Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina

Sarajevo Views – October 18, 2009, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

I took this photo from a hilltop above Olympic Stadium in the northern suburbs of Sarajevo. The large gray area above the apartment buildings and below the snow is a cemetary of war dead. The siege of Sarajevo lasted over 4 years and over 11,000 people died. What a horrible waste! The cemetary pictured is only one of many.

 The grave to the left is of a seven year old Bosniak. Most of the tombstones had deaths from the time of the siege. One of the horrible characteristics of the war in Bosnia was the heavy involvement of civilians. The fighting in Sarajevo was especially disturbing. There were few traditional front lines or strategic geographic points like a river or mountain top, but mostly building to building and apartment to apartment exchange of fire. I can’t believe so many non-combatants were trapped in the city. It sounded like from what I have read and from what people tell me is most ordinary citizens didn’t think there was going to be such a level of violence.  The photos, videos, and accounts of the war are shocking. It was interesting to look for and experience the effects of war 15 years after it occured. I have visited battle sites before, like the Battle of Carabobo site in Venezuela. They were hundreds of years after the fact and seemed like ancient history. This was fresh.  I wonder if this is what my father felt as he served in the US army of occupation in Germany in the early 1950’s. The devastating effects of WWII must have been all around him, not only in the buildings, but in the people also. Most of the people we talked to in the city were very nice and I didn’t ask much about the war. I thought that it would be too personal, especially questions coming from a tourist.

One of the most fascinating sites was the tunnel museum. This was the “tunnel of hope” that ran underneath the airport into the city. The tunnel was used to get people and supplies in and out of the city. The museum is located out by the airport and a short section of the original tunnel remains. The original house that sat above the entrance is now full of war displays. We watched a video about the war and the role of the tunnel. Owen was most excited about the fact that actor Daniel Craig (James Bond) also visited the tunnel and his picture was on the wall


 I loved the city of Sarajevo. The mosques gave it an exotic touch, the mountains and ski areas around the city are beautiful, and the markets and friendly people make it a very cool place to visit. The older part of the city was crowded and parking was difficult. It will take a long time for the city to shake the effects of the war. The pre-war ethnic mix is now gone, with most Serbs leaving. The city is still great, but with the emotional and physical scars of war in the buildings and people, it is less of a city. 

The Dayton Accords ended the war and it divided the country by the frontlines between the Bosnian Serbs and the Croats/Bosniaks. It is still one country, but divided into “cantons” which in my mind are basically countries. I was interested in how the Republika Srpska (RS) would be.  RS is mountainous and beautiful. I saw one Bosnian flag while seeing in every village, huge Serbian flags without the coat of arms. The Bosnian flag was flying in a park made with EU money. In a few of the towns were new mosques, obviously built with money from the Middle East. The trip made me think about the Serbs of Bosnia. I got the impression that they were the “country cousins” of the Serbs. I suppose it would be like the differences between the New Yorkers or the people of Boston and Texans.

What both Bosnia and the Republika Srpska need are more money. With a better economy, people would have other worries besides ethnic or religous differences. As my friend in Belgrade said, “give them mortgages and bosses, and they will forget to shoot at each other.” He also said that before the war, there were more similarities between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks that between people the Bosnians and people in Belgrade. The war and afterwards made people express their differences more. As Barak Obama said, it is harder to find our similarities than our differences.

I hope to return to Bosnia again. I would like to go skiing there, see the Catholic shrine of Madjure (spelling) and the coastal area and highlands of Hercegovina. 

The infamous Holiday Inn of Sarajevo

The Beautiful Countryside of the Republika Srpska



Beg’s Mosque and the Baščaršija Market of Sarajevo


Ocean is shown looking up at the tower of Beg’s Mosque in the old part of Sarajevo. It is located in the center Bascarsija market and while we were shopping, we stopped to take a look at a fine example of Ottoman architecture. The towers of mosques can be seen throughout the city and in villages in Bosnia.

