For my winter break, I chose to travel the Balkans, a region I have never visited before. First stop was Bosnia and Herzegovina. I stayed 2 nights in Sarajevo where I had a good preview of what was coming up next during my 12 days trip around the region… Not matter how many pictures and videos I might have taken, I couldn’t capture all the stories I heard. So only a pen (or in that case a computer) is necessary to share them with you!
As a Moroccan, I need a visa for Bosnia. However, their ministry of foreign affairs states that if a person holds a UK visa, they could enter without an additional visa. That was actually my case. I entered Bosnia with my valid student visa from the UK. Although, they have more criteria that have to be met… I was told by the Embassy of Bosnia in London that I should also enter the country from the EU, which caused a change in my itinerary as I planned initially to enter Bosnia from Serbia. And lastly, I was told to stay no more than 7 days.
As you might have guessed, I met all these criteria! On arrival to Sarajevo Airport, I felt like a new adventure was about to begin… The airport is small, I don’t understand how it works to get to the city center and I don’t speak their language. I felt a bit scared and out of my comfort zone! But that fear was gone within a couple of hours. The first person I ever met was the taxi driver. He was talkative and tried to speak in English and the first thing he ever mentioned to be was the war that destroyed all the country and some dreams of its people.
I felt like the war has caused so much damage that it could be seen in the buildings of the city and heard from the locals who witnessed it. Sometimes, I did not want to ask much questions as I felt like it might bring some bad memories but people were talking about it without me even asking.
Once I was walking around, an old man approached me from behind… I was a bit surprised but I quickly understood that he wanted to share something with me. He didn’t ask me where I was from, he didn’t say “hi” and didn’t care of anything but he knew I was definitely a foreigner so he started saying some stories. His first attempt to speak to me was in German but I don’t understand it, then he tries English and said something: “war, book, fire” and out of nowhere, he really said it more or less right: “they destroyed our library”, then he points at the building which was behind us and continues “3 million books were on fire”.
That was a key information during my trip to realise how people were deeply damaged by the war! I was happy however to hear such story from a man who seemed to stand up well at his age and climbs the hills of Sarajevo.
The Bosnian War happened between 1992 and 1995, which is just as recent as younger generations have their say. I met Aldin from CouchSurfing. He took me around town and he explained a lot of things about his native country. One of our conversation was about religions and ethnicity in Bosnia. The country is home to Croate Catholics, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs Orthodox. A division of religions and ethnicities that causes some divergence of opinions and cultures. To me, all people looked the same… So I was wondering how can someone make a difference between a Muslim, a Catholic and an Orthodox?
Even though there has been wars that divided people because of religion and ethnicity, Sarajevo is truly the city that impressed me with its tolerance. The city is home to several mosques, churches and even synagogues. It is a delight to hear the call of the prayer when at the same time the bells of the church ring! It is something I have never witnessed in my whole life! Sarajevo is where East truly meets West, it was even called the “Jerusalem of Europe” due to its monotheistic religions diversity.
On the political and geographical side, I asked some people in Bosnia: “Do you want to be living right now in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Yugoslavia?” answer was Yugoslavia as people believed the then Tito-run country had more to offer to its citizens than the actual republic. I asked the same question later during my trip to other ex-Yugoslavs and I got some interesting opinions and answers.
Another amazing story was the one from Cat, the owner of the hostel where I stayed. She is American, a world explorer and a nomad until she finds her home, Bosnia! She seems to be so in love with the country that she even learns the language and plans to marry a Bosnian in the near future. She has also started her own business, The Doctor’s House, a cool hostel with an easy-going vibe and an amazing view over the city. She had some suggestions on things to do in Sarajevo with some tips I will share on another blog post!
My next stop was Belgrade. I wanted to travel by train to enjoy the beautiful nature and see more of the countryside but the train line was closed recently. So my first choice didn’t work out well so I chose to fly over the bus. In 40 minutes, I landed in Belgrade the city where I stayed 7 days to celebrate the Orthodox New Year.