My first trip to Sarajevo was in August/September of 1995 and recently returned in May 2012. What a difference 17 years can make! The city is radically different now and at the same time a few things have not changed.
When I was there in 1995, the airport was shutdown and the every entry way into the city was controlled by the Serbian Army except for one route. I went in through a series of Serb checkpoints and left via the one route that was open. Saying it one route was open is probably not technically correct, but the only checkpoints on that route were staffed by the United Nations Protection Force.
In 2012, the airport is open, trains and buses come and go freely, and we even drove a rental car in from Croatia. We even made a stop in Mostar on the way and found the Bosnian country side very beautiful!
While I was in Sarajevo the first time, my bed really was someone else's. I used the bunk of a Canadian guy who'd gone home for some rest and relaxation. I never met him and do not know his name. Two or three other guys shared the room with me. We had a bathroom down the hall. The only trouble was showers were limited to two minutes. Yes, 120 seconds. Try that the next time you hop in to get clean.
Contrast that image to staying at the City Boutique hotel that my wife, daughter, and I stayed this time. No comparison, obviously. I must say though, the hotel and especially the staff could not have been better. This is a highly recommended hotel if you ask me.
Nothing like a nice spacious room and a long hot shower!
The two main things that stick out in my mind are near the Turkish Quarter Bascarsija square and the National Library.
The square was deserted while I was there in 1995 even though it was still sign-posted as a tourist area.
Bascarsija square had very few people in it in 1995. Today, in 2012, it is truly a bustling tourist district with a mix if Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, as well as international visitors. We met and chatted with some business men from Istanbul, Turkey one night. They were really nice, peaceful mean who told us that visiting to this area of Sarajevo was very important for Turkish people.
Here is a shot from 1995 taken one morning:
Contrast that with a night scene of the same street in 2012. If you look closely in the background you'll notice that same tall building on the right is in much better shape now.
The whole area has a totally different vibe now. Here are then and now photos of the main tourist square itself.
Bascarsija square 1995
Bascarsija square 2012
The activity around the area is also radically different now. Back then, people would walk fast and mostly get out for essentials. No one had a water supply at home. Notice how this lady is bringing water jugs to fill them at the local mosque.
Today, in 2012, that same mosque area is full of people just walking and chatting and looking for the night's entertainment and food.
Again, a much different vibe than 17 years ago.
The National Library was all but destroyed during the war. Today, no one can go inside and the outside of the building is completely wrapped with a type of contruction cloth and scaffolding. There are workers inside would not let me inside to take any current photos and somehow I did not get a good photo of the outside either. Here is what the National Library looked like in 1995. Sad. Just sad. One thing that does not show in the photos is the beautiful marble floors that were covered with debris from the broken building. I was very much hoping this building had been restored. Maybe next trip. They are obviously working on it now.
Outside of the building on the left of this photo. You can see the Windows are blown completely out.
Again, it was just sad to see that no progress has been made on restoring the National Library. Walking around inside this building has always been a vivid memory for me, even today.
Places to eat
There were very few places to eat outside of the UN compounds when I was there in 1995. However, we did find one very nice sit down restaurant, Cevabdzinica Hodzic. There were sandbags in the windows to protect them from sniper fire and/or a mortar blast. The food was excellent though even back then.
That restaurant is still open today and event expanded to a second location. They even have a Facebook page now. The food is so good we ate there twice this trip!
There are so many places to eat now it is hard to choose. Cevabdzinica Hodzic Restaurant then.
Olympic Venues / Mt Igman
For this, I'll go back a little further in time to give context. In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics. Mt Igman was one of the primary places for the skiing events. Amazingly, a good bit of the Olympic history made it through the war with only minor, if any, damage.
- 1995 - Mt Igman was the only way into or out of Sarajevo that was not controlled by the Serbian Army. The roads were maintained by the United Nations Protection Forces.
- 2012 - The "roads" over Mt Igman are in very bad shape. Today they are used mainly for recreational sports like motor bike riding.
Road maintenance being done in 1995
This is me waiting to clear a checkpoint on the way out of the city on Mt Igman in 1995.
This is me trying to strike the same pose on a Mt Igman trail in 2012. Just not the same feeling at all.
One thing I did not see on Mt Igman in 1995 was any of the old Olympic skiiing sites. We had a chance to see some of those this time and it was just a treat. Even though we were too late in the day to get up close, I just stood there and looked over the old ski jump site in awe.
This is a much better sight than the things I saw in 1995. The most vivid of those memories is this mosque that was blown up.
Notice the little kid standing by the road as we passed. I have always wondered if this kid made it through OK and is alive today. He must have wished he could have hopped in our Land Rover. We drove through so quickly I barely got a glance at him because I was looking at the mosque. I've stared at him in this picture many times since hoping he is OK.
Sad. I wish we could have seen this place in 2012, but we could not find it.
I hope you have found this post interesting. It has been inside my head for many years. Only this year was I able to see what this place looks like now. There are many other memories both past and present that are not in this post, of course. In a way, it has been like therapy to both re-visit Sarajevo and write down my thoughts after so many years. Thank you for reading.
Until next time...