Welcome to Sarajevo

Sarajevo on the afternoon of Thursday 18 June and I am walking from the old town to the Olympic Stadium where the Sarajevo Beer Festival is being held from this evening. In the original plan I was not here for the beer – although now the organisers have invited me to be a guest, I guess I am now.

Music on the report    
Mostar Sevdah Reunion Cudna Jada Od Mostara Grada Kings of Savdah
Amira Medunjanin More izgrejala sjajna mesecina Damir
Božo Vreco Jelence  Single
Kojoti Evolucija Ide U Pogrešnom Smjeru Sve Je Pod Kontrolom
Damir Imamovic Razbolje Se Lijepa Hajrija  Sevdah Takht
Mostar Sevdah Reunion Grana od Bora Kings of Savdah

The reasons I came were first to see Mostar Sevdah Reunion play and second to visit this city.

It’s warm

I arrived last night, and it was warm. It has just gone 2:00 in the afternoon and the temperature is around 30C – I left behind a 10C damp Belfast yesterday and have stepped into the oven. Sarajevo is a beautiful place.
My main reason for coming here is to see Mostar Sevdah Reunion a band that I have enjoyed for the last few years since I discovered the Kings of Sevdah album. But I have wanted to see the city itself for many years. When I was living in Slovenia, I booked a trip in early January. It wasn’t until afterwards I looked at the web-cams and saw people struggling through knee high snow. I cancelled. But this – even though I’ve been here for less than 24 hours – is already way beyond my expectations.

The Derag Doom of Bosnia

When trying to explain to friends who Mostar Sevdah Reunion are, I say the are the Bosnian equivalent of Horslips. The this is their Derag Doom:

The ride into town

Sarajevo is like many other southern European cities. It’s in the Balkans and like Ljubljana in Slovenia (arguably not in the Balkans) or Zagreb in Croatia, the way into the city is via a very wide road three lanes on each side separated by a wide area of grass or trees. The road into the city in lined with high rise apartment buildings giving way to expensive hotels. My taxi driver talks about her daughters who are moving away from the country – the eldest heading for Paris or London. She talks in passing about the war and a hotel where “bad people stay”. “And that bridge is where Franz Ferdinand was shot.”

I’m only here for the music

I’m here for the music I tell her and mention a few artists – among them Amira Medunjanin.

Dark Tourism

The Earth revolves around the sun, but for the last 105 years, the western world has revolved around this very spot. On the 28 June 1914 here in Sarajevo, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were ambushed and mortally wounded by Gavrilo Princip.

While there were many causes of the first world war, this event was the spark. It easy – perhaps fatuous to draw a line from WW1 leading to WW2, the formation of Yugoslavia, the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union and collapse of Yugoslavia (which was neither an ally of or aligned to Russia) the Bosnian war and the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.

Dark Tourism has become a thing. It has probably always been with us – going to visit places where terrible things have happened whether that is Pompeii or Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.

I write this blog in Northern Ireland where the people who work in tourism and tourist managers in Belfast reject the term “dark tourism”. There is plenty here ranging from the murals around the city, to places where political turmoil resulted in deaths and injury. And what about The Titanic centre? Is that dark tourism? Maybe we all need a better phrase.

I’m not here for the dark history of Sarajevo – although it’s easily found, from this museum marking the spot where Archduke Ferdinand was murdered or the Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide.

These opportunities to witness and remember are important.

But this time I’m here for the music.

A friend who knows this place well told me that Sarajevo is a sad place. I’ve not found that the case. People will talk about their lives in the war here, but I’m experiencing a very positive atmosphere. A popular place with great food and tiny bars and restaurants. I like Sarajevo.

An evening promenade in the Old Town

Thursday evening just as the sun is going down. I’m sitting outside a tiny bar La Cava. The old town is busy. Yes there are tourists, but there are a lot of locals here too at the restaurants and bars. The ice-cream shops are popular too especially with the young Muslims. There are lots of young people out. And they are dressed to the nines. Not so much the young men – they are tidy and well pressed. The young women are all glamorous some tottering on sparkly high heel shoes  as they step over cobbles and not quite finished footpaths.

