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Home! The Holiday Afterword.

Yes, ice cubes exist in Europe. We have evidence.

What food did we enjoy with our icy cold beverages? On occasion we sampled local fare; and with little exception, we could find pretty much any cuisine we were in the mood for.

For example, this ambrosial pizza (and excellent, spicy, Chinese delivery) in Zagreb.

In Sarajevo I was not tempted by their version of Cevapi, a dish of minced grilled meat similar to kebabs that is popular throughout Central Europe. In general I do not like Cevapi, but since Bosnian food also has Eastern European and Mediterranean influences, I enjoyed the Sarma (stuffed cabbage with lamb) and grape leaves stuffed with rice. Anna Grace and I also savored a Lebanese-influenced chicken curry lunch at a tiny Arabic restaurant that was quite memorable.

In the “It’s a small world” category, the Lebanese owner of the restaurant chatted with us while we were enjoying the meal. We learned that she, too, was from the metro DC area, having only moved to Sarajevo a couple of years ago; and she, too, frequented the Lebanese Market in Arlington, one of our favorite stops for middle eastern groceries.

We passed on this gelato from a vendor in Sarajevo, however.

In Belgrade we really liked the popular street snack of popcorn sprinkled with “chicken flavoring.”  Do not knock it until you’ve tried it.

We also took advantage of room service in Belgrade. On our last night I ordered “Chicken Paillard in Caper Sauce with Seasonal Vegetables” from the Chef’s Menu, and received “Chicken Paillard in Dill Sauce with Pomme Frites” instead.  The night before, the chef thought we were Russian because we only wanted cheese on our pizza, and not the Bosnian favorite of ketchup and olives, so perhaps he thought that, being Russian, I would prefer dill to capers.  Funny.

The aromas from this lokanta on a side street off Taksim Square called to us one day for lunch. Lokantas are Turkish equivalents of the Eastern European milk bar, the small cafeterias featuring ready-made traditional dishes, sort of the precursor to “fast food,” but much better tasting. As it so happened, this particular lokanta was named one of Istanbul’s “10 Best” by the UK Guardian newspaper: “If Lades were a car, it might be an old Volvo estate-nothing exotic, but extremely safe and reliable.”

We shared a plate of lamb with stewed green beans. Nothing exotic, but extremely tasty and satisfying.

We enjoyed dinner at Ali’s restaurant so much one night in Istanbul that we returned a second night. Ali remembered us and had the chef prepare something not on the menu, an almost stir-fry like dish of lamb, peppers, onions and eggplant served with tumeric potato puree and rice. Spicy, savory, and delicious.

One of the little street kitties sneaked up to share dinner with Anna Grace.

In addition to street kitties, street doggies (all tagged so they could be monitored), there were also street chickens in our neighborhood in Istanbul.

Street food was everywhere from Zagreb to Istanbul.

Even for the pigeons. Many bird seed vendors were set up in Sarajevo and Istanbul; pennies bought you a cup of seed to feed the birds, and it was a sport favored by the young and old alike.

Something not go well on your holiday?  “Complaint Books” were in every hotel, restaurant, and bigger store throughout Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia for you to lodge that complaint.

We, of course, have no complaints with signs like this.

Elder Turkish gentlemen going about their day. Love the hats.

Fall fashions?

We spied many restaurants with this display; Ali told us this was a sign of a tourist trap.  Real restaurants would not waste bread like this, he said.

Yes, we think he was selling leeches, too.  His competitor further up the street seemed to be doing better business, though.

A novel way to reserve a parking space (Sarajevo and Istanbul).  I may try this on my own street here to see what happens.

Arabic calligraphy. (I passed my class with a 90%, by the way.)

Unexpected trompe l’oeil at Topkapi.

Unicorn mosaics lined one of the gates leading toward Babylon, we learned at the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul.

The spectacular view from our hotel room. European Istanbul on the left; Asian Istanbul on the right. Leaving the cradle of civilization was hard, as not only was Istanbul as exotic as expected, but it also meant that our holiday had come to an end.

