What to Do and See in Former War-Torn Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 6, 2019
One of the benefits of studying abroad in a European country is how easy it is to travel to other European countries. Sometimes, it can be way less expensive than traveling to other states in the United States!
When looking at cheap flights I could take during the weekend, I was happy to find a $35 flight through Wizzair! However, it was to a country I had only heard about in my ninth grade history class – Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I was hesitant booking the flight at first since it was such an unconventional country to travel to. Instantly, I changed my mind and booked the flight since I thought about how this might be my only opportunity to see the country. And anyway, who wants to deal with annoying tourists crowding the streets with their selfie sticks when you could see how a country has recovered from a war that wasn’t too long ago?
When I arrived, I was shocked at how small the Sarajevo International Airport was. I was expecting long corridors and stands for overpriced snacks but instead, after a five minute trip through passport control, I was quickly guided to the front of the airport. As soon as I arrived to a suburb close to my host’s apartment thanks to the Dobrinja Skola B bus located about 15 minutes away from the airport by foot, I spent almost an hour confusingly wandering the streets trying to find exactly where my host’s apartment was until I finally found it behind other apartment buildings.
Cevapi and the Spring of the Bosna River
After entering the apartment, my host offered me to try some cevapi, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national dish. I was hesitant since I usually don’t like sausage but I decided to try it out anyway. And now, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! It consists of flatbread, sausage, onions, and sour cream. Since the other flavors combine together, the taste of sausage isn’t as strong. So for those of you who don’t like sausage, don’t worry, you’ll probably like this dish!
After eating, my host took me to walk with her to the Spring of the Bosna River, the third longest river in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Walking there was such a gorgeous experience. We were surrounded by horse-drawn carriages transporting locals and tourists to the river and lanterns guiding our way in the evening. When we arrived, I instantly felt calm since I saw lush green mountains in front of me and the buddings of pink blossoms on an island of trees in the middle of the water with swans slowly floating around. I would highly recommend visiting this place if you like nature.
Complete Sarajevo War Tour
The following day, I woke up at 8 AM for a packed day since I signed up to do the Complete Sarajevo War Tour through the tourist agency Toorico Tours. Luckily, another man who signed up for the tour on the same day cancelled last minute so I got a personal tour! I saw the Tunnel Museum, the old Jewish Cemetery, the abandoned bobsled track on Mt. Trebevic, and the Olympic Podium and Hotel Igman on Mt. Igman only for 33 euros, which also included a lunch and snacks. I highly recommend getting a tour through this agency since there was a lot to see and since Ervin (the tour guide) has a great sense of sarcastic humor.
My favorite part of the tour was visiting Hotel Igman. It was designed by architect Ahmed Dzuvic in the early 1980s and was built for visitors planning to attend the 1984 Winter Olympics. During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992-1996, it was destroyed. Today, it is used for paintball practice. It was really interesting to walk through the ruins of a hotel that once resembled unity in remembrance of the Olympics but was ironically destroyed due to a war which divided the population.
After the tour ended, I decided to walk to the War Childhood Museum. This museum is not for the light of heart! It described the Bosnian and Syrian Wars through the eyes of children. One of my favorite exhibits was when a girl wrote about how she was inspired to learn as much schoolwork as possible even when she was living in a basement with her personal chalkboard damaged by shrapnel. Her persistence is a reminder that students living in countries unaffected by war have no excuses when complaining about school.
I also stopped by Galerija 11/07/1995. This museum gave an in-depth historical analysis about the Bosnian War and how nonprofits handled telling families and friends about their dead loved ones. I only went for one day for a couple hours but I recommend coming for two days since there’s a lot to cover. Luckily, the ticket you buy at the museum covers admission for two days so you don’t need to worry about buying a new one.
Sadly, the quality of life (salaries, employment opportunities, etc.) is low for Bosnians. The unemployment rate, according to Trading Economics, is 34% and the average salary per month, according to the same source, is 1,397 BAM ($796.48 USD). Hence, tourism could help certain segments of the population have more opportunities. So make sure to visit it soon!
I was told by my host that some tourists believe Bosnia and Herzegovina is still in war but let me assure you, it’s most definitely not. I even felt safe walking around by myself at night. The only time when there was suspicious activity was when police officers were patrolling a bus station looking to see if passengers had drugs on them.
However, if you’re openly gay, I would warn against showing public displays of affections since Bosnians are unfortunately discriminatory towards the LGBT community.
Overall, Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the most interesting countries I visited because of the spirit of its resilient people, its natural beauty, and its portals into the past.