Lisa and Juan practice their 'magic stick' routine :)
Itâ€™s approaching 22.00pm when I bundle off the beautifully scenic although chaotic train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo. I beg a call on a mobile off a pretty lady and manage to make contact with Juan and Lisa the adorable couple I first met when we were mutual Couchsurfers with King Tomi in Zagreb and who will now be my hosts here. I am palmed from one taxi driver to another unwilling except for one old boy to agree to my cheap-ass fare into town. As we set off this old boy, with eyes aâ€™gleaminâ€™ and white whiskers aâ€™bristlinâ€™ points again and again to women we pass and itâ€™s clear Iâ€™m supposed to interpret his little excitements for him.
â€˜Pretty girls?â€™. â€˜Da Da!â€™
My lovely hosts in Sarajevo Lisa & Juan aka The Rainbow Warriors.
( â€˜Yes yes!â€™
). He points again. â€˜Yes, Bosnian girls are very prettyâ€™
I faux-enthuse. â€˜Da, da, da!â€™
( â€˜Yes, yes, yes!â€™
). He grins. Happy that Iâ€™m getting the message. Expressing his pride in a sense of national sexiness. Next up, a curvy mother struggling along behind a pram. Whiskers is in danger of losing control of the taxi heâ€™s so excited to point her out. â€˜Err? Sexy Mama?â€™. â€˜DA DA DA, sexy mama, ha ha, sexy mama! DA!â€™.
'Tree Print' (Sarajevo)
His eyes glisten, his whiskers bristle. He points out on the left the night shrouded form of the famous wartime journalists retreat The Holiday Inn and the gleaming glass and light of the new Parliament Building but only in passing. Clearly not sexy enough subject matter. And clearly my level of linguistic interaction with the locals is degenerating the longer I travel. Time to move on.
Moving in. Moving on.
Itâ€™s great to see Juan and Lisa again and be spirited up to their temporary flat right in the heart of Sarajevo. A flat that belongs to a branch of Juanâ€™s family, his mother being Bosnian. A flat with Fort Knox locks on its inside. The flat has stood empty for over a decade and more following the death of an elderly relative and has had to be well protected in its emptiness.
The Sabilj kiosk and fountain in the main old town square
During and following the â€™90s conflict many flats and properties in Sarajevo were vacated by families seeking to flee the violence of war. Many for a decade or more. Some permanently if their owners became victims. Those abodes not well secured were often lost to their original owners, the properties having been taken over by permanent squatters or war opportunists protected in their mischievous aims by the fact that so many legal documents, deeds or proofs of ownership were lost in the confusion of war or went up in smoke during the fighting.
But you will not learn much about the war in this particular blog. I thought I would come here firmly in war junkie mode but am pleasantly surprised to find that I have left all such morbid cravings behind in the bullet-hole riddled streets of Mostar.
Cemetary on the hill.
Mostly for me Sarajevo is a brief journey through friendship and food. Sarajevo. A name, a destination so resonant in the minds of travellers with the ember glow of recent turmoil and Big History that I think people still pitch up here half expecting to scent an acrid whiff of cordite on the airâ€¦ but, as with myself, soon realise that Sarajevo, at least on the surface has moved on. The place actually nearly knocks me off my feet with the overriding sense of calm rather than alarm that it possesses.
Coffee and Copper
Woken by the quarter hourly bells of the Cathedral of Jesusâ€™ Sacred Heart, after a breakfast natter Juan, with Lisa in tow, is proud to introduce me to â€˜hisâ€™ city via a little walking tour.
Sarajevo has beautiful hilltop panoramas within easy walking distance.
And Sarajevo is wonderfully laid out for the happy wanderer. Although Iâ€™m sure it must have been trashed during the fighting, the Old Town, down town area of the city is a blissful haven of little labyrinthine streets and inter-connected passages that make up tapestry of medievalist style trading and covered caravanserai areas. Small cobbled paths to somewhere, nowhere, or a fine bakery or sweet shop. Little cobble courtyards housing fabulous tree-canopied little Turkish Coffee and nargile (water pipe) dens. Fabric draped entrance ways leading to old trading and rest posts (caravanserais), only two of which exist now in anywhere near their original form.