12 days, 4 countries, 2 continents (we flew home from the Asian side of Istanbul), and 4.578km later, we are home.  Anna Grace wasted no time in catching up on sleepovers with friends, and I wasted no time resuming my routine of a weekly heuriger outing with my favorite guy.
On our last night in Istanbul Anna Grace asked, “Where are we going next summer?”

We’re in Istanbul. Bazaar Day

Istanbul can be visited, but it can not be described, really. Istanbul is to be experienced.

The establishing shot outside of the Grand Bazaar Gate 7, shortly after opening. Only by crossing the threshold can you savor the sights and sounds of a 550+ year old market preparing to tempt up to 400.000 daily visitors, including the two of us.

Only by entering the market will the powerful soapy aroma of freshly washed sidewalks and storefronts reach your senses.

And only by wandering the 61streets and 3.000 shops will your eyes be able feast on the sparkle–on the walls, the ceilings, and the store shelves. One is required to wander; the temptations and curiosities at every intersection can shred even the most organized person’s shopping plan of attack. I speak from experience.

A pause, or two,  for tea is a necessity.

And for some, so is a little catnap.

Two identical fountains serve as markers. That’s not confusing at all.

A small caravansary adjacent to the market. These small courtyards with inns once provided lodging for those who came to sell their wares.  Now they are specialty shops for discerning shoppers.  This one houses jewelers who make custom pieces.

Believe it or not, we made it out of the Grand Bazaar with minimal pocketbook damage. (I’ve decided that Tony and I should return for a rug shopping weekend before we leave Europe, though).  Surrounding the bazaar on its north side are districts of textiles, sewing notions, and cooking apparatus, all leading to the Egyptian Bazaar.

(The latest in conservative Turkish swimwear.)

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar might be easy to miss were it not for the aromas drifting through the arch.

If only the Internet had an “Aroma” setting.

Anna Grace and I were given a lesson (with tastings) in the difference between Kashmir, Iranian, and Turkish saffron by a professional herbalist in a little store that resembled an apothecary.  The herbalist even wore a white laboratory jacket and carried a small scale to measure precisely the saffron we desired. I had found my dream bazaar.

We had a lesson at a tea stall, as well.

The more touristy stalls offered pretty displays, but shoppers were on their own for guidance.

Russian and Iranian caviar could also be purchased.

Turkish Delight could be sampled. And sample, we did.

Sample, we did not.

Should the “love tea” being sold in the market not do the trick…

We were told this was a spice for lamb, but I was dubious.

After our grand Bazaar Day, making like these little cats was next on our agenda.

The Balkan-Central European-Southeastern Europe-Asia Minor Holiday–Oh, Good Grief! We’re in Istanbul.

No transportation woes on our brief, comfortable, air-conditioned flight from Belgrade’s Nicola Tesla Airport to Istanbul. There exists an overnight train (couchette only, no cabins) for the same route, requiring an 01:30 wakeup for passport control at the Bulgarian/Turkish border, but that abominable notion was not given a second thought in the early stages of planning.The uneventful flight did not mean that all went smoothly on our arrival, though. As our Istanbul stay was four days, I had rented an apartment rather than a hotel room, in order to do laundry and spread out a bit, as well as to give us the option of eating meals at home when we chose. Our taxi weaved through Istanbul and up into the neighborhood that the owner described as “vibrant with local color.”

 Now of course that can mean anything, but the several dozen reviews reassured me that all would be well. He also said the “people were very poor, but nice.”  An odd comment.The apartment itself was pleasant; the owner had arranged for the neighbor to meet us, and she very generously invited us to her lovely apartment for tea and gave us a brief tour of the neighborhood.   But something felt amiss. Anna Grace and I set off to find lunch, and by the time we returned to the apartment, we knew we could not stay there and enjoy Istanbul.  The feeling we had was hard to describe: much of the neighborhood was shabby–not a concern, as the area was very safe; and indeed, many neighbors of this UNESCO-protected area were poor–again, not a concern. The local markets and restaurants may have been a bit oversold–no concern, everyone has an opinion.

