I was getting used to the quizzical looks and question “why?” when I told people I was going to Sarajevo. I usually tried to play it down, that I was only going for a short mini-break, just a few days. As if it didn’t count.
In truth, I think it was more than this. I’d half planned the trip for over 6 months and in the end booked last minute flights and just turned up. It’s in another Balkan country that I hadn’t visited yet, the anniversary of World War I this year raised it to my attention and I was interested to see how it was developing/recovering from war and in being a new country on the edge of east and west.
There are no direct flights from the UK and I flew via Zagreb in Croatia. Usually adventure starts when you land, in this case it felt as if it started at the airport. The bus from the terminal stopped between two planes: a larger one and a smaller one. I was willing the doors on the left to open. They didn’t. We were on the small plane, but at least you could see that the propellers were working even if the safety briefing included an extra emphasis to “please make a note of where the emergency exits are”.
But all was OK and I safely arrived at SJJ. It’s a small airport and with only hand luggage, it was not time before I was in the arrivals area, facing a sign with my name on it. I was whisked out to the car and soon we were on our way through the rush hour traffic to the city centre.
On the surface there was nothing untoward. A modern, if shabby, city with people heading home to enjoy a Tuesday evening. But looking closely you can see the war wounds, and the buildings and roads made famous (if that’s an appropriate term to use) during the siege that lasted for 3 years between 1992 and 1995. We travelled at various speeds up and down the hills and through some narrow gaps to get to the hotel.
I had the evening ahead of me to explore. Without much of an itinerary I set out to find more information. “Straight down the hill – direct” were my instructions and to my surprise they worked. I found myself in the centre of Bascarsija, busy with people of all nationalities. I found the tourist information (it was closed), wandered some more to orient myself, found the river and settled down for my first taste of local beer.
My first impressions include:safe, hilly, cemeteries, busy, noisy. Definitely more signage would help bewildered tourists, but I could always congratulate myself on arriving at my chosen destination, or on finding something else unexpected to stop at and see on the way.