I love to ask people, ‘What is your favorite place in the world?” Most people will say, that really depends on what. I have always used that same answer and said Iceland, Egypt, Cambodia, London at some point.
When Sean(who is obsessed with Eastern Europe) found out I was going to Serbia for a wedding, he insisted I HAD to made a stop in Sarajevo. He’s also the one who used to plan our trips to Stockholm (where our palatial hotel was booked for the wrong weekend) and Bulgaria (where our booking at the Rila Monastery was never confirmed and thus we were left stranded). However, his wife Kathleen agreed with him so I decided why the hell not.
Ummm, Sarajevo is now on my list as one of my favorite places in the world.Top 5 for sure.
I arrived after the epic wedding in Serbia via plane with pretty much nothing planned except for a booking for Hotel Hecco Deluxe. Listen people, this is now my favorite hotel IN THE WORLD. With floor to ceiling epic views of the entire city, who wouldn’t be obsessed?!
I was shocked at how beautiful the city was (yes, I did zero planning) and how much it reminded me of quaint Swiss villages. I decided to book a tour through Meet Bosnia to take me around the town, explain the history of Sarajevo and also to show me the tunnel. D came to pick me up and started by taking me around the “Jerusalem of the West,” which included a pit stop at the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot and killed.
He then explained that he was about 3-4 when the war broke out, and him and his mom and sister left on one of the very last caravans out of Sarajevo. Their vehicle was actually held hostage as part of the ongoing negotiations.
He took me up to the top of 1984 Olympic stadium, you look around and see a sea of white. They’re all graves, inches apart for some of the 11,000 people that died during the Siege. As D said, “Getting a burial plot there now is like winning the lottery.”
During these years, his dad stayed in Bosnia as part of the military, and when he took me to the underground tunnel explained that his dad had walked through it multiple times to get out of Bosnia in order to see his family. He told me stories that his dad would tell him: The U.S. would fly down, drop pallets of stuff for civilians, but many times this would end up in no-man’s land and the Serbian military would use it to lure civilians near the food and then bomb the place out. Same deal with the water, the Serbian military would wait until civilians approached water canisters and then shoot.
After this, he took me to Vrelo Park, a favorite for locals to hang out especially in the warm summer. It’s covered in lush, features a spring of the River Bosna and seriously a good 10 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the city. He asked me where I was from and I said, “the U.S.,” then he said “my mom’s best friend growing up moved to Portland.” A few years ago D’s mom saw someone on the street that looked like it could have been her friends daughter and asked if she was (as you would), and it was her! She was back in Bosnia to film a documentary, which was going to be launched at the 2015 Sarajevo Film Festival. Apparently that’s also the best time to visit. Upon further investigation (aka looking on Instagram), the film is called Finding Bosnia, and they have been doing showings across the U.S. but I haven’t been able to make it to one yet!
Instead of dropping me back off at the hotel, I asked him to drop me off at the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, another thing suggested to me as a must-do in order to really understand the city. The museum is a pretty basic structure on Sniper Alley (darting across to avoid getting killed) almost directly across from the Holiday Inn where most of the press stayed during the Siege. It’s interesting how many people remembered that Holiday Inn whenever I brought up the fact I was visiting Sarajevo.
Two friends ended up coming in that night (also from the epic wedding in Serbia) so we met up and hiked up the Yellow Fortress for sunset before heading into the Old City for more food and shopping.
Hotel: Hotel Hecco Deluxe, Floors 9-12 with epic views for about $70 per night
What to Eat: Cevapi and Burek (I really think I was burek-ed out after this trip but it is so cheap and so good everywhere!)
- Star Cevabdzinica in Old Town (right across from Hotel Old Town) for a typical cevapi and also one with cheese! (Mesni Ustipci)
- Kastel for amazing portions
- Cakum Pakum for the BEST hosts and amazing crepes and pasta
Old Town: The shopping area is split by product – in one corner you’ll find jewelry, another corner copper, another few stalls will sell souvenirs made of bullet casing. I ended up buying a few bullet pens and an airplane (after Sean / Kathleen bought all of us some when they went years ago!) from a guy who goes to New Orleans about 5x a year. Note to self: Do NOT purchase these products made of bullet casing if you are not checking a bag. Oops, sorry security. I’m sure you get that all the time.
The food is also split by product, we ate at one establishment, got beers at another, and smoked shisha at a third. Perhaps we didn’t try hard enough but we couldn’t seem to find a place that had food AND beer!
Read: Sean and Kathleen both suggested reading The Cellist of Sarajevo before going, and like everything else they suggested to me before this trip, they were 100% right.
Just go visit.