 Still, something didn’t feel right.The apartment was on the street level of a UNESCO-restored building; and the owner mentioned that the neighborhood children liked to peer into the windows, so we would want to keep the curtains drawn in the evenings. However, we found it necessary to draw the curtains in the middle of the day, making us feel a little trapped. After an hour of fretting and searching Expedia, we decided to move to a hotel the following morning. We just could not put our finger on what unsettled us about the apartment except that we felt out of place, but even that didn’t seem sufficient.

 The following morning we left the apartment and settled into a pretty little hotel room smack in the heart of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s equivalent of the 6eme in Paris, or maybe midtown Manhattan in NYC. The decision was a wise one; our balcony doors opened to a view of the Sea of Marmara, and we were truly surrounded by “vibrant local color” (our neighbor had no qualms hanging his laundry on his patio while wearing nothing but his skivvies.) Now, we thought, our Istanbul holiday had begun!But enough chatter.The Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque). As impressive as all the photos you’ve ever seen.

The interior. Terribly long wait in line to view, and absurdly difficult to photograph well (at least by me). The viewing area is limited, and the light cables obscure the beautiful tiles.  Anna Grace and I voted this the most underwhelming experience of our entire holiday.

A secular society, but not entirely equal.

The Blue Mosque in the evening light, at the opposite end of the park from the Hagia Sophia. In the evening families gather on the benches, watching the sky turn to night and the lights illuminate the two mosques.  Being in the park at dusk will always be one of our favorite memories.

Istanbul University main building. Even prettier in person.

Sulemaniye Mosque, the inner courtyard.

The New Mosque near Eminönü, inner courtyard.

The Sirkeci train station, currently under restoration. This station was the terminus for the Orient Express.

Basilica Cistern, one of several hundred ancient cisterns beneath Istanbul.  If you’ve seen From Russia with Love, you’ve seen this cistern.

Hagia Sophia in the early evening.

A small scene of the interior of Hagia Sophia that wasn’t currently under restoration.

An unassuming mosque near our hotel. The calm inner courtyard provided a place to rest, far away from the din of tourists.
Ali Baba greets visitors to the Topkapi Palace.  Do give yourself at least the entire afternoon to enjoy the palace and the grounds.

Pasha’s Terrace at the Topkapi Palace (main salon)

The Baghdad Room of Pasha’s Terrace. The inlays include mother-of-pearl stones, and the room shimmered in the afternoon light.

 Ottoman architecture throughout Sultanahmet.

The Million Column, the point from which all distances in the Ottoman Empire were measured.

Across the Golden Horn in Beyoglu, the tram going between Tunel and Taksim Square.

Passages in Beyoglu very much like the ones I’ve visited in Paris.

Taksim Square. Quiet now, save for the tourists snapping photos and the armed military standing around watching the tourists snap photos.

The Balkan-Central European-Southeastern Europe Holiday: Belgrade, Part II

Wherein Anna Grace learns about the urban sport of “Apple Picking.”  Yep, her iPhone was pickpocketed.

Our day began with a grand breakfast in the hotel; Serbian savory pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurts, fruits, and so many other choices to keep us happy.  Breakfast was walked off through the pedestrian area, enjoying the cool morning air and the quiet of a grand capital city waking up on our way to the Belgrade Fortress. The fortress sits atop Belgrade, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers; a pretty park and the Belgrade Zoo, our intended destination, surround the fortress.

The Fortress and the Serbian Monument to France from WWI.

A Serbian Medieval Festival on the fortress grounds. Could you even imagine this scene in the US? Children throwing hatchets at a target without full body gear and a parental waiver, with even younger children just standing on the sidelines.  We busted out in laughter.

In good order we reached the Zoo. The Belgrade Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Europe (Vienna’s Schönbrunn Tiergarten is the oldest in Europe.) Yet again, I had read mixed reviews on the zoo; those who are fans of the glitzy, hands-on experience, and prefer to view the animals from behind fourteen layers of security fencing and plexiglass were critical, reporting that the zoo wasn’t worth one’s time.

