Friday, 27 May 2011

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Getting from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia was not a pleasant experience.  At all.

I took a bus from one capital to the other.  There is no other way to describe this trip but "horrific."

 House of horrors.

To begin, it was wickedly hot.  I asked the assistant driver if he would open the window on the ceiling.  He obliged, but would only crack the window a couple of inches.  This did not provide substantial ventilation but, I reasoned, a few molecules of fresh air is better than nothing!   

I had a searing headache, but did not want to drink any water because there was no bathroom onboard.

Furthermore, I was seated next to a rather rotund woman who poured over into my seat, taking up approximately 1/3 of my personal space.

 Rotund woman at rest.

The speakers directly above my head were blasting a nightmarish mix of emo and polka.  Yeah, I did not think that combination was possible, either.  Until yesterday.  The noise was so discordant that I put on my IPOD and blasted Bruce Springsteen until it felt like my ear drums were bleeding.

As the hours passed, I started to feel like I was going to vomit.  Just when I thought that things could not get any worse, the rather rotund woman to my left opened her purse and removed...drum roll...a sausage sandwich.

At that moment, the assistant driver, who was standing in the middle of the aisle and facing away from me, reached one pudgy arm skyward and closed the window on the ceiling.

  Me, moments after the sausage sandwich was unveiled.

I have no idea why this man had such an aversion to fresh air!  I started to fantasize about all of the ways that I could hurt and disable him...

Operation Fresh Air was as follows: 

I get out of my seat, walk up to the assistant driver and tap him on the shoulder.  When he turns around to face me, I puke all over his face.  The moment he starts to wipe my vomit from his eyes, I knee him in the groin.  This disables him enough for me to reach around his fat body and place him in the sleeper chokehold.

After he passes out on the floor of the bus in a pool of my vomit, I reach up and open the ceiling window.

Then, I walk casually back to my seat.  I grab the sausage sandwich from the hands of the speechless woman to my left and heave it down the aisle.

I put my IPOD back on and go to sleep.

A famous fountain in the center of Sarajevo.

Am I back in Bucharest, Romania?

I seriously entertained Operation Fresh Air but, ultimately, decided that the cons outweighed the pros.  Cons like fines, ending up in a Bosnian prison, and having to delay (or forgo) graduate school.

I reached Sarajevo as it was getting dark.  I was in such a foul mood that I paid a taxi driver 10 Euros to take me straight to my hostel (instead of navigating the city tram, trolley and bus network for cheaper).  I arrived at my hostel only to find it locked.  Guess the management were off to dinner...

When the management returned 45 minutes later, I checked in and went straight to bed, repeating over and over the mantra, "Tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day, tomorrow is going to be a better day..." as I passed out.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand happened on this street in Sarajevo, an event that is said to have precipitated World War I.


Lucky for me, today has been a better day, in part because of Turkish coffee. 

The Ottoman Empire once controlled this area, and Turkish influence is still felt in Sarajevo.  This bodes well with me, as Turkey has, hands down, the best food of any country I have visited on the trip.

Turkish coffee consists of hot water poured over raw grounds.  The grounds form a thick sludge on the bottom of the cup and the coffee has a strong, grainy taste.  Sugar cubes are served separately.  It is customary to eat the sugar cubes by themselves, instead of putting them into the coffee.

This morning, I let myself get lost in Sarajevo.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that getting lost is what I like to do in every city.  I wholeheartedly believe it is the best way to get to know a place.

Today, while lost, I stumbled upon a sobering memorial in Sarajevo to the victims of the Bosnian War (April 1992 to December 1995).  It is a graveyard, in fact.

I lost myself in this graveyard for a good hour.  It was one of the most emotionally-charged moments of the trip.

Here are some pictures of the graveyard:

For those who are a little rusty with their history here is a brief low-down of the conflict:

The Bosnian War came about as a result of the breakdown of Yugoslavia.

After Slovenia and Croatia seceeded from Yugoslavia in 1991, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a referendum for independence.  At the time, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was inhabitated by Muslim Bosniaks (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%).

Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum and established their own republic, the Republic Srpska.  Hoping to add more territory to the Republic Srpska, Bosnian Serb forces, along with Serbia and the Yugoslav Peoples Army, attacked the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

War broke out.

During the conflict that ensued, Sarajevo was completely surrounded and blockaded by Serb forces.  These Serb forces killed non-Serb civilians in Sarajevo as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.  It is estimated that 10,000 people were killed or went missing in Sarajevo during the siege.

With NATO intervention, a ceasefire was reached in October 1995.  In December 1995, the Dayton Agreement led to stabilization in the country.

After the war, two Serb generals were tried and convicted as war criminals.

It is hard to come to Sarajevo without being profoundly affected by the aftermath of the Bosnian War.

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