This past weekend’s adventure…I barely know where to begin it was so intense, action-packed, and at times life threatening. Okay, I suppose I’ll start off by stating that Sarajevo is, without a doubt, my favourite Balkan city. It is absolutely beautiful and compared to Pristina…it’s an actual real city (though to be fair to Pristina, it was not originally built to be a capital city).
With Bajram (the end of Ramadan), we had Friday off as a holiday. My best friend, flatmate, his colleague, and I set out as soon as we could after work on Thursday to begin the epic drive to Sarajevo. Route wise we had to go via Montenegro because it is not possible to go from Kosovo directly into Serbia (Serbia will not accept the Kosovo exit stamp in your passport since they do not acknowledge Kosovo as a sovereign state). So we went from Pristina, through Peja, then followed along the Montenegro/Serbia border, and then up from the southeast part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (through the Republic of Srpska, not to be confused with the Serbian Republic).
Now, I made that sound relatively simple, but the reality of that journey was oh so much more insane. As an overall note, the roads and “highways” in the Balkans tend to be rather laughable with loads of pot holes, lack of signage, constant blind corners on single lane roads meant for two directions, dangerous over-taking maneuvers by fellow drivers, and tiny windy roads through unlit wilderness and mountains. Before we even got out of Kosovo we got pulled over for an apparent illegal over-take. Emily was incredibly diplomatic in speaking with them and the two officers actually got into a heated debate with each other wherein one stormed off. The other officer let us off with a warning to pay attention to road signs.
The rest went smoothly until we took a wrong turn somewhere in Montenegro. My flatmate was convinced this is the way he’d gone before and was surprised when we ended up at what he thought was a toll booth. My flatmate casually drives up to booth, hands the officer a 20 euro bill and he looks offended and says, “Pasaportë”. Wait, what? What border is this?! “Serbian”. Woops, don’t mind us as we awkwardly make a U-turn in front of everyone.
We back tracked to the right road and continued on. At one point we were quite certain we must be lost again as we ended up down a tiny, gravel-y road in the pitch dark forest (we got out for a stretch break which was quite terrifying, but also breath taking because you could see so so so many stars). We eventually made it to the Montenegro/Bosnia border in the mountains a little after midnight. The border officers took our passports and went into their office. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. We got out for a stretch. Fifteen minutes passed. What are they doing in there?
Another car from the other direction pulls up to the border directly in front of our car. FINALLY, they bring out our passports. We thank them, get back in the car, and my flatmate pulls to the right of the car in front of us and I saw it happening, but couldn’t get the word “STOP” out fast enough. I don’t know how he forgot it was there, but CRASH. The horizontal pole/gate shatters my passenger window.
Quite shaken, they help me get all the glass off and the German family in the other car cleaned my cuts with rakija (border officers getting a little boozy?) and bandaged me up. They dug in their car for a plastic bag and duct tape and covered our broken window. The border police brought out their vacuum and helped clean out all the glass. Everyone was so helpful – faith in humanity restored! We carried on to Sarajevo with our broken window and arrived at our hostel around 4am – bloody, sweaty, and knackered.
Thankfully the drive back was much less eventful (aside from the fact that we drove through four countries and were in the car for 14+ hours). We drove a different route via Mostar and were only pulled over once for speeding. When the police officer saw that my flatmate had three pretty girls with him he just started shaking his hand and saying, “Ohhh nice colleagues. Yes. Yes. Ok, You go”. You’re welcome, Joe. No speeding ticket for you today!
And of course, at every border we were asked what happened to our window. I think the best reaction was from the border officer at the Montenegro/Albania border who could not stop laughing and saying he’d never heard anything like it. Thanks mate. Anyway, here is what went down in Sarajevo (and a wee bit of Mostar).
Where We Stayed:
Hostel for Me – After a debacle with an Air BnB property, a fellow intern who went one day ahead of me to Sarajevo recommended this place. It’s small (less than 20 bunks total), but so lovely. It’s extremely clean, nicely decorated, and most importantly for me and my bad back, the mattresses were the most amazing hostel mattresses I’ve ever experienced. The only two complaints I had were 1) the hilariously narrow bathrooms, as in…if I were 20kg heavier I’m not sure I would fit, and 2) how hot the rooms got (they definitely need to invest in some fans!).
Where We Ate:
Mala Kuhinja – Actually recommended to me by the brother of one of my first flatmates in London. This place was amazing! They don’t have a menu and instead recommend a smattering of things from the kitchen that day. We had an amazing salad, stir-fried vegetables, veal and masala mushrooms for the carnivores, and split three delectable desserts.
To Be or Not to Be – In the Old Town down a little alley, I had one of the best vegetable omelettes I’ve ever had. The man running it is also incredibly sweet.
Badem Butik – As we didn’t have much time to sit down and eat three times a day, we survived off the gamut of nuts from this shop. The honey roasted almonds, peanuts, walnuts. The sesame peanuts. Any of it really.
What We Did:
City Walking Tour – The free donation based sort. It’s a great way to get your bearings in the city, but it will definitely leave you needing to do a little more research on the complicated history of Sarajevo and the war. The tour was about two hours and started at the Jewish synagogue/museum at 10:00.
Srebrenica Genocide Exhibition – Just next to the Katedrala Srca Isusova (Sacred Heart Cathedral). They have a gallery of photos from the war which they will give a tour of, as well as two thirty minute documentaries. I highly recommend watching both – it’s an incredibly sobering experience. I do feel a bit of information was left out within the tour and the guide let a bit of bias show, but don’t let that deter you. It cost 6 euro or 12 KM (Convertible Marka – as part of the Dayton agreement the Bosnia currency was pegged to the Duestche Mark).
Sunset at Bijela Tabija (The White Fortress) – for the last call to prayer for Ramadan and to catch the sunset we drove up to the fortress. From there it requires a bit of climbing through this crumbling fortress to get to the outer edge. Don’t get too close to the precipes which has a good 200 foot drop down into the valley. The views however were stunning. We were also treated to a dramatic lightening and thunder storm happening over the other side of the city.
Sarajevo War Tunnel – We unfortunately did not make it to this, but had really wanted to as the tunnel was integral to the survival of the residents in Sarajevo during the war. You will need to arrange transport and a tour guide as they are not provided by the “museum”. You can pop into any tourist information place and ask for further information.
Dingbats Sarajevo – Souvenir shopping at its finest. Normally souvenirs with city/country names branded on it are really chintzy looking, but not this stuff. I wanted to buy all this graphic designer’s creations (just hoping she adds decks of cards to the repertoire).
Where We Detoured: Mostar
We stopped off here as a quick hour or so detour. We mostly just walked around the old town and across Stari Most (Old Bridge). Ali Baba cave bar – This place was cool. And I mean that in more than one way. First, it was a good 10 degrees cooler than the main street, and it was cool in that you are literally in a cave.
Dip in the River by Stari Most – It was BOILING hot, as in 42 degrees Celsius, so despite not having bathing suits we could not resist heading to the river’s edge and just jumping in. It was freezing, but I was completely on board with that aspect. The current is quite strong and there is a lot of broken glass, so be careful! Walking back to the car in soaking wet jean shorts and sports bra was certainly a good look.