Our impression?  The zoo is a delightful, old-school place to spend time with your family, and definitely not a place to turn the children loose to play with the latest and greatest gadgets and whatsits about eco-conservation and global warming (There are no gadgets.  The zoo hand paints “Caution” signs, its resources are that sparse. The Happy Times weren’t friendly to the zoo.)  Most of the animal habitats have been thoughtfully renovated, though, although there a few remaining in need of a bit of work.

The best part was that we could see the animals without binoculars!  Sir Kangaroo waves “hello” to us!

The camel and the impressive white tiger were also in close sight.  So awesome!

The only English language sign we saw in the zoo.  Guess what animals we were being warned about?

Nope, not the lions.

These guys and gals. Hahahaha.

Vultures, turtles, and a peacock trying to hook up with some Guinea hens.

The seal couple is named Olive Oyl and Popeye, and their enduring romance is a star attraction. So much for Belgrade eschewing all things American.

Goats, chickens, hens, and peacocks roam freely, adding to our lovely, lovely morning at the Zoo.

We paused at a cafe for refreshments, and then left the zoo to investigate the small vintage amusement park just outside the grounds. Anna Grace and I took a spin on bumper cars for a mere $0.70USD equivalent ticket, enjoying the beautifully maintained park and old-fashioned fun.

A few minutes later we were at the fortress walls overlooking the Sava and Danube.

It was then that Anna Grace realized her iPhone was missing. Lickety-split we ran back first to the zoo cafe and then to the bumper cars. The cafe owner and bumper car operator were terribly kind and helpful, but it was soon apparent that she had not accidentally dropped her phone.  I called her number with no response, and as a last ditch effort, I sent a Google-translated Serbian text to her phone, telling the thief that the phone was being tracked, and to please return the phone to the hotel. Then I remotely locked her phone account, but, ever hopeful, did not erase her phone data.

Anna Grace was of course devastated. We had read that Sarajevo had pickpocket issues, especially with iPhones, and had been traveling mindfully throughout our trip, but to pickpocket an iPhone from a young girl at the zoo is just plain mean.  Spirits down, we returned to the hotel a little early for our Mittagspause, trying to regroup in order to make the most of our short time in Belgrade.

In the mid-afternoon we set out for St. Sava, a beautiful Serbian Orthodox church and Belgrade landmark.  The gray skies matched our mood but helpfully created a dramatic backdrop for our photos.

While pausing to review our map my mobile phone rang. Anna Grace’s phone was calling me! I answered to hear a woman saying, “Hello? I am calling from Belgrade. I have your telephone.” A family out enjoying the park at the Fortress had found her phone a short distance away from where we had been!  (I’d like to think the thief dropped it after reading the text.)  The woman agreed to bring it to the hotel later in the afternoon, and we were ecstatic!

Spirits buoyant, we continued around Belgrade taking in the sights and the culture. (You’ll note the gray skies had passed, literally and figuratively.) We stopped at St. Mark’s, another Serbian Orthodox Church that was striking against the afternoon sky and very different in character than St. Sava.

Outside the church we met a gentleman who took great delight in talking to anyone about the church, why the floor of the church was covered with straw (with which many people were weaving small wreaths–it was an Orthodox holy day), how we are all one big family, and practically everything else that came to his mind.  We felt bad bidding him farewell, but the afternoon was waning and we needed to return to the hotel.

The kind woman and her son who found the phone met us at the hotel, and I practically had to force them to accept even the smallest token of gratitude. I finally won the boy over when I suggested he use some of the reward money for ice cream. The mom was happy that we were happy, apologized (!) for not returning the phone earlier because she had been busy, and shared a few gentle words of admonishment with Anna Grace about keeping her phone safe before she left.

So…we may not have checked off everything on our Belgrade to-do list, but our fond memories of the city and its wonderful people top the list of our shortened holiday.

 

The Balkan-Central Europe-Southeastern Europe Holiday: Belgrade, Part I

Sometimes the guide books (and fellow former Yugoslavians) get it wrong.