The heart of the old town is the square and surrounds referred to as BaÅ¡carÅ¡ija which dates back to 1462.
Sarajevo from on high.
Sat in the middle of the square is the ornate wood carved Sebilj, a wooden kiosk containing water taps. The universal access to water and bread for health and cleanliness a central social tenet of Islam. One for which I am grateful throughout my time in Eastern Europe for the free water to be had.
Juan introduces me to several of the many important mosques - heavily restored now - in central Sarajevo the most revered of which being Gazi Husrev Beyâ€™s Mosque. Apparently the most important mosque in the whole of Boznia and Herzegovina. It was constructed by the Ottoman ruler of Bosnia Gazi Husrev Bey in 1531. It high metal-sheet covered domes and minaret towering above the BaÅ¡carÅ¡ija area.
Running off from the east side of BaÅ¡carÅ¡ija is a street entirely given over to the hand manufacture and trade in traditional copper and â€˜whiteâ€™ copper goods.
These skills most predominant in the crafting of the delicate little patterned funnel-pots from which one descants your steaming, potent drams of â€˜puts hairs on your chestâ€™ Turkish Coffee. I walk along this little alley a number of times in my three days in Sarajevo taking pleasure from the musical, perfectly rhythmical accompaniment of the â€˜tink tink tink tonk tinkâ€™, â€˜tappety-tappety-tappety-tapâ€™
of the little metal hammers being repeatedly beaten against copper by the craftsmen behind their shadowy little doors. Juan says that some of the shops go back through seven generations of family artisans and more.
Amongst these metal wares shops, a neat but thankfully diminishing line in reconstituted war artillery paraphernalia can be found.
My first wooden minaret.
For example large shell casings beautified with ornate swirling patterns carved and beaten into their brass exteriors to be decorative umbrella stands. Spent, polished bullet casings turned into thermometers or over-size biro pens. An old boy with a few dusty army caps for sale tells us that of course the number one sell out item had always been the (in)famous blue peace keeper berets of the (belated, beleaguered and largely emasculated) UN Peace Keepers force but these are hard to come by now.
Secret Ice Cream
Itâ€™s just great to take it eeeeeasy in Sarajevo. Heck, itâ€™s what everyone else seems to do around here. With unemployment figures in one of Europeâ€™s poorest nation states often quoted as high as 40-50% thereâ€™s a rather languorous but content social vibe or â€™happy lazinessâ€™ to the city.
Lisa and 'magic stick' on top of Sarajevo
Plenty of time and plenty of people with which to sit back, smoke, drink coffee and play endless rounds of backgammon. Juan, Lisa and I are happy to follow suit and drift away on my first nargile (sheesha, water pipe, hookahâ€¦ whatever you wanna call â€˜em) I have imbibed since sat looking at the distant twinkling lights of Saudi Arabia from the Dahab waterfront in the Sinai. Sunned out bliss. Juan demonstrating the â€˜traditionalâ€™ way of taking your coffee. Holding the sugar cube in the coffee until soaked through, biting it and only then sipping ones coffee.
The guys are wonderful guides to the sensory side of their temporary home away from home. I let go of travel miserliness with regards to food for a change and greatly enjoy many of Sarajevoâ€™s treats.
Cevapi (also referred to as cevapcici), spiced rolled meat balls served with somun (pita bread) diced onions and yogurt; Burek (or bÃ¶rek) a range of fine filo pastry wrapped either in trays of long sausage lengths of gigantic pastry spirals which you purchase by 100g weight filled with meat, spinach and cheese, cheese, potato or any number of other stuffings. Cheap and â€™YUM!â€™
. Halva, of which Lisa is a minor connoisseur, the extremely sweet pistachio paste syrupy biscuit type thingamyâ€¦ my knowledge and powers of description fail me on that one!â€¦
â€¦ AND most yummilicious of all, SECRET ICE CREAM! Yes, of all the gelatti flavours in all of the world I can confirm that the creamiest, scrummiest most lickable of them all in my experience to date is to be found in Sarajevo.
