A Travellerspoint blog

Old Town

A Labyrinth of Treasures

While I have only been in Sarajevo about two weeks, I think I have already found my favorite place in the city. In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, it’s called Old Town and it’s awesome. There seems to be a little bit of a debate amongst people from Sarajevo or who have spent time here as to where Old Town actually starts. I think I take a more liberal stance and say that it is the area after the fork in the road where the Eternal Flame is. I include both the Austro-Hungarian buildings and the Ottoman section. For those of you who have spent time here, feel free to disagree and I would love to hear your definition, and for those who have never been (although I’m sure after reading all my blog posts you all want to and we have an extra room in the apartment so hint hint, cough cough, now’s your chance, come visit :)) the past few sentences will make no sense to you, so don’t worry about it. Anyways, back to the topic.

So . . . Old Town, what is it? As mentioned previously it’s a combination of an old central European inspired section and then a more Ottoman inspired old marketplace and mosque area. Most of the European section has become high end clothing stores and expensiveish restaurants. But in the center is a small park which has a huge chess board painted on some tiles and chess pieces that are like three feet tall that you pick up and move around when you play. I told my roommates we are totally having a Harry Potter style wizard’s chess match before we leave. I’m not sure if they are as excited about this as I am or not. There are also some cute gelato shops and coffee places. The Catholic Cathedral, where we went to mass on Sunday, is also located there. Once you pass through the European area, you enter the section built during the Ottoman Empire and it’s totally my favorite part. It’s just alley upon alley of small single story shops built out of stone with old school wooden doors and windows and tiled roofs. Everywhere is people selling copper tea sets or jewelry or silver engravings or wood carvings or basically you name the craft and it’s sold there. There are also some really cool old mosques. One, which we visited on Saturday, was built in the 1400’s and was still almost completely original, until during the Siege of Sarajevo it was badly damaged. They rebuilt it though after the original style and it still looks awesome. In addition, there are a variety of restaurants and coffee shops in the area. Overall, Old Town has a lot of to offer, but why does that make it my favorite? Side note, the one thing it doesn’t have is very much graffiti (the Ottoman area has none) which I find a really perplexing and interesting detail.

The reason that I love Old Town is because there is always something new (ironic right, always something new in Old Town? Okay, I’m probably the only one laughing at this but the whole being left by myself at a desk for extended periods of time are beginning to get to me). I have been to it almost every day since I arrived (it’s only like a 20 minute walk from the apartment) and every time I still find sections, I repeat that sections, not just like little shops or something, but actual large sections, of it that I never noticed before. If you haven’t picked up from my other blog posts or more so just knowing me in general, I love finding and discovering new things. Whether that be new places, new people, new ideas, or new food (yes Mom and Dad I can sense you smirking remembering my peanut butter and jelly only diet, but this has surprisingly become true as I’ve grown up), I love not being entirely sure what is coming next when I travel. Old Town is the perfect place for this. There are always new alleys, new shops or new restaurants to explore. But in addition to just being new, the thing I love about these places is that you actually have to work to find them. Old Town doesn’t just give up its secrets easily to any tourist that walks down the main path. Case in point, last night Addie and I were craving čevapi (traditional Bosnian food of grilled sausagelike meat, onions, and a weird saltyish cheese, all inside of a pita like bread, did not look appetizing at first, but I tried it, see Mom and Dad, and now I really like it) and decided to head to Old Town for it. Sadly Laura is sick, so she couldn’t join. After almost an hour of wandering in what began as mist and quickly became a downpour, trying to find a čevapi shop that wasn’t ridiculously overpriced and catering to tourists we stumbled into this small, out of the way shop. Turned out to be one of the best čevapi in Old Town and based on all of the press clippings and photographs on the wall, had been there a very long time and served some pretty cool people. Or during one of our many forays to find good Bosnian coffee we got lost and as we were trying to find our way back wandered into a old courtyard coffee shop that ended up being a local hangout spot with great coffee.

I have feeling I’m going to spend the rest of the summer continuing to explore Old Town and hopefully each time I’ll continue to find something new. And who knows, if I feel like I haven’t discovered all of its secrets by then, I guess I’ll just have a reason to come back to Sarajevo.

Posted by remullin 09:43 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Call to Prayer

Living in a Multi-Religious City

So I basically grew up in Wonder Bread Land (seriously, I did, I even wrote my college admission essays about it). While I had a wonderful childhood and my parents did a lot to expose me to a variety of viewpoints, cultures, and ideas, growing up in South Dakota and attending private school, kindergarten through twelfth grade, did not lend itself well to diversity. Almost everyone I went to school with was white, we all came from fairly similar socioeconomic backgrounds, and for the most part, we were all Catholic and anyone that wasn't was at least Christian. Going to college, I didn't really escape Wonder Bread Land. I still attend a small, private, Catholic University. While there's more diversity than in high school and all of the school mailings tend to look like an ad for the United Colors of Benetton we are definitely a ways away from 12 Grain Land (figured I'd keep the bread analogy going). As a result, coming to Sarajevo, a city filled with a variety of religions has been a pretty cool experience.