So we wheeled our suitcases through traffic and across tram tracks into the station, a dreary structure somewhat neglected after the end of “Happy Times” (Socialism, as we would learn later) in need of a little love.  I had read to be mindful of “taxi sharks” outside the station who relentlessly pester you for their business, and as if on cue, a scruffy man in faded khakis and a tank top appeared as we were carrying our suitcases up the stairs and into the station. (Thank goodness we’ve been able to drink the tap water throughout this trip; a sip from a local fountain is refreshing after navigating luggage through stations and hotels without lifts.)  He was not a shark at all, more like a friendly dolphin; he helped us find a working Bankomat before driving us to our hotel for a mere 1.000 Dinars (~10USD).

The Hotel Balkan was once the hotel for guests traveling on the Orient Express; looking past the updates and modernization one could still imagine the romance of travel throughout the hotel. Ours was a pleasant room with a true balcony overlooking the street.

Peeking over the balcony, I almost thought we were in Vienna. 😉

Both our bicycle tour guide in Zagreb and our host in Sarajevo informed us that Belgrade was more like Russia than the US, and in particular, eschewed all things Western (especially all things American).  With that preface, our curiosities were piqued about the city and we were eager to begin myth-busting.

Our check-in was easy peasy, and before long we rounded the corner onto the pedestrian shopping area and into a small restaurant serving a varied menu, settling in for a good lunch of Italian pasta carbonara and Bulgarian Shopska salad.  Shopska salad is one of a half dozen recipes remaining from Bulgarian Happy Times; it was a recipe developed in the 1950s as a way to impress and encourage foreign visitors to the country. Over time it developed slight regional differences, but the basic character cast of cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and sirene cheese must be included. I enjoyed it on my first visit to Sofia last fall and was excited to see it on the menus in both Sarajevo and Belgrade.

Belgrade was the capital of the former Yugoslavia and Serbia seems to be working hard to bring life to the faded glamour.  The older architecture forced us to walk and look up at the same time; this particular Happy Times structure is one of the few not damaged by the war and looked regal against the afternoon sky, as well.


The pedestrian area was alive with people enjoying some sort of children’s festival well into Saturday evening, and again on Sunday. (Note to Vienna: Imagine!  A pedestrian area buzzing with people, and shops and restaurants open for business on Saturday night as well as Sunday!)  Anna Grace and I commented on how nice it would be if the former Imperial city we call home would loosen its stuffy collar once in a while and allow stores and restaurants to open on Sundays.
Early on Sunday morning, though, there was but a lone woman sponge bathing at the fountain.
About that dislike for all things Western?  We spied KFC, McDonalds (we had been told there were no McDonalds in Serbia), Sephora, Zara, Benetton, and Gap.  Good grief, Vienna does not even have a Sephora.

We took in a new exhibit on the “Happy Times: Yugoslavia from 1950-1990.”  These are the shoes worn by the “typical working woman”of Yugoslavia in the 1950s and 1960s.  Another clothing exhibit featured Chanel suits as “evening attire.”  Something tells me that the typical working woman of Yugoslavia was not wearing Chanel suits in the evening.

Yugoslavia’s answer to Converse All-Stars during the Happy Times.

“The Father of All Passports.”  Yugoslavia was proud that its citizens could travel everywhere except Greece and Albania without a Visa, unlike Americans and Russians. (This passport was also very popular on the black market.)

A Yugoslavian Airlines travel poster for Vienna. (There were no travel posters shown for America and Russia).

Supposedly Yugoslavia eschewed Western products, but its children loved Mickey Mouse ViewMaster slides. I leave that for you to parse.

In Republic Square some smelly hippie-types were calling for an end to cultural racism. Although there was a good deal of English spoken, we never did quite understand their concerns, or perhaps I am culturally racist for referring to them as “smelly hippie-types.”

Enough English was spoken throughout our trip that we could at least muddle through if needed, but we had the most fun with the Cyrillic language in Belgrade! Anna Grace thought of the alphabet as a code to be deconstructed.

