Sarajevo, Bosnia – A City Stuck In The Past?

Like I mentioned in our Europe Train Challenge: Week 5 Update – Sarajevo was a city which from beginning to end, was a place we had many mixed experiences with.

The old town was so cute and cosy that nobody would be able to resist it – from morning to evening you heard the constant tapping from pots, caraffs and plates being decorated by hand in the Turkish quarter – the fragrance of freshly made Turkish coffee making its way through the winding streets, and everywhere around you people were more busy relaxing in a corner cafe than actually working.

The people here are quite different – walking along the streets you see many facial expressions which are hard to define: was it anger? resentment? hopelessness?

Some people here looked really tough, the type of people you wouldn’t want to mess with – and if you looked around yourself, past the small cute Old Town, you got a feeling that these cold stone faces had their story deeply stuck in the surroundings.

The remnants and signs from the Yugoslav war 15 years ago were still everywhere: collapsed bombed houses, bullet holes by almost every window and holes from mortar shell’s explosions deeply embedded into the foot path.

It felt as though the people were still living in their past, but who could blame them?

It must be hard for the people to move on when they are totally surrounded by their past, constantly being reminded of what happened.

Was this the reason to why everyone was smoking non-stop 24/7?

I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying this – the amount of people smoking really was insane: public transport, train stations, tourism offices, clothing shops, restaurants – you couldn’t get away from it – once we were told off by a lady for opening a window on the bus, as we gasped for some fresh air …

I heard more dry coughs and broken voices from chain smoking than I’ve ever heard before, maybe it is a result from all the pain and stress the people have gone through.

Perhaps we felt the pain even stronger since we were there when Ratko Mladic, also nicknamed “the Butcher of Bosnia” – a Serbian leader during the war who was responsible for a massacre of 8000 Muslim men and boys – finally was caught.

Our visit to Sarajevo was a very unique experience, and while we had these sobering impressions, we also had some really nice experiences there.

Bosnia is a beautiful country – full of amazing untouched nature, wild scenery,  with some amazing rivers and cute villages.

It’s a part of Europe like no other, and we saw things there we haven’t seen anywhere else in Europe:

Old men and women hitchhiking their way to town from their houses in the middle of nowhere, shepherds walking their sheep to the next green field in the forest and cows hanging out freely on the road side.

All in all we had a great time in Bosnia, and we found that although many people looked tough on the outside, deep down if you gave them some time they where warm and hospitable on the inside.

Have you been to Sarajevo, Bosnia? What were your impressions?

Connect With Us.

We'd love to stay in touch with you...

14 Responses to Sarajevo, Bosnia – A City Stuck In The Past?

  1. Rachel August 14, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    I literally just left Sarajevo a few days ago and I have to say that I absolutely adored it. We went to Mostar straight after and the contrast worked favourably in Sarajevo’s favour. Sarajevo is mostly rebuilt, but Mostar was nothing but burnt out ruins – except in the market centre. Tourism is just as it ever was but normal life is far from resuming, but they don’t embrace it in the way Sarajevo does (in a bid, I think, to stop it from happening again elsewhere); it’s more like hiding the tourists away in the touristy centre so they never realise what life is really like outside of it.

    Admittedly any place is dependent upon your experiences there and the people you meet, not just the place itself, and we were lucky enough to stay with some incredible people who had fought on the front line and even took us to see part of it. Sarajevo’s spirit might be broken, but I like that they were honest about it. It made for a much more poignant experience than simply wandering around some pretty streets which don’t really mean anything.

    Also, I think they smoke 24/7 because they’re European; we all do 😉

    • Sofia - As We Travel August 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      I agree, they were honest about the city being broken, like you said, which is important in order to continue forward. 

      This was my second time in Bosnia, I went there in 2006 with a Bosnian family and traveled around to meet their extended family in Banja Luka and other small villages. 

