Day 7, Sarajevo

We had a day of activities planned for Day 7 including a trip to the parks and thermal springs at Ilidza just outside Sarajevo, and, very exciting for me, a trip to the tunnel museum by the Airport.

But as we were leaving at 11am and I had some time in the morning I went on a little trip on my own to somewhere that no-one else in the group really knew the historical significance of, the Holiday Inn.

Now it might just sound like any other hotel but the Holiday Inn Sarajevo could really be considered a historical landmark. The war in Bosnia officially started when a sniper on the roof of the hotel opened fire, and throughout the conflict, as one of the few places in the city with decent conference facilities, countless summits and peace conferences were held here. When I read books about the history of the war in this city, the Holiday Inn Sarajevo comes up time and time again.

It was originally built for the famous 1984 Winter Olympics, widely considered to be one of the best winter games ever – mainly due to the fact that the Olympic-class mountains were just miles from the heart of the host city, something very few other places can offer. After the games, the hotel wasn’t making much money so it closed, only to reopen as soon as the war started and suddenly the worlds media needed a place to base themselves. It was damaged frequently during the conflict but has since had a facelift, with war damage only visible on the very top of the bright yellow building.

It was nice to finally visit the place after reading so much about it and as it wasn’t really the kind of ‘pilgrimage’ that others would be interested in it was good to get the free time in the morning to go see it myself.

The mountains around Sarajevo are beautiful and terrifying all at once. When you look at them towering over the city from all sides, knowing about the history of the 4 year seige, you can see all too vividly how easy it was for the Serbs to bombard this city – Sarajevo was a sitting duck. It’s incredible that the city and its people survived, and even more impressive to see how quickly it got back on its feet. There is lots of war damage here, but nowhere near as much as any of us were expecting.

At 11 we headed to the thermal springs and parks at Ilidza, it was a 3km walk along a freakishly straight country path to get to the park from the tram station, but it was a nice hot summer day. We got a horse and cart back which was cute. We had a picnic there and had a wander around. Sarajevo is really so close to so much natural beauty, it has everything. Mountains, skiing, thermal springs, river rafting.

When we got back to the station we headed out in taxis to the Tunnel Museum which was by the airport. This was one of the highlights for me. Back when Sarajevo was being shelled from all sides by the Serbs in the Mountains (I will upload a cool map showing the situation when I get home) the UN secured the airport and so this was the only semi-safe part of the city and the only breach in the Serbs encircling forces. On one side of the airport was Sarajevo and the other was free Bosnian territory. So over 4 months they build a tunnel right under the airport. The tunnel carried an average of 3000 passengers every day, most carrying up to 50kg of food and supplies into the city. It was the city’s only lifeline and it basically was built in someone’s back garden. Many times the Serbs tried to attack the entrances on either side of the tunnel but they were too well defended and they never succeeded.

It was yet another amazing story of Bosnian courage and resilience. The tunnel has since collapsed but we were able to go into a section of the start of it to experience what it must have felt like.

After the museum we headed back to the city, after I got some snaps of Sarajevo Airport itself, which again I have read a lot about in my books.

In the evening a few of us went up to a fortress on the hills behind the city. We passed through a Muslim graveyard – there are so many in this city – and it was quite haunting. One of the graves was of former Bosnian prime minister Alija Izetbegovic, who led the country all the way through the war and afterwards. We saw some soldiers come to pray beside his grave.

The view from the fortress was spectacular, looking down on the entire city. We decided we’d come back up here the following night for sunset.

On the way home there was some kind of Turkish festival going on by the river. We stopped and watched it for a while, acrobatics, skateboarding, bike stunts, and all kinds of things.

We never really ate any proper group meals in Sarajevo, I just existed on those fabulous sausagemeat pies and bamboos and pivo (beer). I have taken a lot of photos of different ways that bars presented my bamboos 🙂

After we went home we got talking to the owner of the beautiful hostel we were staying at, a very friendly and houseproud woman who had lived through the war. She spoke very emotionally about the problems Bosnians and Sarajevans face in the present and in the near future, but she spoke with the same kind of passion I have come to expect from people in this part of the world.

We also met Stuart, another Australian staying at the hostel. He decided to come here to look for English teaching jobs, and knew a lot about the history of the area. He also lent me a book about Bosnian history (bit of a miracle that I didn’t already have it!)

During our conversation with the landlady, she drew a map of Bosnia to illustrate the partition of the country between Muslims, Serbs and Croats. I helped her by drawing in a few other places which seemed to impress her.

Afterwards I drew in Velika Kladusa where my friend Dragana is from which made me smile, I think because it felt like a connection between my time here and my life back home in London.

I went to bed with my head buzzing with information – I have felt like a sponge in this place, just soaking up everything that I see and hear. I needed to get a good night’s sleep though for the early train ride to Mostar in Hercegovina the following morning.

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