May 21, 2013 by Anil Polat
My travels are usually well ahead of my writing, which lags behind a queue of new trips and past stories to be told. Hence why I’m so late in writing about the 2012 Best City To Visit Travel Tournament winner, Sarajevo. A contest won by an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic group of Balkan supporters who reflect how connected a community the inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital form.
There is no correlation between my tardiness and how I felt about Sarajevo, where I was welcomed by many I met – not as a visiting traveler – but rather someone returning to a home he didn’t know he had. Tourism to Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina has increased by 13% [PDF] since 2010, yet it still retains many advantages for independent and budget travelers.
War Torn No Longer
The streets of Sarajevo still bear the marks of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, literally, as you can see in the picture to the right, where residents have painted the cracks left by grenade explosions red. There were many more of these memorials in asphalt throughout the Sarajevo, which endured the longest siege of a capital city since World War II: from April 5, 1992 until February 29, 1996. Like the pavement however, the city hasn’t forgotten the war that changed Sarajevo’s demographics drastically, reducing ethnic diversity according to some estimates by 30%.
The Bosnian War created a lost generation of children in Sarajevo, who missed an opportunity for education, as sniper fire and regular bombardment of the city made any formal schooling impossible. One of the few ways food, medical supplies, and weapons were smuggled into the city during the siege was through the Sarajevo Tunnel. Constructed by the Bosnian Army covertly, it connected Sarajevo to just outside the city’s airport, controlled by the United Nations. You can get a fascinating look inside the tunnel, parts of which are still intact, on the HYH City Tour. In addition to the Sarajevo Tunnel, my guide took us to the abandoned bobsled tube from the 1984 Olympics and sniper alley – his personal stories from living through the siege alone were worth the 21 Euro price.
The divisions of the war have brought modern Sarajevo together today as it can confidently concentrate on the future – a hint of which you can see in its hip present. Students from the over 5 universities in Sarajevo hang out in sleek cafes like Delikatesna Radnja after classes and you’ll find no shortage of bars along the blocks of the Miljacka River on weekend nights.
Advantages Of Independence For Independent Travelers
With the Bosnian War in the rear view mirror (it’s completely safe in case you were wondering), travelers who head to Sarajevo have much to look forward to. First of all, it’s inexpensive. Businessweek ranks it the 19th cheapest city for expensive living, whether you’re looking for a fancy two-bedroom apartment for $699 a month, or staying a few nights in a private room for 20 Euro a day at the comfortable Hostel City Center.
In the evening recuperate lost calories with the pastry burek or have a complete meal of cevapi (kebab) with duvec (vegetable stew) at an affordable spot like Sedef. Afterwards at the warmly lit Bascarsija Square drink from the Sebilj Fountain, which is said to ensure one’s return to Sarajevo – although in my opinion a visit to the city has the same effect.
Warmest Welcome I Can Remember
The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament really took off in Sarajevo last year and everyone I came across seemed to have voted or heard about it. So many Bosnians took time out of their day to come meet me as I was traveling around the city to have a drink or just say hi – thanking me for highlighting the city through the contest. But to be honest, it’s all of the Bosnians who deserve my thanks for welcoming me to a city I could easily see myself living in, and treating me like I have been, for a lifetime.