The Euro is strong against the Serbian Dinar; that, combined with inexpensive costs overall inspired us order room service dinner (although I did have to calculate the exchange rate a couple of times because it just didn’t seem like I was spending enough for room service!)  Anna Grace ordered a Margherita pizza, and, like the ones we had seen at the street vendors, the pizza is supposed to be topped with cheese, ketchup, and olives. Quite a taste combination, but we went with “only cheese.”  When the kitchen staff brought our order to our room they asked if we were Russian because, apparently, only the Russians order cheese pizza without ketchup and olives. Who would have thought? We ate our Russian pizza while lightning danced across the Sava outside our window; and with that, our exciting arrival day in the “White City” came to an end.

Belgrade, Part II, wherein Anna Grace is schooled in urban “Apple Picking” is coming up…

 

 

 

The Balkan-Central Europe-Southeastern Europe Holiday: Sarajevo to Belgrade

So much more than 1000 words in this photo of a Eurolines bus that ran out of gas, with its door open to dump passengers (and their luggage) on a boulevard on a busy afternoon.

I asked Valida about transportation to Belgrade on our first day and was offered two bus options, as the rail infrastructure was so badly damaged during the war that there are no international trains. The first, an hourly morning Bosnian bus taking “approximately 8 hours” to reach Belgrade. Having experienced Balkan Time on the previous Bosnian transit, this option was unceremoniously nixed. The second option was more appealing: a Eurolines bus, air-conditioned and with a transit time of “about 6 hours.” The catch was that there was only one daily departure, at 06:00.  This was a no-brainer.

Although very sad to be leaving Sarajevo, we were anticipating comfortable and relatively short (all things considered) travel to the capital of the former Yugoslavia. Our spirits were not dampened when 06:00 came and went and we were still waiting in the bus terminal. Balkan Time is a powerful force.

At 06:25 our bus finally arrived, and we boarded to discover that a woman had taken our reserved seating. No big deal, we thought-the seats across the aisle from ours were empty, so we sat down.  Then we discovered why the seats were empty: the control box for the radio (?) was beneath the seats in front, leaving us with no leg room. Our guess was that the woman did not want “her” seat, either, and simply took ours.

At the first stop I asked if we could exchange our seats, to which she replied, “Typical American.” The passenger sitting behind us said something in Bosnian, and several other passengers laughed.  But at least she moved.

An hour into the travel the bus pulled into a station in a little speck of a town. The bus driver announced something in Bosnian that elicited groans from the other passengers, and everyone alit from the bus. The passengers dispersed for coffee and smokes, and we sad little Americans just sat on the bench, eating the wonderful breakfast that Valida had packed for us and wondering what was going on.  We must have looked pitiful enough, for the owner of the small market at the station came over and asked if we spoke Russian or German, then explained in German that the bus had a defect and we were waiting for another bus.

So much for “about 6 hours.”

A second bus arrived and we boarded. The woman who name-called, and the assclown passenger who joked about us, laughed at us when we boarded and sat in our reserved seats.  The bus rolled up and down hills, through towns tiny and tinier, and across the border into Serbia. Scenic, mostly, but not a trip I would recommend.

Our seats were in the second row on the passenger side, so I (and the guy in the front row) had a spectacular view of the bus driver. He was new to the route, and the auxiliary bus driver with us was helping him out. The bus had a manual transmission, which he stalled on several occasions. The new driver also forgot a passenger at a stop (who had foolishly gotten off to use the WC), and had to back the bus up on a busy road to return for her.

 With about 50km remaining to Belgrade, Front Seat Guy and I noticed the driver tapping on the dash, and in particular, on the fuel gauge. Auxiliary Bus Driver had fallen asleep. I texted Tony:

“50km to go and the driver is tapping on the fuel gauge. Think we’re going to make it to Belgrade?”

He replied, “Good luck is all I’ve got.”

Front Seat Guy and I sighed in relief when we crossed the Belgrade city limit sign, and before long we were in the heart of the city on a busy Saturday afternoon heading toward the bus station. The bus stopped at a traffic light, and did not start again.  The bus had run out of fuel!