Beg’s mosque was financed by Gasi-Husrev Beg in 1531. He was the Bosnian governor for Sarajevo when the Ottomans ruled most of the Balkan peninsula. The Ottomans were here for over 500 years and it is in Sarajevo their influence can be felt the most in the ex-Yugoslavia. They also converted many of the Serbs and Croats to Islam, hence the Bosniaks of today. The mosques add a touch of the exotic to Sarajevo. The mosque was destroyed several times throughout its history, most recently during the siege on Sarajevo from 1992-1995. The Saudis financed rebuilding of the mosque. We even heard the call to prayer, the first time I ever heard it live. Very cool.


The family in the market
The family in the market




The market was great! Nadia enjoyed looking at all the shops. We bought a tea set, scarf, etc. and I even bought a fez. The people in the market loved the kids and they got free candy where ever we went. It was low tourist season and horrible weather, so there were no crowds and we got to meet many of the vendors. I also got a nice shave. The kids also enjoyed using umbrellas for the first time. We had to buy three of them of course and they walked around with them every day. Ocean dragged hers through puddles.

Snow! Kralovec Family Holidays to Bosnia i Hercegovina


Ollie and Ocean are pictured above preparing snowballs to throw at our car. We were excited to see lots of snow on our trip to Sarajevo. We are on fall break and are exploring Serbia’s neighboring country.

We got off to a slow start yesterday with many errands to do around the house. I cleaned the car, fixed the rearview mirror, and helped Nadia pack. We made a delicious pancake breakfast as well as downloaded stories to listen to while driving. After exchanging some boots for Nadia, we were on our way.


Serbia has many single family farms still
Serbia has many single family farms still



We had a slight change in plans even before we got started. We had originally planned to stay near Visegrad, a town just across the Serbian border. The town was made famous by Nobel Prize laurate, Ivo Andric, a famous Yugolsavian author. He wrote “Bridge On the Drina”, a historical fictional account of the town. I blogged about the book here. We did not stay there because the best place in the area according to the guidebooks, was used in the 1990’s as a rape camp by paramilitary forces in the Yugoslavian civil war. The Bradt Guide to Bosnia didn’t mention this. Young and beautiful Bosniak women from the Visegrad area were kept there. Nadia felt queasy about staying the night in a such a place, 16 years after. I didn’t realize how much of the war happened in Visegrad. Many Bosniaks fled the area and what used to be a mixed area, is not predominately Serbian. That is consistent with the history of the place. Much violence happened there over the centuries, from the Ottoman Turks taking Serbian boys away from their families to be raised as Ottomans, to the Austro Hungarians subduing the Ottomans.


The Drina Bridge At Night
The Drina Bridge At Night



Perhaps it was a rainy, cold night, but the town felt a bit depressed. We stopped and I took some pictures of the bridge and walked out to the capia. There is no car traffic on the bridge. It is quite an impressive architectural feat, considering how wide the river is and how long ago the sultan ordered the bridge to be built. I used Serbian RSD to buy gas in the city.

The highlight of the day was the beautiful snow in the mountains. On the Serbian side in Zlatibor, there was lots of snow. We stopped at the Hotel Mecanik for a late dinner, just outside the village of Mokra Gora. We wanted to spend the night, as Ocean vomitted and the kids and I were tired. There was no rooms available, so we decided to go on to Sarajevo. It snowed the whole way and I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the beautiful canyons and mountain views as we were approaching Sarajevo. Being from northern Michigan, USA, the snow brought back memories of my youth.

We finally arrived in Sarajevo around 10:00 PM. Distances are deceptive in Serbia and Bosnia as the narrow, twisting mountain roads make progress slow. It took about 200 hours to travel the roughly 100 kilometers. The hotel we booked was full so we found another nearby. Initial impressions are a lively, beautiful city. I can’t wait to explore it.


The Pleasures of Family Travel - Cleaning Vomit off a Car Seat
The Pleasures of Family Travel - Cleaning Vomit off a Car Seat



We are having a bit of car trouble. The temperature gauge is cold even though we drove through the mountains all day. I think it is a thermostat problem, we’ll have to get it checked out today or tomorrow before we leave on Tuesday.