Morning in the Bascarjia
Many of Sarajevo’s most famous sites are located a stone’s throw from one another in the Bascarjia – Sarajevo’s Old Town – including the Cathedral of Jesus’s Sacred Heart, Ashenazi Synagogue, the Congregational Church of the Holy Mother, and Gazi Husrev Bey’s Mosque. Morning is the perfect time to explore the Old Town’s cobblestone, pedestrian-only lanes. Along Copper Street, shopkeepers will be opening stalls filled with turkish coffee sets, handmade onsite out of copper and silver. As the sound of craftsmen’s hammers, ringing church bells, and the scent of Turkish coffee fills the air, you will feel transported back to the early 15th century when construction of the Bascarjia began under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Breakfast time in Bosnia means one thing: pita. Sarajevo’s streets are filled with burekdzinice, small bakeries dedicated to selling the delicious stuffed phylo pastries that are popular through out the Balkans. Pita is ordered by the gram and is typically washed down with a takeaway container of yoghurt. The most popular types of burek are eljanica (stuffed with spinach and cheese), krompiruša (potato), burek (ground meat), and sirnica (cheese). In the Old Town, head to Ahmo Burekdzinice or Sac Burekdzinice, both located just steps away from the famous Sebilj fountain . No matter what burekdzinice you end up at, you’re in for a filling treat.
Take a Tour
In Sarajevo you live and breath history, from the Bascarjia’s fifteenth century houses of worship to the bullet grazed buildings lining the city’s hilly side streets. A small handful of tour companies in Sarajevo offer “Sarajevo Siege Tours” so that visitors can hear first hand accounts from local guides who lived in Sarajevo throughout the Balkan War, while visiting landmarks out of reach by public transport, including the War Tunnel Museum and the Trebević hillside region. These tours are worth the small splurge: group sizes are typically limited to eight people or less, guides are enthusiastic and eager to share their stories and answer questions. Two companies worth checking out are Sarajevo Funky Tours, who offer a four hour “Sarajevo Siege Tour” twice daily except on Sundays – for 20 euros (excluding the ten euro museum fee) or Sarajevo Insider, who run a daily three hour “Times of Misfortune Tour” except on Sundays for 27 euros (including the ten euro museum fee).
Sarajevo’s museums are small, and a morning would suffice to visit two or three popular spots, including the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sarajevo City Museum, and the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Museum entrance fees range from 4 to 10 DM.
Art history buffs might prefer to skip the museums altogether and head to Center Skenderija on Terezije Street, an underground shopping mall in desperate need of revitalization, and in the meantime the current home to Sarajevo’s contemporary art scene. Tucked away among corridors lined with nail salons and archaic garment shops are galleries including Charlama Depot and the Collegium Artisticum. Located next door to Skenderija is the Ars Aevi Depot, which will house the Ars Aevi collection of world class contemporary art until construction of the permanent building – designed by Renzo Piano – is completed. The Depot was designed by Bosnian architect Amir Vuk to resemble a large wooden crate and includes works varying from performance artist Marina Abromovitch to Bosnian collage artist Jusuf Hadžifejzovic. The art galleries do not have entrance fees.
Spend the afternoon outdoors at Vrelo Bosne Park (Spring of Bosna), a large park located twelve kilometers from Sarajevo’s city center. To get there take tram #2 to Ilidza, the last stop on the line. The entry to the park is a five minute walk from the station, past a block of bars and cafes and a across a small pedestrian bridge. A beautiful 3 kilometer treelined avenue leads up to the park. If the thirty minute walk is too much to handle, you’re in luck: settle into a horse drawn carriage for 15 euro. Inside the park wander along one of the many lake front paths or settle into a bench and watch the famous Vrelo Bosne bubble out from under a forested hill. The park has a playground, food stalls, and two cafes where you can enjoy a snack or late lunch.
Sarajevo’s turn hosting the Winter Olympics in 1984 left a strong stamp on the city’s skyline. Olympic Hall Zetra, which housed ice hockey and figure skating during the Games and then suffered substantial damages during the Balkan War in the 90s, and the Sarajevo Olympic Museum are both located on Kosevo Street and worth the thirty minute walk (or five minute taxi ride). Take the tram back towards the Old Town and exit at the intersection of Alipasina Street and Marsala Tita. Hail a cab or walk north up Kosevo Street. Along the way you will pass the Orthodox graveyard where a large tombstone pays tribute to the burial site of Gavril Princip and five other revolutionaries arrested following Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Several blocks ahead is the Zetra Olympic Center, now used for local sporting and civic events. Located next to the Center is the small Sarajevo Olympic Museum – the original Olympic Museum was bombed during the War (no entrance fee), or walk north of the Zetra for a great view of Sarajevo, the perfect place to take a few photos of the city.
Head back to the Old Town, where as the sunsets, the narrow streets fill with well dressed locals and camera totting tourists seeking their watering-hole of choice from the numerous bars, pubs, and sidewalk cafes. Zelenih Beretki Street is home to popular spots including City Lounge Bar and the Viennese Café in Hotel Europe. When the world renowned Sarajevo Film Festival takes over the city in July, then the best seats in the city are patio-side on Obala Kulina Bana street, where you can watch stars walk the red carpet at the National Theatre. During Jazz Fest Sarajevo in November, catch a performance and quaff a pint at the Bosnian Culture Centre on Branilaca Street.
Photo credits: CJ, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.