Thursday, December 10, 2015


When you travel through the Balkans, you may occasionally find yourself with the unsettling feeling that you're walking through a minefield. Not a literal one, mind you - though there are still areas in the region with literal, un-exploded mines - but rather a minefield of political and religious and nationalist baggage that an outsider can't begin to understand.

Before I traveled there, I was vaguely aware that the entire region had been more or less torn apart after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 90s. The names Bosnia and Sarajevo conjured up faint images of war and conflict—but I didn’t (and I still don’t) know the context behind all of it, though it all happened within my lifetime.

It was only after the fact that I learned that Sarajevo was under siege for four years from 1992-1996, and that tens of thousands of people had died and most of the city had been heavily damaged by shelling.

Not very far away, the largest act of genocide on European soil since WW2 took place.


Other than simmering resentments that might come up in conversation (don’t talk about the Serbs), you wouldn’t know most of this if you go there now.

Knowing what I know now, I’m struck by how quickly people are able to pick themselves up after tragedy. Kind of like what it must have been like to walk through London or Berlin ten or twenty years after the end of World War II.


Which is all to say: This part of Europe defied my expectations. I vaguely associated the term “Balkans” with “war torn” and “religious" and "racial conflicts.” When you go there, you don’t see most of that (though you may notice some shell marks and bullet holes on the walls of buildings.) It doesn’t feel like Western Europe, but it feels modern.

Looking down a street in Sarajevo

You even get a somewhat incongruous, but distinctive skyscraper:
The aptly named Avaz Twist Tower
Sarajevo is a beautiful city, located in the hills. The green, rolling landscaping makes for quite a nice setting

Another Sarajevan street view

...even if it can be a bit of a pain to make it back to your lovely hostel located at the top of one of those hills every evening.) 

The view from the hostel, however, is very nice:

The city - as I quickly discovered - is a dividing line between the west and east. As you’re walking, you’ll notice a very clear division from the cathedrals and tall buildings of the west to the Ottoman style architecture and mosques of the east.

Sarajevo's "Sacred Heart Cathedral"

Buildings, including a mosque, in the eastern side of Sarajevo
It’s all shaped by hundreds of years of history and conflict that I won’t pretend to understand. I’ll remain a tourist and just admire what it is now.

There were, however, some historical aspects that were familiar to me—such as this inconspicuous bridge.

The Latin Bridge

A sign nearby marks the exact spot where Gavrilo Princip stood when he fired the shots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife—and thus helped trigger WWI.


We spent three days here, and mostly just "chilled," as the younguns say. We visited the cathedral (more of the same, but beautiful), a mosque and madrassa, and so on. We visited a jazz bar one evening, and we might have even caught a movie.

It's a great walking city (except for the aforementioned hills.) Simply wander and take in the ambiance.

And I'll leave you (for now) with this wonderful bit of advice found on a water bottle:



  1. Interesting city. The Twist Tower is certainly unique. Quite a trek up the hill to your hostel it looks like from the view. Surprises me that it has almost completely recovered from the war already. Love traveling vicariously with you.

  2. One of my favorite cities in old Jugoslavija. Of course I was there long before the Balkan Wars and even a few years prior to the 1988 (??) Winter Olympics Wonderful friendly people. Looks like it has recovered nicely. Thanks for posting.