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Workin the World The 4 month trip that lasted 5 years .. all the adventures from Workers final year o/s and the trip back to Oz.

Miss Sarajevo

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA | Sunday, 2 September 2007 | Views [2569]

Ever had to rebuild your house because it was shelled to the ground? Or perhaps, in order to avoid snipers, you were required to hide behind a tank to cross the street? No? Well thank your lucky stars because for just over 3 years this was life in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), in particular Sarajevo, home to the 1984 Winter Olympics and the longest siege of a city in any modern conflict.

To make our way to B&H we caught a bus from Split to Mostar, along the type of coastal road you dream about; were it not for the break-neck speed, 1.5 metre road width and passing semi’s. Driving atop huge cliffs that plunge into the sea and through tiny fishing villages, the road from Croatia to Bosnia belies the war that raged through this region just over a decade ago. I can vaguely recall the conflict in the Balkans, however, I was just finishing high school at the time and a war being fought over the other side of the world, one we were not involved in, didn’t really register. In fact the only 3 things I could remember were:

1)    Our science teacher, a very quiet spoken and lovely, yet rather huge Serbian, being caught on television at a soccer match belting the life out of a Croatian
2)    The story of the 500 year old bridge in Mostar being destroyed. Purely because it amazed me that men were still diving off it whilst war was going on
3)    The U2 song Miss Sarajevo, which came out long into the siege of the city

After entering B&H, you are struck by the beauty of the landscape and, sadly, the number of shelled, empty houses and cemeteries dotted along the mountains, where various massacres took place.

Mostar is a picturesque, if rather unique, city. Divided by the Neretva river Muslims reside on one side, Christians on the other, it is these religious differences, amongst others, which lead to the conflict that virtually levelled the city.

The main road through town, in fact all transport links, are on the Muslim side of the river, which is no big deal, however, it is a little unsettling to arrive in a town where every wall is full of bullet marks and many of the buildings have gaping shell holes. Upon arriving at the bus station we were accosted by Damian, a local 19yo who offered us a new, air conditioned room in his hostel for just €10 a night per person, so we took it without much hesitation as I really had no desire to wander the streets trying to find an alternative. As it turned out the room was pretty good, sure ‘air-conditioning’ meant a fan in the corner and open window, but it was clean, safe and his mother even brought us up some coffee on a tray, so how could we not trust him?

After dropping our bags we made our way past the bombed out mosk to the Muslim old town and the Mostar bridge. A cobbled street, lined with vendors selling everything from shish pipes and Turkish tea-set’s to local art and war memorabilia (ever wanted a pistol oiler, or perhaps your very own ammunition belt?), winds its way through the old town to the famous bridge. So long the symbol of Mostar, the bridge fell into the river as a result of shelling in 1993, now rebuilt and standing 27m above the river, young men continue the centuries old tradition of jumping into the very shallow river below, if you are willing to part with the €25 they charge for your viewing pleasure. The rebuilding of the bridge, however, has been done perfectly, in fact if it didn’t look so clean you would swear it was the original, in fact most of Mostar continues to undergo rebuilding work to put together what was once a most beautiful old town.

After a night in Mostar, with great food eaten on the river, overlooking the beautifully lit Bridge, we caught the train up to Sarajevo. The track runs along the Naranta River, cutting through deep gorges and up mountain scenery that is nothing short of spectacular. That is until you get closer to Sarajevo and pass by grave site after grave site.

Sarajevo itself is a beautiful city and it would be even more so, if a lot of it wasn’t still showing signs of the siege that took place there at the beginning of the 1990’s. Now, as many of you know, I hate to put forward my own opinions on world events, however, I was both shocked and appalled at what I discovered transpired in Sarajevo, whilst the rest of the world sat by and largely watched. For those of you who are not aware of what happened, here is a quick Worker run down:

1 – Yugoslavia fell apart
2 – The former Yugoslav states scrambled for independence
3 – Bosnia & Herzegovina declared their own independence with elections – the Serbian party was one of 3 sharing power
4 – The Serbian Government wanted to retain a Yugoslav state, with political power based in Serbia
5 – Serbian forces cut Sarajevo off from the rest of the world, including water, food, electricity and communications, whilst sitting in the hills surrounding the city, pelting it with shells and sniper fire. For 3 years!!!

Sarajevo has played a fairly significant part in world history over the past 100 years. It was the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, leading to World War 1, and it was the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics, however, you need to be careful in the mountains now because they were heavily mined by the retreating Serbian forces.

Having said all this, Sarajevo is an amazing city and one I would highly recommend people visit, not only to get the wakeup call that seeing the horrors of war provides, but to meet the locals. The Sarajevons are some of the loveliest people I have met in Europe, which is even more surprising when you thing that every person in this town would have lost someone as a result of the war. Everyone is smiling, the food is amazing and it is all so cheap! In fact they are so nice that, after I had lost my sunglasses in the river, a nice local fisherman managed to land them for me the next day when we went back to see if they were still there!

The tourism industry is still really taking off here, so we stayed at Mickey’s hostel and by hostel I mean lounge room with a bed in it, but don’t let this put you off, there are some must sees:

- The History Museum – this gives the run down of the war, complete with pictures and interesting facts. For example the only factory, which kept running throughout, was the cigarette factory. You also see pictures of people doing the dash: The dash is what crossing the road was called, you hid behind an armoured tank on one side and when given the go, sprinted to hide behind another tank trying to avoid the snipers
- The local brewery – this has been done up sensationally, all dark wood and gold, with beers at just on £1 this is a must to stop in for a nice afternoon of the local drop
- Turkish old town – the heart of the city is like a Turkish Bazaar, with shops everywhere selling tea-sets and other Turkish items, it is almost like you are in Istanbul.
- The Travelodge – the place made famous by the press during the war, it borders sniper alley. Complete with bullet ridden Olympic logo out the front, it is definitely worth stopping in for a beer here

Even if you just spend your days sitting around doing nothing but appreciating the fact you are now able to do exactly that, Sarajevo is one of the most amazing, moving, cities I have been to. I know the song miss Sarajevo will never be the same for me again.

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