Saturday, 21 August 2010

Travel Advisory: Bosnia - Go there

I'm back from my training trip to Sarajevo.I used to go there two or three times a year as a trainer but this was my first trip for about five years and boy has the city of Sarajevo changed.

If anyone is looking for a decent holiday not too far away then I'd definitely recommend Sarajevo.

The city is divided into four municipalities officially, but for the tourist you can probably look at it as being the old quarter, the church and embassy quarter, and the rest.

The rest comprises lots of 'could be anywhere' architecture and bog standard hotels and facilities. The tourist attractions are few and far between and, if you are staying here, you're missing out.

The church and embassy bit is much more attractive. There's a heck of a lot of nice architecture, including some rather bizarre stuff. There is a huge mix of styles including a catholic seminary apparently modeled on St Mary Clement Methodist Chapel in Truro.

Of course, the 'point' of Sarajevo is that it's a huge melting pot for religions. It has even been described as the Jerusalem of Europe. There are a lot of mosques and minarets and, because we were there during Ramadan, a gun to mark the breaking of the fast each day. There are catholic churches and a cathedral in an apostolic style. There are also orthodox churches and an orthodox cathedral currently undergoing extensive internal refurbishment - but it is still magnificent.

Once you get into the old muslim quarter, you are in a very different type of society. This is where Sarajevans go for their evening stroll - the sort of 'see and be seen' walk common in Italy and elsewhere. It is also the home of cafe culture with lots of open air eating including coffee shops, cevapi houses, burek sellers and full on restaurants.

For the uninitiated, burek are rolled tubes of filo pastry with meat, egg or spinach and cheese fillings. They are sold by the kilo (which can lead to massive over-ordering) and usually consumed with yoghurt. Cevapi are most definitely NOT kebabs, despite the fact they consist of spiced meat sold in pitta bread.

If you eat out in Sarajevo, burek will cost about 8-10 kmarks per kilo (about two kmarks to the pound or Euro, the latter are accepted just about everywhere). A cevapi meal will set you back about 4 km and a decent meal in a restaurant will cost roughly 20 km with beers about 4km each - so prices are not extraordinarily cheap.

Tourism has increased markedly over the last five years. There are plenty of tour groups being shown the sights or Sarajevo, including the 'Sarajevo Roses' - shell holes which have been filled with red plastic to serve as a constant reminder of the civil war. Many buildings also have bullet holes.

Out of Sarajevo, there's a pretty good bus service and a train line running down to Mostar and Dubrovnic.

I would really recommend a trip to Sarajevo.

Pics (from top): Sarajevo city; riverside architecture; Catholic cathedral; the place where World War One started; burek; a Sarajevo rose; main market;

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