So last year (in April 2019), I was in Bosnia & Herzegovina for two weeks, mostly Tuzla, but I did a weekend in the capital city of Sarajevo.
It was all planned at the last minute, which is really unlike me, as that makes me anxious, but I had local friends in Tuzla helping me. One of them drove me to the Tuzla bus station and I caught a bus from Tuzla to Sarajevo on a Saturday morning. It was a 3 hour bus trip but with a window seat and music in my ear, it went by fairly quickly.
Funny story (or maybe not so funny, depends on how you look at it)… at the bus station in Tuzla, while I was buying my return bus ticket, I was mistaken for a Syrian refugee by the local police. Luckily, my local friend explained I was travelling from Australia, as I awkwardly showed my Aussie passport.
Prior to leaving for the bus station, I booked accommodation for one night at Garni Hotel Konak in Sarajevo. The hotel staff made my weekend trip so much easier for me, they were absolutely lovely! They picked me up from the bus station when I arrived at Sarajevo, and dropped me off when I had to go back to Tuzla. They even translated/spoke to bus station staff for me and walked me all the way to my platform. They were amazing!
I had booked the last room in this hotel. It was an attic and it was soooo cute! There was a window on the ceiling but the blinds wouldn’t close. The staff did everything they could to fix it and apologised profusely but I was totally fine with it. I was glad they were able to fix it before I went to bed!
They also gave me a city map of Sarajevo and circled all the places worth visiting in a short space of time. I really wanted to go to Mostar, and they would have driven me but due to time constraints, we couldn’t make it happen. This is why I should have planned ahead! I guess I have an excuse to go back.
On Saturday night, I wandered around the old town, walked along the river, zig-zagging across different bridges. It was all delightful and charming. The only downside was, the moment I took my camera out to take photos, I was immediately approached by someone (presumably a local), for money. This happens in many major cities in Europe, so I was not surpirsed. But I was reluctant to take my camera out again. I ended the night with Borek for dinner then went back to my hotel.
I remember at the time, I didn’t have the energy to have a jam-packed weekend. All I had with me was a backpack with my essentials, some clothes and my camera. I checked out early on Sunday morning, I had to carry everything with me, and I didn’t want to do anything intense. So I chose to go on the Sarajevska žičara (cable cart).
Before checking-out though, I had breakfast in the hotel, literally stuffing my face with jam sandwiches so I didn’t have to spend more money (#budgettravel). There was only one other woman also having breakfast. She had heard my accent while speaking to the staff and approached me. Turned out she was also Australian (us Aussies travel everywhere lol). Her name was Sandra. We had a good chat over breakfast, discussing random things about our lives, our stories, and what led us to that very moment where we crossed paths. I ended up inviting Sandra to join me on the žičara.
The žičara itself is pretty cool. Very similar to other cable carts, offering stunning views from up above. But I never get over these types of things. It always feels somewhat new to me. Getting there though can be a bit tricky. You have to walk a few blocks through what appears to be a residential area. I can’t say there are many signs but there are a couple that will direct you to the entrance. It’s also uphill so be ready for a workout. As you’d expect, you buy your ticket, either one way or return, and I recommend taking cash, as their EFTPOS and ATM was down at the time. Sandra didn’t have Bosnian Marks on her and I didn’t have enough cash to cover both of us. She had to go all the way back down to the city centre to get cash. So I continued on my own, in the cable cart, to the top.
I think I sat at the top of the mountain on my own, staring out at the city, for roughly 40 minutes before Sandra arrived. It was really peaceful up there. Not too many tourists. But it was April, so it was a little chilly and not quite tourist season yet. I don’t know how I can just sit in one place and do nothing but observe my surroundings. But I spend a lot of time doing just that when I travel. I think it’s because my daily life at work and at home is always busy and something is always happening. So when I find myself in a foreign country, at the top of a mountain, I tune out and blend in with my surroundings.
When Sandra eventually arrived, she sat with me and we continued to chat before wandering around to explore the park. There were several bomb shelters up there, that was my main takeaway from being up there (other than the stunning views). In Sarajevo in general, there are a lot of reminders of the war, from memorials, to building that never got restored, and bullet holes in buildings. I wouldn’t say these things define the city. They’re just noticeable.
You have the option of walking up and/or down the mountain instead of using the cable cart. Since we both bought a return ticket, we took the cable cart back down to the city. Sandra wasn’t too interested in being in photos so kindly played photographer for me and took a few photos of me in the city, which was cool. After more city wandering, admiring the different religious landmarks – churches, synagogues and mosques all together in the city, we had Trdelník for lunch – my favourite sweet pastry in Europe but not overly nutritious for lunch, then made our way back to the hotel. She was sticking around but I had to catch my bus back to Tuzla.
That weekend in Sarajevo was the first leisurely trip I’d had in 9 months (that’s a big gap for me). It was a strange weekend of remembering who I am when I’m travelling alone, but also realising how far I’d come in being a confident solo traveller.