Being in Bosnia feels like being in the middle of a swirled ice cream cone. Turkey likes to think that it is the queen of mixing East and West, but Bosnia and the Balkans are where the real transition happens. This was my first trip there.
Ethnicity in the Balkans is complicated. It is violent and steeped in conflict- I went to this gallery and wept for victims of genocide- but it can also be resplendent and nuanced. In Sarajevo I visited a Serbian Orthodox Church, a mosque, and a synagogue in one morning. The call to prayer and the church bells layered over each other, bouncing gently between the hills that cradle Sarajevo in a long valley. It is beautiful.
After learning more about what happened and what is happening today in Bosnia and the region I sensed great determination. It’s a bit like Peter Pan with some countries- there’s a lot of people out there wishing for their success, hoping they can fly against the odds. Corruption and dishonest people are a cancer that infect political institutions. It’s horrifying to examine up close.
Sarajevo is immensely proud of the 1984 Winter Olympics. I didn’t visit any of the facilities, but would probably try and get in a ski run if I go back when there’s snow. I ended up with just one Bosnian souvenir, a faded magnet with Vučko, the Olympic mascot, jauntily skating along with a pair of skis over one shoulder. It makes me smile every time I open the fridge.
Food in Bosnia is meat heavy with extra meat, please. It’s delicious and piping hot and fresh in that way that only dinner that someone just made for you can be. There’s lots of raw onions and bread involved, and after a few days you start to wonder where anyone in that country gets vitamins from. One night I got dinner for $2- a full belly of Phyllo dough and cheese. Yum! I had a couple of delicious cakes and coffees, naturally- this place was particularly nice for sitting and people watching. A little black cat came and napped in the sun under my chair while I ate a slice of dark poppyseed cake.
This was the first time I traveled alone for a long time in a new place. I go between places by myself a lot, but to entertain myself by myself for a few days was harder than I expected. It’s fun when you’re traveling to share your observations with someone else. Cheap ice cream can only fill part of the friendship-shaped slot in your heart while you’re away from home.
You can see a lot of scars from the war around the city. The red paint splattered across the ground fills the spots where mortar shells hit the ground and killed someone. Tall apartment complexes with cheery laundry strung across balconies are peppered with bullet holes, a morbid sort of war spice. Pardon the language, but it takes real balls to survive in a besieged city.
Anyway, that’s the slice of Sarajevo I saw. Up next: A rainy day in Mostar with sopping wet sneakers and behind the scenes engineering documentaries.