First Impressions

First Impressions of Bosnia
It’s hard to describe Bosnia because there is so much to take in. To start, it’s a feast for the eyes. The City of Sarajevo is bright and alive, an orange gemstone of terracotta tiled rooftops nestled within a setting of deep green forested mountains. The beauty of the landscape is stunning.

The City is also a feast for the stomach. Everywhere I go I am greeted by the scent of something delicious cooking. It seems as if someone is baking fresh bread on nearly every corner. Freshly baked breads and rolls come in all shapes and sizes and are filled with impossibly delicious combinations of savory meats and cheeses and decadent nuts and chocolates.

On our first day we visited a 24 hour bakery – and I have been back several times. Bhutloh is a large roll of sweet and chewy white bread that hides within it a mess of gooey, chocolate hazelnut spread. It is delicious and… dangerous. Did I mention there is a 24 hour bakery within walking distance from our hotel? I have had several of these and anticipate eating many, many more during the course of my stay here.

I am also in love with the architecture and sense of history in Sarajevo. This is a very, very old city with a rich history. However, it’s so authentic it almost seems unreal to me, like a movie set. Shady nooks and cobblestone lined paths lead to buildings that are hundreds of years old. Down one cobble stone street is a han some 500 years old, its ground floor currently occupied by cafes and shops. It looks like the setting of a scene from an India Jones movie. But it’s not. It’s the real deal. It existed hundreds of years before Hollywood dreamed up the iconic archaeologist. Head the other direction, and low and behold I’m in Vienna! Pastries everywhere. Did I mention the bakeries already?

The gondola has only just reopened and I was fortunate to be able to take it all the way to the top and visit the bobsled run from the 1984 Olympic Games held in Sarajevo. The view was incredible! And yet, it was impossible to take in the view without contemplating the siege. The view, beautiful as it is, also afforded snipers, hidden in the very hills below the gondola, and on top of the bobsled run, an unobstructed sight line into the city – and to its inhabitants. It is difficult to understand how the scene of an event designed to bring people together through sport could also provide the infrastructure for systematic killing of the civilian citizens of Sarajevo.

Contemplating the Olympics in Sarajevo is particularly poignant for me because it is entirely possible I watched the bobsled races that occurred here in 1984. Walking the run was therefore, surreal. Exciting to be on a structure I saw on television as a child, yet horrifying to know the way the structure’s purpose had been changed.

On our first day as we drove into the City from the airport I was quite mesmerized by the beauty of this place. And yet, I’m also struck by the fact that this landscape, lovely as it is for me to look at now, lent itself to something quite different and extraordinarily horrible during the siege from 1992-1995. The wooded area is amazingly close to the City, much closer than I had realized when reading about it. Standing on a hillside looking down into the City, I cannot help but wonder at how the people of Sarajevo survived for 3 years – and also to marvel at their resiliency.

And so it is, my initial impression is quite simply that Sarajevo is breathtaking in every sense of the word. Breathtaking beauty. Breathtaking scenery. Breathtaking desserts! But also, breathtaking sadness.


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