A CITY BREAK IN SARAJEVO by Steve Rudd
Before booking city breaks, I always ask myself: ‘Where do most people NOT go?’ My mind subsequently filters through a fine list of ‘off-the-wall’ destinations before prompting me to take the ultimate gamble. With a mental list playing on my dreams, I opened an Atlas and surveyed The Balkans, my eyes feasting upon the beguiling shape of Bosnia. My decision had been made.
Flying into the capital city of Sarajevo, I couldn’t help but notice the decayed remnants of the toboggan run belatedly demanding attention in the lush mountains that crowd the ancient city. The run was constructed for the 1984 Winter Olympics which took place in and around the city. It now stands abandoned, as a result of damage incurred by intense shelling during The Balkans conflict which affected the region during the nineties.
Should you remember the news coverage that smothered TV screens and newspaper covers back when Sarajevo was under siege, you might recall some of the city’s landmarks that featured so prominently in such reports. Upon leaving the airport, it wasn’t long before the distinctive profile of the mustard-coloured ‘Holiday Inn’ hove into view, a seemingly indestructible sanctuary that housed media personnel at the height of the violence. As my taxi driver and I make a beeline for the ancient Turkish Quarter, a squat bridge snared my attention. It was The Latin Bridge: the death-place of Archduke Frank Ferdinand. As all history buffs will know, his assassination precipitated the outbreak of World War One, a fact which reminded me that Sarajevo has long suffered at the mercy of extreme political and religious differences.
Casting its tragic past into the ether, Sarajevo is a vibrant and upbeat city which welcomes the casual visitor with open arms. Opting to stay in a family-run hostel on the edge of the Turkish Quarter, in the shadow of a sumptuously gilded mosque, I wasted no time in sampling local fare in the form of ‘borek’, a savoury slab of grease-anchored meat. Copious shots of vodka, meanwhile, helped to usher in the evening.
The following morning, a battle-scarred guide escorted me to ‘The Tunnel’ on the city’s outskirts, a hop from the airport. It was through such a tunnel that vital supplies were conveyed during the siege, effectively providing a lifeline for all the civilians trapped in the city whilst snipers patrolled the surrounding hills.
The tour proved to be sobering and inspirational in equal measure, not least because the fighting spirit of the innocent civilians asserted itself through myriad stories and photographs. Buoyed up by the soul of the city, I vowed to re-indulge in the stoical charms of Sarajevo as soon as I’d renewed my passport.