What’s the first thought that enters your head when someone says SARAJEVO? Chances are it’s not a positive one, largely down to the media reports from the Bosnian War between 1992-1995 I would imagine.
Sarajevo was on a high after proudly hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics but the war was part of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and things deteriorated fast. In a bloody conflict where thousands of lives were lost, Sarajevo was one of the worst hit cities. I had visited the city in 1988 and was keen to return to see for myself the steps I had once taken before.
Bosnia is not everyone’s cup of tea and as such it was not so easy to reach from Scotland. Luckily as I was in Germany on my way back from Buenos Aires, my flight from Koln to Sarajevo was direct. There is currently no direct public transport between Sarajevo International Airport and the city centre so the options are catch a taxi or a local bus. I opted for the latter and a short trudge through the local neighbourhood, flanked by tall bullet holed apartment buildings, I rather thankfully found the bus stop.
Unable to secure cash before arriving in the county I had visited the ATM at the airport and rightly so, the bus driver did not take to kindly to me producing 50 BAM to pay for my 1.80 BAM (70p) bus fare. However, full credit to him he let me on and he even found the correct change.
I was ill prepared for this trip having pretty much had very little rest since i left Buenos Aires, so there I was sitting on a bus not knowing where I was going, all I knew is that I was heading in the direction of the centre of the city. The bus appeared to be one of those trolley buses that is guided by connectors above the vehicle in a network of wires across the road. The roads were pretty uneven and I was getting tossed about like a Greek Salad with my suitcase on more than one occasion levitating off the bus floor.
The journey took me through some slightly unsavoury looking neighbourhoods one of which, I found out later was Grbavica, the area where the stadium of Zeljeznicar is located. There is a famous photograph from the war showing the road outside the stadium and it’s the very same route the bus took me down. It’s a neighbourhood with tall apartment buildings scatted with shrapnel wounds, graffiti is everywhere. Street Art is big in Sarajevo everywhere you go there is some slogan which has some political or religious meaning.
I reached the centre of town and headed to my hotel. I was staying at The Grand Hotel which was located near the main railway station which was a good 30 minute walk. I prefer walking in a city, especially one you do not know, as you see and learn so much more. The hotel was a step back in time. It was a large communist built structure with a huge lobby and reception area. The restaurant was split into two levels, the downstairs room had high ceilings. I stood in awe looking at the curtains as they were one continuous piece of material, probably the biggest set i had ever seen!
I was in the city for 2 full days and my plan was to do a bit of culture, a bit of exploring and to try and reach 4 football stadiums (FK Zeljeznicar, FK Sarajevo, FK Slavija & FK Olimpic) before heading onto Mostar. I made it to the first three but time restraints made the fourth impossible. Exploring football stadiums gives you the advantage of taking you to real neighbourhoods of the city, ones where the tourist would not normally go and therefore offers a proper insight into a city to meet the locals and experience daily life.
The next day i visited the stadium of Zeljeznicar, like I explained before, is in the Grbavica area, 2 km west of the city centre and is named Grbavica Stadium, yes really! It’s an atmospheric area, a residential working class neighbourhood that has fallen on tough times in the past. The stadium is located on a secondary road out of Sarajevo, it’s location was considered as no mans land during the war. It was occupied by the Serbs and from the high apartment blocks snipers could be seen watching all that passed below them. It was heavily shelled, bombed and destroyed. There was wide scale looting, arsonists roamed the streets and many of the buildings were totally or partially destroyed.
Today it has moved on slowly but the scars of war remain not just on the apartment buildings but on the people’s faces. All through the city people are grim, there is not much smiling going on and I felt this a little unnerving at times. The stadium is in a pretty poor state from the outside. The only giveaway that it is a football stadium are the four large concrete floodlight pylons which can be seen from the road. I found a doorway open and let myself inside and was pleased to discover a reasonably well kept stadium with an iconic locomotive engine placed up high on the open terrace. There is a small covered VIP area along one length of the field with the main covered area for spectators, an English-Style C shaped roof, being behind one goal. The opposite end was open with blue seats and a large scoreboard. Open terracing covers the remainder of the stadium. Once inside it felt like an oasis of calm, somewhere you can get away from what is outside in the street with the painful reminder of hard times. Enter the stadium and you could think you have been transported miles way.
FK Slavija was next on the trail who have a small stadium located in the Lukavica area of the city. I had walked a fair bit, maybe 2km, to get there as I could not find what bus goes there. In Sarajevo there are no bus times at the bus stop, nowhere is open to ask and online timetables are unreliable. When reaching the Gradski Stadium the groundsman was cutting the grass so i was able to easily get inside and take some photos. One main stand stretches along one length of the field with the other three sides open to the elements, although the ends do have seats.
The stadium is situated in the middle of nowhere with not much around except for a few houses and businesses which all appear to be boarded up or closed. I felt Sarajevo was like this, everything appears to be closed and there are not many people walking around. I know it’s only a small city, under 500,000 but it just seemed very desolate with not much signs of life. Traffic moves freely and for a city I felt this very unusual.
I then caught the bus back to the centre and walked about 3km to the Asim Ferhatovic Stadium also known as the Kosevo Stadium. It was previously called the Olympic Stadium as it was the venue for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in 1984. Today it is used for football and is the home of FK Sarajevo and plays host to the Bosnian national team. It was a fair hike up the hill and with the time around 4pm, I thought the chances of getting inside would be slim. This proved to be the case when I arrived everything was closed so I had a walk around the large bowl shaped stadium which holds 37,500 at it’s capacity.
Sarajevo old town is a heady mix of cultures and ethnicity – Bosnian, Muslim, Serbian, Croatian, Turkish and more. The area of Bascarsija resembles a mini Istanbul. With many coffee shops and shisha pipes about. It also has many Cevapi shops. Cevapi is a Bosnian Kebab meat served with onions and is delicious, well worth a try if you ever get the chance.
It’s a really interesting city. I felt that after 2 full days I was just getting used to the way of life and felt sad that i had to leave. I felt as though I could be doing with another 3-4 days to really see a lot more. Maybe I will just have to return again.