From the reaction of the bus driver (and Auxiliary Bus Driver, and Bosnian passengers) this was not a new phenomenon. The drivers exited the bus, in the middle lane of a busy boulevard, and opened the luggage hatch.  Horns sounded and traffic swerved around us passengers as we wheeled our bags to the sidewalk, and, thankfully up the street to the bus station and taxi stand.

We may have purchased bus tickets to Belgrade, but the tickets had not specified where in Belgrade we would be deposited.

The Balkan-Central Europe-Southeastern Europe Holiday: Sarajevo, Times of Misfortune

The Latin Bridge. Doesn’t ring a bell? How about, “Site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand I, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated?” As history has it, the driver of the Archduke’s vehicle had gotten lost, and stopped serendipitously to ask the assassin for directions (seriously!) The Empire then declared war on Serbia, inspiring the Central Powers and the Allies to start WWI (and, some say, WWII, the Cold War, and maybe even the Bosnian War.)   Perhaps this explains why men never stop to ask for directions?

This once-pretty building, marked with shrapnel, is near to the bridge.

Our “Times of Misfortune” tour began at the fortress atop Sarajevo. From this vantage point the Serbian forces had spectacular aim at the city below.

One of the Bosnian Muslim cemeteries with its simple white obelisk gravestones.

Most of the markers in the cemetery date between 1992 and 1995.

The Sarajevo Central Cemetery. The darker area in the middle holds predominantly the flat, gray gravestones of Orthodox Serbians, with Bosnian obelisks all around. The Olympic Stadium from the 1984 games was used as a temporary cemetery until the area could be expanded during and after the war.

Our tour also took us to the Tunnel Museum, which documents the tunnel between the Serbian/Bosnian controlled areas and the UN-controlled airport that served as the food and medical lifeline for Sarajevo. Regular Sarajevo citizens had to request permits to receive aid at the tunnel, which generally took 4-6 months to process; once the permit was received, it was a game of survival to reach the tunnel for the aid package and return home again.

A small section of the tunnel was available to walk through. The Serbian forces largely ignored the Bosnians who were leaving Sarajevo via this route–they wanted Sarajevo residents to leave.

Much of the tour was at a basic level, not really delving into personal stories and the like, which Anna Grace and I would have preferred. There was an older person in our small group, though, who posed the kinds of questions that made us scratch our heads and wonder, “Were you under a rock in the 90’s?” so it is possible the guide tailored his narrative for him. We also only drove past the “Sniper’s Alley,” which our guide generally dismissed with a wave of his hand, saying, “It is just a street.”  Still, the tour was a good overview of the war’s impact on Sarajevo, something that could not easily have been done ourselves.

The Balkan-Central Europe-Southeastern Europe Holiday: Sarajevo

Sarajevo seemed deep enough into the Balkan Peninsula to drop “Central Europe” from the title, but over breakfast our host offered her version of geopolitics, saying that Bosnia-Herzegovina was considered Southeastern Europe, so I’ll keep all the titles just in case.

Sarajevo is as elegant as Vienna and as exotic as we expect Istanbul to be. Enjoy the photos!

Baščaršija, the Old City market. The better part of our first day was spent winding down tiny lanes and into treasure-packed stores.

Old world craftsmanship and post-war entreprenuership.
Too many Lokum choices for us! We stuck with a favorite flavor, rose water.

And when we needed a break from the heat, beautiful places to enjoy a mint tea were all around.

Bey’s Mosque in the Old City Market

We were surprised to see a woman using the fountain in the mosque courtyard to rinse her fruits and vegetables.

Outside of the market, the elegance of Vienna is sprinkled along the streets…

…literally.  The trams are hand-me-downs to Sarajevo from Vienna! Nearly twenty years post war, the beautiful city of Sarajevo continues to rebuild.

In the Central Market, a marker at the site where the worst single atrocity of the war occurred.

St. Mark’s Cathedral, not spared from war damage, but careful restoration is underway.

The Balkan-Central European Holiday: Zagreb to Sarajevo

In a word: wretched.

