I woke up in Pecs sad to leave Hungary, but pleased at the thought that it was a Stamp Day. For lack of better explanation Stamp Day has become an odd little bit of traveler’s excitement for me based on the days I get a new stamp in my passport- an event that never ceases to please me, but I am unfortunately so good at that I will need to visit an American embassy soon to get extra pages. So it goes.
Anyway, I haven’t had a Stamp Day in awhile because there are no longer border crossings for most of Europe thanks to the Schenghen agreements, meaning I haven’t gotten a new one since arriving in Germany. So getting three new stamps in one day on the rail journey to Sarajevo- one to leave the E.U. with a train on it, one to briefly pass through Croatia, and one to finally enter Bosnia and Herzegovina (aka “BiH”) itself- made me positively giddy. Travel does weird things to you.
My rail ticket to Sarajevo, which I thought was interesting because it was the first handwritten ticket I’ve gotten in Europe. This is in contrast to Europe, where everything is handwritten to the point where it was normal to always write your name in a guesthouse ledger and whatnot… I wondered if this was an indicator of things to come and it was- BiH is not quite like the rest of Europe.
Sarajevo! I have to say I wasn’t sure what it would be like with the specter of recent history, but I fell in love with this place almost right away. It is both geographically and culturally different from anywhere else in Europe- the Muslim influence means you get to hear the beautifully haunting calls to prayer, and everything was cheap enough to be reminiscint about Asia. Put it this way, it wasn’t the land of $1 beers but it was the land of $2 ones, and after shelling out as much as $10 for one in Western Europe this made me happy.
This picture, by the way, is of the main square in the old town part of Sarajevo. There is a perpetual flock of pigeons in the square at all times that primarily waddles around looking for food by this point, giving a Moses parting the Red Sea feeling to walking across the square. I also spent a very happy few minutes experimenting with herding pigeons once I noticed you could by just walking the right way, which was entertaining to me but confusing to those people-watching in the surrounding cafes.
A view of the main mosque in Sarajevo at night- I didn’t go in though because you needed a headscarf, an item I didn’t particularly have on me. It is worth noting though that the Bosniaks practice a very tame version of Islam compared to the stereotype in the Western media- it’s a rarity rather than a rule for a woman to cover herself up, for example, and drinking alcohol doesn’t raise too many eyebrows (though there are definitely more cafes than bars for a city this size). In fact, one of the most popular t-shirts the vendors sell around here is one saying “I’m Muslim- don’t panic!”
A view of Sarajevo from an old lookout above the city- gorgeous! You know how usually when you visit a city you can say it reminds you of another one geographically? I like Sarajevo because it doesn’t remind me of any other city I’ve ever visited because it”s nestled in the valley of the hills and the river doesn’t dominate the view in any way. No really, I sat here for awhile thinking “Pittsburgh? no river, Wellington? no ocean” and on and on like that. And then for fun I counted how many minaret towers there were compared to church ones- final verdict was 24 minarets and 5 churches that I could see. Definitely an interesting place.
I could make an argument that this is the location of the most important event in modern history. This is, ladies and gents, the Latin Bridge, and that building on the corner is the assassination spot of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 by Serbian nationals. (“Not the first time they caused trouble in Sarajevo,” a Bosniak told me darkly.) Now had he not been murdered here there probably would have been some other event that would have catalyzed World War I to happen, but this is where the stage was set.
The building on the corner, by the way, has now been turned into a little museum commemorating the event where you can see the guns used in the assassination and things like that. Of course they only had so much material to use, so most of the museum is actually dedicated to life in Sarajevo at the turn of the century where you are invited to look at scintillating objects such as an early 20th century beer bottle or a singing club’s membership roster. I’d complain longer but it was 2 Marks to get in (fixed 2:1 with the Euro) so I won’t.
A typical view of a street in the old part of Sarajevo by the way- most of the shops cater to tourists (usually domestic over international ones still) but Sarajevo was always a center for goldsmiths and metal workers and the like, meaning shop after shop will be filled with beautiful hand-engraved silver tea sets and the like. You know they’re handmade by the simple fact that you are greeted with the sound of hammering and chiseling as the engravers work.
On another note, though, I am not entirely certain how these engravers and jewelers support themselves. I mean, who buys this stuff anyway? Any survey o the street quickly reveals that most Bosnians seem to spend their day sitting with their friends drinking coffee, conceivably only working when they switch who gets the waiter job, and tourism really hasn’t taken off in a big way yet. A mystery..
The outside of my favorite kind of store, in theory an antique store but in practice where you can pick up any kind of military gear from the past 75 years. Seriously, you poke through one of these stores and find yourself mulling over a Yugoslav-issue gas mask or a Nazi armband or Soviet war medals and the like… I confess I was tempted to purchase something, but the Nazi stuff is undoubtedly illegal in many countries I will visit and my mom would be very upset if I showed up with an old red star pin. So my BiH souvenier ended up being a pair of Bosnian-style earrings instead.
And I am completely and utterly incapable of finishing up a post about Sarajevo without ranting about how good the food is here. It definitely has some Middle Eastern influence and falls into the “meat and starch” variety of cuisine, but still has similarities to Hungarian cuisine such as the belief that everything is better when you dump huge quantities of sour cream on it (they’re right, by the way). The above is meat dumplings in tomato sauce with sour cream- soooo good!
And that is Sarajevo. I realize you are all reading this now and thinking “hello, war? are you going to talk about that?” but that deserves a post in itself.