      Of course it was a very different way of experiencing a country than visiting as a tourist, by living with locals and visiting the country together with people who once had fled from there, you get to see things from a different perspective.

  2. Steph August 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    I loved Sarajevo. It was stunningly beautiful, even with the destruction all around (I was there about 3 years ago so there was probably even more bombed out craters then there are now). I think that as a city that has been through SO MUCH in the past 20 years they are dealing about as well as can be expected. Did you get a chance to go out to the Sarajevo tunnel museum? Very sobering experience.

    • Sofia - As We Travel August 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      Bosnia is an incredibly beautiful country, I really loved the nature there. 
      I didn’t see much of Sarajevo in 2006 so I don’t know if it was worse a few years ago than today, but I hope it will recover better and that the future will be bright.

  3. Corey August 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Bosnia has, by far, been my absolute favorite country in Europe so far, and for all the reasons you mentioned. Mostar was my favorite city of the ones I visited as the people there were the friendliest I met. And most were willing to talk about their experiences of the war, though I did my best not to broach the subject myself as I didn’t want to open new wounds. 

    My only worry is the city and people using the bombed out buildings as a tourist draw. One local I met said that it’s becoming a common thought that they’ll just stop rebuilding on top of the ruined and destroyed buildings as they’re such a tourist draw now. That’s a bit telling I think. 

    • Sofia - As We Travel August 15, 2011 at 5:04 am #

      Great to hear that it’s your favorite country in Europe! I know what you mean about trying not to bring it up, or at least too early on, but it often seemed as though they wanted to tell us, so of course we listened.

      It’s definitely a worrying thought that the destruction is becoming too much of a tourist attraction…

  4. Dino Dogan August 15, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    Hi Sofia,

    I found you on the new, redesigned homepage of Triberr. My life all of a sudden felt very circular. Im one of the Founders of Triberr and I discovered a blog post about my country via Triberr.

    I was in Sarajevo before the war. People were different then. They were cheerful, trendy, active, alive….even during the war people’s spirit was unwavering. Once the war was over (I left by then) I guess people become disillusioned.

    So sorry to hear about people smoking everywhere. I just got back from Montreal and it was the same thing just couldnt get away from it….

    So, thnx for the report. It felt great to read about one of my favorite cities ever.

    • Sofia - As We Travel August 16, 2011 at 4:10 am #

      Hey Dino,

      Thanks for the comment – love what you guys are doing with Triberr. 

      And thanks for sharing your memories about Sarajevo before the war – we really enjoyed our time there – Bosnia is an amazing place, loved the nature.

      You can watch our video episode from Sarajevo here:

  5. Anonymous August 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    I’ve never been to Bosnia, looks like a very interesting place. Although I’m not too fond of being surrounded by smoke 24/7…

    • Sofia - As We Travel August 16, 2011 at 4:11 am #

      It’s very interesting, worth inhaling second hand smoke for a few days haha 😛

  6. arif August 17, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    I love ancient looks, rivers and villages. It looks like Bosnia
    is a perfect destination for me.

  7. Joe Serpa August 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Bosnia is perhaps the most beatiful country in Europe, even it is more beautiful than Croatia. Nature is extraordinary.

  8. Amer @TendToTravel August 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    Loved Sarajevo. The city is deep in history. I would throughly suggest using the free Sarajevo Walking Tour. It was an amazing experience with a great guide who knows and is very passionate about the city. Also took a guide on the Bosnian War Tour. Was very moving. Went to the graveyard pictured above, but that is nothing compared to a much larger graveyard near the Olympics site. A hill was literally covered with them. Enough about wars, the countryside is beautiful and so is Mostar. The Bosnians are one of the most friendly people I’ve encountered on any of my solo visit and that alone makes it a great trip!


  1. Sarajevo, Bosnia – Europe #13 [VIDEO] - As We Travel - Travel Videos & Travel Blog - August 19, 2011

    […] Sarajevo, Bosnia – A City Stuck In The Past? […]