For me, this is the first time where I am living in the city where I can hear the calls to prayer from the various places of worship throughout the city (in China, religion wasn't really big, that whole state endorsed atheism thing, and in India there might have been calls for prayer, but there was no way I was going to hear them over all of the cars honking). From our apartment, I can hear the muezzins (or possibly just a tape recorder, but I prefer to believe it's the real thing) echoing out their adhans (prayers, in case you couldn't tell from context) from the minarets above the mosques. I can also hear the ringing of the bells from both the Catholic and Orthodox churches and cathedrals. For some reason though, it is the call to prayers from the mosques that I find to be the coolest. Maybe it's because they are the most interesting, given that it's an actual prayer being said, or maybe it's because it seems so ˝foreign to me compared to church bells (especially since I've gotten so used to living with the CSB bells sounding every 15 minutes for the last three years that I don't even notice them anymore). But for whatever reason, whenever I hear the adhan echo across the city, I stop and listen.

Beyond just being cool to hear though, the multiple calls to prayer also are a reminder of the strength of this city. Despite past efforts to cleanse the city of various ethnic groups (here they are largely determined by religion, such as the distinction between Serb, Croat, and Bosniak), the city has not lost its diversity. It has and continues to be a city that embraces a variety of religions and a city where at one time, all of these religions lived in peaceful coexistence together (debatable whether it was happy coexistence under Tito, but peaceful none of the less). While sadly that peaceful coexistence and trust was shattered during the war, it is slowly being rebuilt. Various NGO's, non-profits, and progressive minded youth (some of whom trained by my wonderful organization KULT) are working to rebuild the bridges that we burned and foster a Sarajevo and a Bosnia and Herzegovina where once again followers of all faiths can live together in friendship. Each time I hear the adhans and bells ringing out together, it's a reminder that there is hope for a future of true reconciliation and progress; it just might take a while and an awful lot of work.

Posted by remullin 12:19 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

The Protest

Don't worry Mom and Dad (Or the US Government) I won't get arrested

I don't know how other poli sci majors feel, but personally, the fact that I've never been in a major protest makes me feel kind of like a poser. I mean, I've done door knocking for causes, I've done petitions, I've been at places when people are protesting, but I've never actually been in one and that seems lame. We talk about being super engaged in politics and really interested and all, yet I feel like a lot of us have never ˝taken to the streets˝ as we hear about so many others around the globe doing. Tahrir or Tiananmen anyone? But guess what? I am just lucky enough to be in Sarajevo when one of the first protests in like forever (or you know maybe not quite that long but awhile) is happening. Yay coincidence!

Given that my Bosnian is still a fail, I've added like four phrases to my vocabulary (sorry, excuse me, good, and ˝I don't speak Bosnian˝), I only have a limited understanding of what is going on with the protest that I've gleaned from tidbits of conversations with various people. From what I understand though, the protest is concerning identification numbers or what we would think of as social security numbers. Currently, when a child is born, they are not immediately given an identification number by the government. It is only after they turn 3 months of age (I feel like it might be years, but people keep saying months) that they are registered as citizens and given a number. This causes all kind of issues for healthcare I guess and a number of other causes (still trying to figure out what those are). Now what I am also confused on is if this is a new law or if it has always been in place and people are just now taking a stance against it. I guess I could Google it, but our internet is down at work currently (hence why I am writing a bunch of blog posts instead of working). I lean on the side of its rather new because when one of the girls I work with was talking about it and asked why this made them take to the streets, she said ˝we've always had numbers before˝. Regardless though of why now, the protest is drawing attention. Every day, primarily young people (although I have seen a number of adults) gather not far from our apartment in front of one of the government offices and protest. The protest is entirely peaceful. It's not the scene one often imagines of European protests with waving picket signs, flipping cars, etc. Those techniques are best left to the French I guess. Young people sit on the steps surrounding the building, hold light blue balloons (sometimes), and chat with one another. Passing cars honk and wave in solidarity. Not really the protest scene I had expected.

But, there are a number of interesting things about this protest apparently. For one thing, this is one of the first times that the youth have mobilized against the government and demanded that their voices be heard according to my colleagues. Don't ask me why child policies get the youth engaged and not the fact that unemployment is ridiculously high or that affordable housing for young people is apparently almost impossible to find didn't bother them, but that’s beside the point. It's the first time they are trying to force the government to be accountable to them. Also, this movement is not just happening in Sarajevo. Banja Luka is also experiencing a call from the youth I have heard and other cities as well. People are excited about this and optimistic. Some of the older colleagues I work with claimed that this could be the start of something quite amazing in BiH and lead to real change. If nothing else, it is at least a marker that the youth will no longer blindly follow ethnnocentered politicians without question. Personally though, I really do hope it's the beginning of something big. How cool would it be to say I was here and watching when it all started? Poli Sci nerdiness coming out, I know.