, itâ€™s a secret! Yes, only from one tiny shop front window of one tiny shop on one street of the city of Sarajevo can the dangerously addictive â€˜Egaptskiâ€™ flavour ice cream be found and purchased. Nobody knows quite how to describe it or, most crucially, how itâ€™s made. I can only say itâ€™s somewhere between a delicate, subtle butterscotch, cream and Baileys (with the alcohol stripped out) flavourâ€¦ but I dunnoâ€¦ youâ€™ll just have to try it. If you can find it.
The secret of Egaptski is much sought after and Juan (via his motherâ€™s telling) relates how HÃ¤agen Dazs and its agents have reportedly tried on several occasions to purchase or otherwise decode the secrets of the Egapstki recipe but have been rebuffed by the family who own the business every time.
The permanently burning memorial to former ruler Tito.
The shop that sells the ice cream was, as with so many others, out of business and damaged during the war and it was only some years after â€˜peaceâ€™ returned that egaptski was finally made available again, the old man of the business to whom only the secret recipe was known having fallen into ill health and speculations around the businessâ€™s future apparently leading to a minor family feud. But itâ€™s okay, the secret lives onâ€¦ but Iâ€™m not gonna tell ya where to find it, it beinâ€™ a secret anâ€™ all ;D
New friendships have been a strong theme in my tour of Eastern Europe. Mostly facilitated by my deeper engagement with the Couchsurfing project. And my time and adventures have been much enriched by the wonderful people I have met and stayed with.
Stevie and too many cushions to know what to do with them :D
Juan and Lisa being two of the nicest of all. Two young, hopeful, world-caring individuals who are spinning out into the universe themselves in their own magical and inventive ways, rich in happiness, love and various personal philosophies centred on peace and unity and â€™making this world a better placeâ€™ etc, etc. The warmth of their kindness and personalities makes a wonderful Fountain of Youth for this jaded old (older?) traveller to bathe in for a brief time.
We stroll around Sarajevo. Head up into the hills to Bianca Tabija ( â€™White Tableâ€™ ), the mostly destroyed old fortress which was once built by the Ottomans as a strong bunker refuge for the cityâ€™s population should they ever suffer an attack but of course entirely ineffectual against the modern warfare that was inflicted on Sarajevo not so long ago.
Up here in the hills Juan points out how easy it was for Sarajevo to be brought to its knees. Surrounded by high hills in every direction it was a mortar bombardment dream from the â€™oppositionâ€™sâ€™ point of view. Back down at street level we visit the City Hall or what has for some time been the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Whilst most of central Sarajevo has been rebuilt and restored with impressive rapidity the cityâ€™s finest example of â€™Pseudo Moorishâ€™ architecture awaits full and final restoration. Dating from 1896, it was heavily damaged and subject to fire storming during intense shelling in 1992, incurring the sad loss of 90% of its priceless collection of books and manuscripts; some of the rarest of Ottoman and Persian texts then known.
'Holiday Inn' gleaming again.
Time for another ice cream I feel. â€™Lick lick yum!â€™. Time to say goodbye to Juan and Lisa, the Rainbow Warriors. Yes later this year Juan and Lisa are to take part in a social movement for world peace entitled The Rainbow Warriors who will from September this year do a â€™walk for peaceâ€™ type procession around large areas of France. It will involve street theatre performances and presumably messages of â€™peace and love etcâ€¦â€™ all of the participants having to adopt a colour of the rainbow to be decked out in. Juan and Lisa will be blue and perform various feats with their magic â€˜floatingâ€™ sticks and with Lisa playing the saw. The ultimate aim is to take this colourful â€™million man marchâ€™ approach - if successful - to social tolerance into areas of social tension or conflict zones throughout the world.
The Cathedral of Jesus' Sacred Heart.
I have tried to find a link to the Rainbow Warriors for you but so far failed, all Google results for â€˜Rainbow Warriors Franceâ€™ bringing up unfortunate reminders of the bombing and sinking of Greenpeaceâ€™s flagship of the same name 24 years ago. Not the same thing right guys? ;D
Thank you for welcoming me so warmly to Sarajevo guys. Farewell Sarajevo, youâ€™re lookinâ€™ just fine.