The Last Undiscovered Capital in Europe
Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
If you haven't been to the last undiscovered capital in Europe, then GO!
To the war stricken country of land mines, religious strife and constant surprise - Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina. I can say that this place is on my TOP 5 favorite cities list. An impressive, fascinating, beautiful, CHEAP, and wonderful city that will remain the highlight of my entire 2 week Yugoslavia trip. Sarajevo is 1/4 Beirut, 1/4 Istanbul, 1/4 your typical Commi city, and 1/4 mountains of Austria or Switzerland. Beautiful! A complete surprise and completely off the beaten path.
Driving into Sarajevo
Driving into Sarajevo during sunset will be a memory I can never forget. From the bus window I've NEVER seen such bombed out buildings with bullet holes, missing roofs, and various concrete dubree scattered throughout hills, flat land, and valleys. Elderly women poking our their heads from buildings covered with bullet holes of all sizes and wild cats sneering from treetop branches. Kids playing in the rugged streets with an old leather bound soccer ball. Sections of the city looked as if war occurred a few hours before our arrival. Watching the sun slowly set upon a war torn valley city wrapped between mountains was truly an unforgettable experience. The mountains honestly looked like the green pines one envisions of Austria or Switzerland all encircling a section of downtown Baghdad. The most striking memory of Sarajevo has to be the cemeteries. The white tombstones were placed in the hundreds all around different sections of the city. I've never seen cemeteries laid out all over a city. On flat land. On hills. On edges of mountains. Pretty much anywhere there was space, people were put to rest.
About to get deep
I was dropped off at some random bus stop. Upon entering any city, one is always on guard. I hadn't read up too much on Sarajevo and wasn't sure what I got myself into. Immediately I found a Canadian backpacker on my bus and followed him to his hostel. We arrived at Haris Hotel. Here will be the rather 'deeper' part of the hub.
Turns out Haris is a 19 year old boy who survived the siege on Sarajevo. His house was destroyed by 9 bombs, and he escaped the city via the tunnel built underneath the UN controlled airport. He was 5 years old at the time. Haris has to be one of the few people we meet in this world who actually makes an impression on you. Rarely, am I impressed with people. If so, then always with older individuals who have a myriad of different stories and personal struggles. Haris has only one story. The story of how he survived war and worked to rebuild his lost youth. Living our easy lives in the States, we RARELY meet people like this. Let alone someone who is 6 years younger than me. Despite the age difference, I can honestly say he fascinated me. He was the hostel owner, translator throughout the city, an electrician when he wasn't helping us, a son, a brother, a concert organizer and also a personal tour guide of the city. I bombarded him (no pun intended) with questions and different scenarios. It's hard for me to fully explain this guy. Not only does he have an amazing story, but he was also an incredible guy. I'm very picky with my opinions of places and people. However, this kid really deserves the word "incredible." He is STILL a kid. I mean, he's not even 20 yet. He deserves the Fulbright Scholarship, a full grant to any University in the States, a freakin golden medal for being an amazing person. I've never met anyone with more drive and determination to succeed. Let alone, anyone who was so incredibly selfless - that to me is an incredible person. Someone who makes you want to be a better person. This guy did that to me and others in our hostel.
He has the top rating in Sarajevo at 98.9 as having the best hostel. His hostel is good, but he is the one who makes the experience so great. Anyone traveling to Sarajevo MUST stay with this guy.
Couldn't get enough
I thought of staying in Sarajevo for one night, but ended up there for an entire week. Food is the cheapest I've ever seen. Free water everywhere in the city. Turns out Bosnian water is the absolute cleanest. I ended up whitewater rafting on the Tara River in Bosnia one day. 2nd largest canyon in the world. (2nd to the Grand Canyon).
Anyway, this was the ONLY place EVER where one can ride the rapids AND drink the water. I put my paddle in the water while rafting. When I was thirsty, I put my face in the water and started drinking. Reminded me of Charley and the Chocolate Factory when the kid started drinking all the chocolate water in the river. Bizarre.
A unique and pleasant environment filled with cobblestone Turkish-looking streets, mixed with ornate minarets rising from the valleys, bullet holes in the farmhouse-looking buildings, smoke rising from old chimneys and the entire old town kinda looks like a scene from Conan the Barbarian or Xena Warrior Princess. It's cool. It's different. I liked it.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated there causing World War I. My friend thought the band, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. The answer is NO for anyone unclear.
Awesome nightlife. Still more of the laid-back, sit around Croatian kind of nightlife, but really fun. CHEAP and fun. Bosnian women are extremely beautiful. The guys are huge. In my books the largest men are the Dutch and these Yugoslavians. Sarajevo has lots to do and see. An extremely walkable city, which is important to me. Sunsets are fantastic as the city is in a valley between mountains. Cemeteries are located on all levels of the city and always reminds you of what happened only 12 years ago. People are friendly. Free water. CHEAP everything. Hooka. Alcohol. Safe. Mountains to climb. Rivers to raft. Wild dogs for adventure. Fun little trinkets and gifts to buy. UN land cruisers driving around. Everyone has a story to tell. A true non-mainstream place to visit, admire, and enjoy.
O yeah - NO MCDONALDS!