In my last blog post, I wrote about some of the things that I found challenging during my trip to Sarajevo. These challenges, however, were really outweighed by loads of wonderful experiences. I’ll share a few.
The people that I met in Sarajevo were among the most hospitable, generous, and friendly that I have met. Whether from the hotel, university, or at various sights, they were so happy to help in any way. When I checked in to the hotel, I didn’t have any local currency as it’s not available outside Bosnia. So, the first thing that I needed to do was find an ATM machine. I asked at the front desk for directions to the nearest machine and instead of drawing me a little map and handing it to me, I found myself being walked through the city by a hotel employee. After I presented my paper at the university, someone from the audience approached me because she was going to be traveling to Groningen and had some questions for me. She’s a graduate student at the university that was hosting the conference. She invited me to her office where we had Bosnian coffee and Turkish delights while I helped her figure out how to get from Sarajevo to Groningen. It was so nice to be welcomed to Sarajevo in this way because it gave me the opportunities to talk to people and hear what they had to share about their city.
Sarajevo expanded my travel horizons a bit further and I loved that feeling. During my visit, there were many times that communication was difficult for me but, it was always met with humor and grace rather than frustration. In my first taxi ride from the university back to the hotel, the driver was pleasantly trying to make conversation. In very broken English, he apologized that he could not speak more. I then asked whether he spoke French… Italian…German… Spanish (I know… spanish is a stretch for me, but it’s much better than my Bosnian). He kept indicating “no.” Then, he asked me whether I spoke Croatian, Russian, Turkish, or Arabic and I kept indicating “no.” Between the 2 of us, we offered 10 languages and there was no common denominator. We both laughed and shrugged.
This trip to Bosnia was my first visit to a country where I heard the Muslim call to prayer each day. It was beautiful. On one day, I spent time in a mosque, a Catholic church, a Jewish synagogue, and an Eastern Orthodox church all within a 10 minute radius. For this reason, Sarajevo is called the Jerusalem of Europe. Sarajevo’s diversity is also reflected in its fascinating architecture. Part of the historical center of Sarajevo was built by the Ottoman empire and the neighboring part was built by the Austro-Hungarian empire. The feel and look of these areas is completely different and the point where the two meet is really quite dramatic.
I had the opportunity to leave the city for a day and experience Bosnia and Herzegovina’s beautiful countryside. It really is spectacular. I went on a day-trip to the town of Mostar. The route we took led us through the rugged Dinaric alps along the Neretva river. I have to say that this river is gorgeous, bright emerald green water snakes its way through the mountains. It was a lovely drive. The scenery gradually changes from sharp mountains to the rolling vineyards that thrive in Herzegovina’s Mediterranean climate. Mostar’s old town is very picturesque; the highlight is the bridge, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, which connects one side of town to the other.
My trip to Sarajevo was memorable for so many reasons. I am in awe of the natural beauty of the place, the vibrancy of the culture and genuine kindness of the people who live there.