While cycling up a tough mountain in Una National Park last summer, I came across a group of touring Bosnians. Just like any other passers-by, they wondered why on earth I was travelling on my own, by bike. It struck me that they didn’t ask why I chose to spend my holiday in Bosnia or the Balkans, but why I didn’t just take a car. Explaining my passion for cycling and solo travelling remains difficult, and perhaps it’s a cultural difference. They gave me some tips for the rest of my journey. In their opinion, Sarajevo wasn’t worth a visit. “It’s an ugly, concrete city, where all people do is talk about the war. You’d much better visit Mostar and Trebinje.”
At that point, I could still go either way; I had vaguely made plans to meet my friends somewhere along the road, but we still hadn’t decided where exactly that would be. Eventually, I cycled via Drvar, Livno, Mostar and Trebinje to Cetinje in Montenegro. There, I demounted my bicycle and stuffed it in the Croatian rental car of my two friends. For a week, they took me under their wings and brought me to Sarajevo, my final destination.
Once I had arrived in the city, I remembered those people I had met in Una National Park. On the one hand I could see why they had been so critical. The war is an unavoidable topic, as the city shows its marks. Though you’ll be regularly offered unsolicited tunnel-museum-tours, and are sometimes even being looked at with disdain when you pass, this wasn’t the city’s defining impression on me. I experienced Sarajevo as a positive, vibrant city in a stunning environment. Every night, all cafes and terraces were packed with both locals and tourists. While wandering around, I effortlessly embraced the welcoming, cosy atmosphere surrounding me.
Perhaps it’s a matter of taste. I tend to question those things that are commonly considered beautiful or attractive. I am searching for beauty underneath appearances. This kind of beauty often evokes a high appreciation in me. This kind of beauty touches me deeply, like Sarajevo did last summer.
At the same time, it’s an attitude that slightly blinds me. It might lead to an idealisation of something I am longing for, while ignoring the reverse of the medal. The question then mainly is: what am I longing for and why?
I seem to have found some answers, but I don’t know the solution. I do know that when I was in Sarajevo for the second time, three weeks ago, that special feeling, that attraction, was still there.
Sarajevo may well be a concrete city, for me it’s a gem amidst mighty mountains!
Right now, I want to go back, discover and experience. I am no longer looking for the ultimate answer or solution. I ‘just’ want to live my life in a certain way, with an attitude that suits me. I’ll start with hiking through the Balkans and perhaps working for room and board. Maybe in Sarajevo. Maybe on a farm in the mountains…