The rail infrastructure in the former Yugoslavia is not exactly at the level of DeutscheBahn or ÖBB or Thalys. Or even the 20thcentury.  I had read that in early 2012 Bosnia was supposed to replace their old train cars with modern ones, but I can assure you that has not happened.

As you will discover, these photos were taken before our departure.

Hahahahahahahaha.

Nor do I think Bosnia should replace these trains.  The majority of the passengers on the train with us from Zagreb to Sarajevo do not deserve decent rail transportation.  The smokers (who disregard the “no smoking” signs) feel perfectly within their right to light up wherever and whenever, even going so far as to stub out their cigarettes on the metal window sills before tossing the butts out of the window.  Trash, including whole bags of rubbish, was tossed out the window to litter the countryside.  Raucous children come aboard at various intervals begging for money, as well.

Some of the rail personnel do not deserve their jobs, either.  The cars lack AC, naturally, but with all the windows open a pleasant cross breeze helped keep spirits up.  Nearly all of the windows needed to be propped open; and a nice fellow passenger showed us how to use a partially full water bottle (a precious commodity on the train, as there is no restaurant car, trolley cart, or potable water) to prop open the window outside our compartment.   With about 3 hours remaining on our long 9 hour ride, though, the assclown ticket checker (who chided us for having our shoeless feet propped up on the seats but said nothing to the smokers) came through the car, tossing all water bottle window props out and slamming the windows shut. I gave him my best “WTH?,” to which he retorted something in his best (or worst) Bosnian, but what was done was done. A precious water bottle wasted, and windows closed on another 36°C day.  Tears formed in Anna Grace’s eyes, but my fearless co-traveler hung in there.

 

 

Some stations were so rural that passengers not only were deposited on the tracks, but had to climb over other trains to reach their destination.
Waiting for the document inspection to finish at the Bosnian border. It was a little unnerving to hand over our passports and resident cards to the immigration officer, but he was very polite to us when he returned them.

Not all stations had Roman translations, so we didn’t always know where we were.

One of many makeshift post-war cemeteries along our route. There seemed to be one for every village we passed, with more and more of them appearing the closer we transited toward Sarajevo.

Watching the once-daily train roll past rural stations seemed to be a popular pastime.

All of the Bosnian haystacks were shaped like this. They looked like little hairy gnomes to us.

Relaxing in rural Bosnia.

Despite the novelty of the scenery, we were dirty, tired, and hungry, and could not get off the train fast enough in Sarajevo. The owner of the guest house where we were staying advised us to tell the taxi driver to turn on the meter, so he would know that he could not overcharge us.  (I had that sentence printed (in Bosnian) with the guest house address and showed it to the driver.) We had to stop at a Bankomat along the way (no cash stations at the train station); when we reached our lodging the taxi driver claimed he did not have change for the 50Km note I handed him, so Valida, the proprietor, sent him off to get change, telling us, “He will come back. I know his sister.”

The grit and grime of our cattle-class journey disappeared instantly at Guest House Halvat. A small house with only five rooms, but bursting with hospitality, cheerfulness, and everything else that makes a holiday memorable.

With the afternoon light fading and our rumbling tummies growing louder, Anna Grace and I splashed water on our faces and made haste to the old city market and the first restaurant with an outdoor table.  There was, thankfully, an English menu, and the kind diners at the adjacent table helped us out (though Sarajevo is known for its hospitality, it was probably my pointing at the woman’s dish that prompted her to help). Soon our table was filled with cevapi, pita, kebab, fresh salad, and icy cold mineral water and Fanta. No wine to be found, as I suspected.

Our table was in a prime people-watching location, and between bites of savory kebab and soft pita, we watched women wearing headscarves in all colors of the pantone set breeze by, most looking cool and comfortable in spite of the head-to-toe coverings (how do they stay so cool? we wondered.); while other young women tottered across the cobblestones in mini skirts and maxi heels.  Young children chased pigeons by the fountains, tourists who looked like we (albeit a little less wilted) strolled past and snapped photos this way and that, and before long we heard the first of many calls to prayer. Our few glimpses of this vibrant city were as restorative as the food, and we were excited to call Sarajevo home for a few days.

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