We didn’t even know we were going to Sarajevo until we started looking over maps in Croatia and a route through Bosnia and Serbia stood out as the path for us. As we cycled the last 15 kilometres from Camp Oaza in Ilidza to the city, we planned to stay in Sarajevo for a maximum of three days before heading for the Serbian border. A week later we managed to extract ourselves from Amin’s hospitality, tearing ourselves away from a city where we could have easily sat out a few months of our lives.
We turned up at Amin’s bike rental shop with a scrap of information about him, having been given his details by someone we had contacted through warm showers who was no longer in the city. Amin and his friend Luka weren’t fazed by our midday arrival, but apologised that they were about to set out on a road trip for the day. So we locked our bikes and possessions in the shop and promised to meet them there later in the afternoon.
Our first impressions of Sarajevo old town without the cumbersomeness of wheeling touring bikes around was agreeable enough. The streets were alive with throngs of people dressed casually cool, you could see Turkish influences up against western culture, there were chess games being played, the call of prayer coming from the many mosques and cultural events advertised everywhere. I got a new haircut, we ate lunch outside a church watching children playing a ball game, ate ice cream and then returned to the shop. While waiting on the step outside we were joined by Sumuja, a friend of Luka’s. She jokingly cursed both Amin and Luka for never being open, but stopped for an hour or so to keep us company. The first Bosnian we had a chance to have a lengthy chat with, she was a human rights law student and Flight of the Concords fan and the first of many Sarajevo residents who spent some time with us.
Amin had a spare space in his apartment block which had been fitted out for retail, giving us an enormous space to work on bicycles, dry out the tent and making our sleeping mats look comically miniscule. We also had his and hers sinks and toilets. Upstairs in his studio apartment he had a tiny kitten called Tiger who we played with endlessly, watched sleep and carried to and from the shop across town. We intended to see more of the city but our computer broke, chores took longer than expected and we found it as fulfilling sitting outside the shop talking to those passing by as wandering the city itself. The one exhibition we made a point of seeing was called “Sarajevo under Siege” which added background to the stories of war time which we heard from some of the people that we met.
Amin introduced us to his friends which included a large English speaking community. We went to a traditional music evening full of people our age drinking and discussing, to an expat Australian’s house party, and spent evenings in watching movies and trading YouTube clips at Amin’s flat. We were lucky to be in town during the Sarajevo Film festival where beds are scarce and managed to watch two festival movies before we left. The whole time we felt like we had been reintroduced to society after a long period of withdrawal.
One morning we all struggled out of bed early and Amin took us for a bike ride up into the hills around the town where we looked back towards the city, riding alongside the river before heading up into the steep hills. Amin told us he used to do a similar ride before university lectures every day. On our last afternoon we walked up into the hills again, to watch a downtown downhill bike race which traced the edge of several graveyards filled with war casualties. The people we were walking with explained that there were old graves that these graveyards were built over. They also pointed out the new houses, saying it was a shame that they were allowed to build modern buildings which they thought ruined the view. Despite all of this we thought it was an amazing city to look down at.
On our last evening in Sarajevo we walked around the city in a light drizzle, ending up at the fountain in Sebilj square. It is believed that if you drink the water from this fountain you will return. It had been a freezing cold day which felt like winter was drawing in already. With thoughts of a return visit, we drank.
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route map for this post
The map below shows the waypoints for this blog post. To view the details of our trip to date take a look at our complete route map.