Bosnia was never part of our original itinerary. I briefly passed through Bosnia in 2012 on my journey through Croatia, so it was on my radar but never as a high priority. We had plans to meet my family in the South of Croatia, and the cheapest route was to fly to Sarajevo, Bosnia and take a bus into Croatia.
Our arrival in Sarajevo was similar to our arrival in Tbilisi. I peeked out the plane window to what appeared to be a semi-dilapidated Soviet era airport greeting us. The airport was creepily deserted; not a departing passenger in sight and empty immigration lines. I think the only souls in the airport were our fellow passengers from Istanbul.
We caught a local bus into Sarajevo city centre, and were immediately inducted into a world of crumbling abandoned buildings, bullet ridden concrete high-rise barracks, and various other brutal battle scars marking the country’s tumultuous past. It didn’t help that it was pouring rain and dark grey clouds covered the city.
It’s hard to imagine that just 14 years ago Bosnia was in the middle of one of Europe’s bloodiest civil wars with Serbia during the breakup of Yugoslavia. War isn’t unheard of these days, but what had me in complete shock was learning about the extent of genocide that took place during the war. Bosnian men and women were sent to labour camps, an estimated 100,000 people were killed (including 8,000 Muslims killed in a single day), and up to 50,000 women and children were raped, making this the largest European genocide since the Holocaust. Some 20% of the current female population of Bosnia were raped during the conflict from 1992-1995.
Such cruelty and torture is difficult to believe in light of the Holocaust. Did humanity not learn their lesson? Perhaps some people just don’t care. Perhaps some people are just evil by nature.
In 1984 Sarajevo was home to the Winter Olympic Games! What an interesting downward spiral for the city after hosting an event as prestigious as the Olympics.
The city has a heavy Turkish influence. The majority of Bosnians are Muslim, with high percentages of Christians as well. Mosques and churches sit side by side in the stone-walled old town, and small Bosnian cottages line the hills surrounding the city. All set against a canvas of snow-capped mountains. The city has hipster undertones with a decent craft beer scene, bars that rival Melbourne institutions (think abandoned theatre turned dive bar) and street art.
There are two unspoken rules of Bosnia. #1: everyone must smoke. #2 people must smoke at all times in public places. Ok, just kidding. After an evening of hopping around the hottest hipster and dive bars in Sarajevo, I did think my vision was failing me for the inability to see properly in through clouds of smoke.
I remember when smoking in restaurants got outlawed in the United States. I was just a kid. I think we take it for granted, being able to eat and drink in smoke-free places. I’ve travelled a lot, and I can’t say I’ve been to any other country that still allows smoking in restaurants. Bars, yes, but restaurants…? I can’t think of any. Can you?