Before coming to Bosnia & Hercegovina, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. After all, to most people from Southeast Asia, they have never even heard of such a place, not to mention, know where this country is located or know what it is like. As for me, other than hearing about the war that occurred some years back through the media, I know nuts about this country. Only on arriving, did I realised that, more than 15 years after the Serbian forces wrecked havoc in this Eastern European countries, you can still see signs of the war everywhere. But this has not stopped the people from emerging from the shadows of the war. Disregarding the many bullet holes and marks of grenade, you will find that Bosnia & Hercegovina is in actual fact a beautiful country with equally beautiful people. As such, it is easy to fall in love with this country despite its sad history.
Coming from Mirjana’s home in Ljubljana, I first had to take a train to Zagreb, Croatia, before switching to another train bound for the capital of Bosnia & Hercegovina, Sarajevo. When I first saw the train, I thought this is most probably a not so popular route since the train consisted of only 3 carriages. However, on boarding the train, I realised that this was not the case as there was actually a lot of people on board, with people spilling onto the passageway and even right next to the exits. It actually requires about 12 hours to get to Zagreb from Sarajevo. As such, I prayed for lots of people to get off the train soon. Luckily, my prayers were answered. After two and a half hours, tons of people got off at the stop just before the borders and I was spared the agony of standing outside the smelly toilet for the rest of the night. After a not so fitful sleep, I finally arrived in Sarajevo.
From the moment the train pulled into the train station, I knew that this was going to be different from the other Eastern European countries that I’ve been to so far. Although this was the one and only train station in the capital city, it absolutely did not look as grand as all the main train stations in the other countries. Instead, what you see is a broken and rundown station, more like an abandoned station that you will find elsewhere. On the way to the city centre from the train station, you can lots of old, dilapidated and abandoned buildings, most of which riddled with bullet holes. In fact, to people like us, who are fortunate enough never to have to witness the cruelty of war, all these come as a big culture shock.
The hostel that I chose to stay in was definitely not fanciful or clean or nice as the other ones that I’ve stayed in so far. In fact, it reminded me of the crappy hostels in Cambodia or Laos that I’ve stayed in before. But the good thing about this hostel is that, they provide a free pickup from the train station. Of course, that is not the main reason I chose this hostel. Rather, it is for the cheap beds (only 8.50 Euros) and free breakfast and last but not least, that it is right across the Old Town.
Most old towns in other cities are now mainly tourists’ attractions and hence, filled with souvenir shops or restaurants. You hardly find locals gathering there. Even if they do, it is probably as a day outing or something like that. However in Sarajevo, this is not the case. Here, the locals enjoy hanging out in the Old Town as much as the tourists do. The main “entrance” of Sarajevo’s Old Town is this fountain. Did I just say fountain? Yeah, this thing which is a favourite perching spot for the pigeons is in actual fact a fountain. So where is the water? Well, if you look carefully at the lower half of the fountain, just above the squarish basin, you will notice a tap. Yep, anything with a tap that has water coming out of it, is considered a “fountain”. 古镇内全是密密麻麻的小街道，就和其他的古镇一样，街道的两旁都是贩卖各种衣物和纪念品的小商店。这里以手工制作品为名，因此大部分的商店都是贩卖首饰的。由于这里曾被土耳其统治超过四百年，所以你看到的很多东西都非常土耳其式。
The old town here is a mish-mash of little streets, all lined with souvenir shops (what else?!), boutiques and restaurants. Bosnians are famous for their handcrafted silverware, as such, you can find many shops selling all sorts of silverware here. And after more than 400 years of Ottoman rule, it is hardly surprising to find a tinge of Turkish influence in almost everything.
One thing that is different from the other old towns, here in Sarajevo’s Old Town, you will not find grand citadels or majestic churches. Instead, what you will see are old cottages, and shops, and a very simple looking mosque.
The unique part about this old town is that you can find many cafés and restaurants with loads of character. Bosnians really love their coffee and cakes. Hence, when you come here, you definitely have to do as the locals do, i.e. sit down at one of these cafes, sip a cup of strong Bosnian coffee, smoke a shisha, have one of the many sweet desserts that the Balkans are famous for and people watch. Do not think that this is a waste of time, for this is real Bosnian culture. I don’t usually drink coffee, and I substituted that with a glass of Turkish tea. Holding the tiny cup in one hand, a spoonful of the sweet dessert baklava on the other, THIS is what life is all about!