I strolled down the narrow lanes, winding between wooden, thatch roof marketplaces standing side by side along streets paved with a mix of stone and dirt. Surrounded by rolling green hills and forests dotted with red, white, and earth-colored neighborhoods, I was transported to the age of the Ottoman Empire. I had no words, because all of my senses had been filled with the smell of hot black tea brewing, the sounds of shop owners whistling, the sight of friendly dogs running circles around my legs, and the feeling of intense but bearable heat beating down upon me as the sun lit up the early morning Saturday market.
In Sarajevo, Bosnia, residents have much to be thankful for despite the recent memories of a war-torn, sieged city. Less than 30 years ago, Bosnians in Sarajevo had to do without electricity or running water and with the sounds and threat of bullets whistling through the air. Bullet holes still dot building walls, a sign of the Yugoslavian civil war that ravaged the country in the 1990s, causing many Bosnians to either take refuge in other countries or bear down in their homes until it was over. Now, the city that is primarily known for wars that it didn’t start, as in the beginning of World War I with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Serbian Black Hand group and its role in the break-up of former Yugoslavia, is as vibrant as ever.
I spent 4 days in Sarajevo and one in Mostar, an ancient city just two hours away by bus, in April of 2018. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited by the prospect of visiting somewhere in Greater Europe that wasn’t so “European.” Bosnia ended up being one of my favorite adventures of my European experience. The combination of marketplaces, history, quaint tea shops, a beautiful and green semi-mountainous landscape, and friendly people made the trip wonderful.
Sarajevo is sometimes called the ‘Jerusalem of Europe’ because of its eccentric Eastern-Western vibe. On our first day in Sarajevo, we walked through Bascarsija, Sarajevo’s historic bazaar at the center of the city. Produce, food, tea, clothing, handcrafted tea cups and coffeemakers, and jewelry are haggled by the city’s shop owners. Walking around the market gave me an initial grasp of the city that excited me and made me want to discover more and more.
On our second day, we took a free tour (which turned out being just my two friends and I with a local from the hostel), where we learned about the city’s history and saw historical points of interest like the Ashkenazi Synagogue, the spot where Franz Ferdinand was killed, some of the oldest tea shops, and learned about local culture. As it began to rain, we stopped in a tea shop that our guide had recommended us and relaxed with Bosnian coffee and lilac tea. The shop was called Cajdzinica Dzirlo and is painted green atop a hill near the main square. It is a two-story, ornately decorated café-lover’s wonderland, and owned by the friendliest couple you will ever come across. The old man smiled at us and shook our hands when we walked in, and his long Gandalf-like beard made me glad to be in his presence. The co-owner and his wife took our orders and spent 15 minutes explaining the complexities of Bosnian coffee and all of the different sorts of tea that they offered. I was in heaven.
In the afternoon, we decided to learn more about Bosnia’s recent history. We visited the War Childhood Museum, where we had a somber experience but one we were highly thankful for. I would recommend visiting either this museum or the Bosnian National Museum to get a proper grasp of Bosnian culture and history.
The next day we experienced traditional Bosnian cevapi, a grilled minced meat that is quite healthy, cheap, and absolutely delicious. We made another trip to the tea shop, because we were in love, and relaxed before going out to a spot that our tour guide had told us about the day before. Kino Bosna, a former cinema that holds live jazz nearly every night, was a must-see according to our guide. So my three friends and I, two British and one Belgian, walked down with two German guys we had met at our hostel to see what all the fuss was about. We walked in to loud jazz music and saw a massive hall with two stages and two bars. There were two people sitting down, drinking beer. The band, however, was playing an eclectic mix of upright bass, horns, and accordions, and singing traditional music. We decided we had to stay. That night, we stayed out late, dancing with the Bosnian band and having the time of our lives. It was the perfect ending to our time in magical Sarajevo.
Guest Author: Keegan Roembke
I am a student and writer from Indiana currently living in Ghent, Belgium, working on a Master’s in Global Studies. My passion for writing and poetry stems from travels and constant curiosity about the world. I write poetry, social commentary, and travel pieces on Medium and Vocal, and recently graduated from the University of Southern Indiana, where I studied German and International Studies. I have travelled to 22 countries throughout Europe and Africa by train, bus, and foot. Read poetry and commentary at https://vocal.media/authors/keegan-roembk