Sarajevo was the first city on our trip neither Peter nor I had visited before. We didn’t know what to expect or where to begin, except, thanks to our friends in Belgrade, what to eat (ćevapi, burek, kajmak…check, check, and check). Still, it didn’t take long for us to feel right at home—Sarajevo’s beauty, diversity, and relaxed attitude did the job almost instantly. Here are ten things we learned making a home in Sarajevo.
1. Sarajevo sits in a deep valley, so you don’t have to go far for great views of the city below. One of the best, with few tourists to boot, is at Žuta Tabija (Yellow Bastion). A close second with the addition of great food: at Kibe we had one of most memorable meals of our trip.
2. Burek means many things, but in Bosnia, burek is burek: layers of thin, flakey dough with a savory, spiced beef filling. Filled with cheese it’s called sirnica and with vegetables it’s zeljanica. For a quick breakfast, burek from the local pekara (bakery) will do nicely. But the best is at a buregdžinica, such as Buregdžinica Bosna in the old-town Baščaršija (see below), where even the locals go.
3. Football brings Bosnians together, at home or at bars like City Pub, and even if they beat Slovakia, you can’t help being moved by their unified joy. Everyone will feel the exact same way about the outcome of a national match whether it’s heartbreak or glee.
4. The best place for ćevapi, a Bosnian specialty of grilled beef meatballs, crispy pita bread, and raw onions is between the central bus and railway stations. Like most bus/train station eateries, Ćevabdžinica Zmaj is not out to impress anyone. Like much of Sarajevo, it just does without trying.
5. Vrelo Bosne, the spring of the river Bosna, is the most peaceful place in the city to have coffee and sit and contemplate the wonder and beauty of life.
6. Dairy products are different here. Kajmak is almost untranslatable—a cross between butter and cream cheese, though a local insisted I not call it cheese. Then there’s kiselo mlijeko (sour milk), which one usually drinks with ćevapi or other grilled foods. And don’t try burek without pavlaka, a thick, fatty sour cream. Just don’t call it yogurt or you’ll get funny looks.
7. Bosnians rarely drink tea, unless they’re sick. Which is why Sarajevo has very few ćajdžinicas (teahouses) in proportion to coffee houses and why our friend Beca, a local, was shocked when we wanted to meet at Ćajdzinica Džirlo, a cozy, friendly, Ottoman-style teahouse. It’s fun to know something the locals don’t.
8. Sarajevo is a little museum-challenged at the moment. The National Museum is closed for financial reasons for an indefinite period of time. It’s a sore subject for locals and the huge “Museum Closed” banner stretching across the front of the building adds salt to the wound on a daily basis. The Historical Museum, while providing a intensely detailed, heartbreaking account of the Siege, is in need of some actual historical objects to look at.
9. It’s impossible to spend too much time in Baščaršija, the old-town neighborhood of Sarajevo. We were enchanted by the cobbled bazaar streets lined with shops where craftsmen sit pounding designs into copper džezvas (Bosnian coffee pots) of all sizes, where worshipers wait outside Gazi Hursev-bey Mosque for the mid-day prayer, and locals sit outside cafes and chat, chain smoke and sip their Bosanska kahva for hours despite streams of tourists blocking their view.
10. We are glad we didn’t nap on the bus during our day trip to Mostar. We would have missed dropping our jaws, noses glued to the window as we passed the scenery through the Dinaric Alps along jade-green Neretva river—the world’s coldest at 7-8 degrees Celsius even in the summer.
We felt so at home in Sarajevo, in fact, that we vowed to return, even if just to spend another week sipping the Bosnian coffee, window shopping for crafts in Baščaršija, and lunching on bus station ćevapi.
Have you visited or made a home in Sarajevo? What stories do you have to share?