that the Bosnian's heart for the victims was so great that someone would always go to help the injured, despite facing a near certain death. The only time it was safe to drive down the road was late at night, without any lights, and hope that you were not spotted. Of course you then face the obstacles of hitting another car or falling in a pothole, so perhaps you weren't really that much better off.

During the war, the UN controlled Sarajevo airport, which provided the only passageway between Sarajevo 'free Bosnia'. The Serbian army surrounded the rest of the city. As soon as the fighting started in Croatia, apparently a Serbian general had started to plan an attack on Sarajevo and dug trenches in the nearby mountains. When questioned about it, he replied it was simply for Army training, and no more questions were asked. The UN had to stay neutral throughout the war, but that meant that they would not allow any Sarajevo residents to leave. They controlled the one remaining passage to the outside world, and whenever people tried to escape, the UN troops would catch them and send them back into the danger of the city. While they provided humanitarian aid, our guide, who was 10 at the time, remembers being given biscuits that were left over from -he imagined by the expiry date- the Vietnam war. Inflation meant even a bag of sugar cost about 20 pounds, and it was all the Sarajevans could do just to survive. There was of course, no electricity, and the only running water was at the Sarajevo Brewery, which had access to a local spring. One of the most dangerous journeys of all was walking to the Brewery to collect a pail of water, just enough to keep you and your family going for the next few days, if that.

Eventually, someone decided to do something, and a tunnel was built, from both sides of the airport and meeting in the middle. Even once this 'Sarajevo tunnel' had been dug, which was 800m long, 1m wide and 1.6m high, the saturation of the surrounding land meant that it often flooded, sometimes meaning people had to wade through it up to their necks. The tunnel was not big enough to evacuate people from the city, so only one member of each family was allowed out at a time, and only to collect food supplies to bring back in. Apparently no-one ever escaped for good, they always returned to their families, who were waiting patiently for them back inside the city. It was originally built to supply the city with weapons, and it is thought that Sarajevo would almost certainly have fallen to the Serbs if it had not existed. The UN knew about it, but were wise enough not to prevent it, and although the Serbs were aware of the city being provided with supplies and weapons somehow, they did not know how or where it was happening. Before the war ended, Serbs owned 65% of what is now Bosnia and Hercegovina, but Clinton's Dayton agreement meant that they now own 49%. At the Tunnel museum, you are able to walk down a small section of the tunnel, which has now been collapsed to ensure airport security. They also display all 11,000 names of those who lost their lives in the Bosnian war.

Back in the city, I decided to take stock and stopped for a lemonade (which, incidentally, is proper lemon juice and sugar not fizzy stuff). As I was sitting there, the British couple happened to walk past and spotted me. They came over, and were very glad to be able to pay me back- apparently the guy had been wondering how he could get the money back to me thinking 'Well, I know she's at Loughborough... maybe we could post a notice on the board or something..!' Only the British would feel so bad at someone giving them 7 pounds for a train ticket :)

I went to Inat Kuca, a restaurant located across the river from the National Library for dinner. I didn't realise until I got there that it had been recommended in the LP guide, so the place was full of English and Americans, but I had read a tip on the internet to go upstairs for the good views. The waiter thought I was crazy as it was quite hot up there, but I managed to open the window and sat in my own turret, on turkish cushions with low dark wooden carved tables, looking over Sarajevo as dusk fell and the city began to light up. Following Clare's lead, I've now decided to try and eat as much of the local food as I can, so I ordered a mixed plate, and recieved a metal bowl full of stuffed peppers and onions, a skewer of some meat, possibly veal tongue (?!), all served with a delicious stew, and a fresh glass of Juniper juice. The Turkish restaurant music mingled with the evening call to prayer as the warm wind blew through the turret, and I got a sudden urge to keep travelling, go to Istanbul and further East. If I was still flying back to England in September, I probably would have gone, but as it is I will have to leave that to the next trip.

I finally managed to drag myself away to get the tram to the train station- I felt I had experienced a lot of Sarajevo in the day I had been there, and was ready to move on. While waiting for the tram, I met an Egyptian who was working for the UN in Sarajevo, identifying missing people. His job was to go from mass grave to mass grave, running DNA tests on the remains and trying to identify people, to give some sense of closure to the families of the 30,000 people who were still missing from the war. His job was made all the more difficult by the fact that Serbs often destroyed the bodies and left limbs etc in different locations. One man had been found in 14 different graves. I was again silenced by the thought that this happened within my lifetime, and that similar things are probably still happening in the middle east.

I boarded the 9:30pm overnight 10 hour train to Zagreb, and managed to find a spare row of 3 seats in one dark compartment- I really wanted to try and get some sleep and lie down, but later 2 people came in, so I could only put my feet up. At some point, they got off the train though, and I was able to fully recline, dozing through the night, regularly being woken by the train horn or conductor checking tickets (who kindly turned the light back on every single time.) The highlight of the trip was possibly being woken at 4:30am to have my passport checked as we passed the border back into Croatia. I managed to doze for a few more hours, until we arrived in Zagreb at 7am.
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