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 cafés 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 idealization 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.
Translated by Rosa Juno and published on Visit Sarajevo
[…] Pretty busy for a peak without view. Humanitarian Tour to Crni Vrh on Igman. ˝Wild soul, warm heart˝ The Wild One & me hiking on Trebević ˝A walk in the woods˝, the abandoned Olympic bobsled track One of the things I love about Sarajevo is that it’s surrounded by mountains. This is Trebević and that beauty in the back is Jahorina, isn’t it wonderful? And seriously, this is only a 3-4 hour hike from city centre. As a Dutchie I’m used to dríve twice as much before I could even get a glimpse of some peaks. So yeah, for me this is really special. And I love it 🙂 Sarajevo, A Concrete Gem Amidst Mighty Mountains […]
Hi Eva. Fellow Sarajevan here. I have been reading your blog whole afternoon and I gotta say thank you for all the emotions you shared. I’ve been following all the good and the bad that’s happened. Balkan people are a little rough around the edges, especially when drunk, but there are very few psychopaths around here like there are in American movies. As for Sarajevo, unfortunately, people from other cities hate Sarajevans for some reason, nobody from Sarajevo knows why. They tend to obsess about the city and it’s people. I’ve had a girlfriend from Zenica and visited her and her family often, and they would often talk about Sarajevo and try to make jokes and stuff, and I was surprised because I didn’t think about Zenica at all. People from Zenica would even go so far as to threaten with a new Srebrenica on a football match between Sarajevo and Celik (club from Zenica), even though it’s the same nation and Srebrenica also happened to them. There is a saying that goes “Tuzla radi, Sarajevo se gradi” which means that Tuzla is working for Sarajevo to build and improve. I think nobody knows the reason, because jealousy has no reason. Sarajevo suffered the most during the war. But that is just who we are. Everyone hates everyone here. Each of the three nations hate each other, members of the same nation hate each other, inside a city people from different neighborhoods hate each other, and people from the same family hate each other. But when a foreigner comes, everybody would give his bed and the last slice of bread and sleep on the floor. Every generosity that you have received from Balkan people is true, nothing is fake, even the drunk guy trying to kiss you really liked you in his drunken mind. We thrive in the most bizarre circumstances. A lot of people actually miss the war, the excitement, the adrenaline, the way that people actually stood up for each other. We are just lost with this kind of government and politics.
I too hated Sarajevo and my country for a good amount of years, well into my 20s. When I healed all the injustices and the trauma I had, then I started to see the true beauty of Sarajevo and Bosnia. Unfortunately, a lot of people never healed. Sarajevo can be a bit bleak when all you do is walk around apartment blocks, but when you watch sun setting over Sarajevo on a summer evening from Primoz porch on Trebevic, you become hooked. I actually know a lot of people you have met in and around of Sarajevo, including the couple you stayed with (their daughter also hugged me, I was also shaken, that kid is a healer).
I see you haven’t posted a while, I hope you are ok and are still wandering somewhere around the Balkans.
Hi there, thank you so much for your beautiful message. It’s very special to read your thoughts and perspective. Even though I don’t like cities in general, Sarajevo is one of my favorite places. I know I will always experience it as an outsider, but I think that doesn’t matter. BiH and Sarajevo have a special place in my heart. It’s hard to put into words, but I hope that through my stories could at least share my experience. At the moment I’m not in the Balkans, I’m looking for a place to buy land and that seemed to be very complicated in BiH and even Croatia. Nevertheless, I will come back at least once a year, because believe it or not, I miss that roughness and of course the wild nature!