Sadly, I have not joined the protestors yet. Laura, one of my roommates) was warned by her work that it may be questionable or risky for her to join. No explanation was given as to why though, which makes me question it. I on the other hand have been invited to join by people I work with and know other foreigners who have participated and said that they had no issues. I have not decided yet whether I will or not. I'll let you know. But I would hate to look back on this 10 years from now and I say I wish I would have. Plus, it would make me feel less like a poli sci poser haha.

Posted by remullin 12:36 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (1)

A Sarajevo Rose

Finding What is Not Being Sought

It’s impossible to walk through Sarajevo without being reminded of its past. From the mosques and marketplaces dating back to the 1400’s during the Ottoman Rule to the Austro-Hungarian architecture along the streets of Old Town, everywhere I look the history is literally radiating out towards me. The history nerd in me can’t even handle it. But the visible history is not just from hundreds of years ago. The scars of 20 years ago are still easily visible on the homes, businesses, and streets of the city. Walking through our neighborhood, I am reminded daily of the conflict through the bullet holes and mortar blasts that still decorate the façade of buildings. There was one architectural reminder of the war though that I had not yet seen, a Sarajevo Rose.

A Sarajevo Rose is an abrasion in the concrete of a sidewalk or a street caused from a mortar shell explosion. The impact creates a flower petal shaped arrangement in the cement. Following the war, these patterns were filled in with red resin and dubbed Sarajevo Roses. Apparently the “roses” used to be hauntingly frequent and it was hard to walk almost anywhere in the older areas of the city without coming across one. However, as the years have passed, many of the roses have been erased as streets have been repaired.

Having heard about the roses, I decided that it was my mission of Saturday to find one as we explored. However, as I dragged my roommates all over the city so I could photograph graffiti (pictures coming in time) for close to 8 hours, I never saw a single rose. Wikipedia wasn’t kidding when they said they were getting harder to find. However, on our walk back home as we were laughing, talking, and not really focusing on our surroundings, I walked right over a Rose and almost didn’t notice. Once I registered it though we snapped some photos and kept going. Pretty anti-climactic to say the least.

It reminded me of one of the most important lessons of being abroad though. You cannot go into the experience with an agenda or with something you are searching for. Vacations may work like that, but travel doesn’t. The memories that will stick with you, the lessons that will mean the most, and the moments that will take your breath away are those that you do not go searching for, they are the ones that find you. As I start my second week, I’m excited to see what unsought adventures are in store.

Posted by remullin 11:35 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

The Tram

Traversing my new home

Due to the wonderful, fun filled week that was Truman Camp (and I mean that with all sincerity, it was one of the most fun, inspiring, and constructively confusing experiences of my life), I missed the intern orientation that the other 7 interns from CSB had. As a result, I got to Sarajevo and was kind of on my own for figuring stuff out. I got picked up from the airport by a Nesto Vice staff member, dropped off at the apartment and was wished best of luck on my Bosnian adventure. And this was actually something I was pumped about. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved my China study abroad experience, but I felt like there was a lot of hand holding. I was looking forward to having Bosnia be more of a challenge and having to sink or swim largely on my own. But this is all tangential, the reason for the explanation of missing orientation is because it means I missed the orientation for how to get around the city and more importantly how to get to work. The easiest way in which to do this is using the tram.

So Tuesday morning, was my first attempt at getting to work using the tram. My roommates had been kind enough to show me how to get to the tram station from our apartment, about a three minutes walk, Monday night and I had a Google map of the route that my office had provided. With my map and tram pass in hand I headed out. And I quickly realized, I kind of love the tram. They're super old and rickety (I think it's kind of antiquey and cute, but not sure if everyone else would agree) and like everything else, covered in graffiti (also earns it points in my book). At first I was a little nervous about how the experience would go. It was obvious that I wasn't really sure where I was going and I definitely did not look like a local. After a couple days though of riding it though I'm getting much better. I love just getting to observe everyone around me. To watch students interacting with friends on the way to school and old women and men sitting by one another and sharing stories. Since I don't understand anything people are saying, it's as if I get to write their stories in my head and imagine the lives they've lived or the dreams they have for their futures.

Now that I've basically got the tram and my walk to work down (it takes me about 45 minutes to get from our front door to my office) and don't have to focus on counting stops or what corners I need to turn on, I'm excited to spend my commutes observing everyday life in Sarajevo and hopefully learning how to at least blend in a little (despite the nose piercing and ridiculously curly hair).

Posted by remullin 07:07 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

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