Sarajevo Old Town

Sarajevo Old Town

The young women who dress in a more traditional Islamic fashion wear colourful scarves and jackets – some preferring more sensible trainers to high fashion shoes. And the young people mix. Three girls over there – two in Islamic dress and the third in a punk t-shirt, jeans and what could pass as DMs.

And I was wondering … “Where are they all going?” And as another trio of friends pass by me again, I realise, this is where they are going. This is Thursday evening in the summer in the old town. It not a place to pass through on your way to somewhere else, This is the venue for all this glamour.   This is where you come to be seen.

 

Sebilj

Sebilj Landmark wooden fountain built in the 18th century & resembling an ornate kiosk.

 

 

 

Saturday morning in Sevdah Cafe

Sevdah Cafe

Sevdah Cafe

I start Saturday morning back in the Old Town at the Sevdah Cafe. It is part of an art house of sevdah music and culture in a 4 or 5 hundred year old merchants’ store.

So what is Sevdah? Sevdalinka is from Bosnia and Herzegovina but is spread all over the Balkans. It’s a European music with a eastern dimension to it. It is from, and summons, melancholy. The black bile as it was once known.

The museum has artifacts from important Sevdah musicians and here i the coffee house paintings on Bosnian landscapes and old music is playing. There is Bosnian coffee on offer, – like Turkish coffee, probably identical to Turkish coffee. But it’s too warm for that and I sit sipping a fresh blueberry fruit juice.

 

The Sarajevo Beer Festival and Mostar Sevdah Reunion

This then is what we are here for. Saturday night in Sarajevo.

Saturday 15 June has been hot. The walk from the hotel even at 6:00 in the evening was hot. The sun still strong and the road and buildings radiating the energy they had stored through the day. Up past the Christian graveyard, then past the Muslim graveyard, toward the Olympic stadium and here to see Mostar Sevdah Reunion. 

Conveniently, they are on the bill at the Sarajevo Beer Festival, I’m well past stand up gigs, so a half litre of Tomislav – tastes very strong (it was: 7.3 ABV), a rather good burger –  all together about £4 and music from one of my favourite bands.

The 6:00 taxi to the airport tomorrow is less than 12 hours away. Time to enjoy.

 

Thanks to Mostar Sevdah Reunion for a great evening and for the invitation backstage. Thanks also to Aleksandra Kostic and Milan Kostic of the Sarajevo Beer Festival for their invitation to be their guests
 

I stayed:

Hotel Old Town
Curciluk Mali 11A, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia and Herzegovina [Map]

Because of short notice change to travel arrangements, I booked this hotel (based on location and price) for the first night of 4. I had no expectations at all. But it turned out to be superb. Yes, small, buy very comfortable. It was extremely clean and the (one member of) staff I met could not have been more helpful

As I left I told reception I was sorry that I could only spend one night.

My room faced the Gazi Husrev-beg’s Mosque which was gently illuminated all night. This was the view from my window.

Gazi Husrev-beg's Mosque

Gazi Husrev-beg’s Mosque

Hotel Colors Inn
Kosevo 8, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia and Herzegovina [Map]

This hotel has everything a tired traveller needs. It is compact rather than small, The staff are outstanding in their friendliness and efficiency. The position is goon in relation to the main town (close by) and the Old Town (about 20 minute walk). And the breakfast! Oh the breakfast.

The hotel was clean as if it were just opened, The air con was excellent (and very quite). The bed was very comfortable.

English is spoken like a first language by the staff (and widely spoken in the town).

There is literally nothing I did not like. I would have liked there to be a bar, although I was directed to an excellent bar/cafe a few steps away. Also – and this is increasingly important these days – as it is difficult to travel through airports with toothpaste, deodorant and sun cream, a chemist next door (literally – they share the same building) was a bonus.

Getting There

Getting to Sarajevo is neither easy nor cheap, although I did get a great deal through on the Net.I flew Dublin to Istanbul then Sarajevo. WARNING Istanbul’s new airport is MASSIVE. 

To and from the hotels was private shuttle – a bus would be significantly less expensive. The 10 – 12 minute drive from Colors Inn to the airport on the way home was €17. Not really worth it.

 

My new old friends!