A May 2003 trip
to Sarajevo by billmoy
Quote: Sarajevo, the capital of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics. While the city suffered greatly during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, it is slowly coming back as a vibrant city to be seen and experienced.
History buffs will want to look for the riverside spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, an event that sparked the beginning of World War I. More modern history envelops you with many structures that have been bullet-ridden or otherwise damaged by wartime actions. Note the bombed-out shell of the high-rise Parliament Building, located across the way from the Holiday Inn along "Sniper's Alley," the road that leads from the airport into town.
The Turkish quarter (Bascarsija) is a colorful district, oozing "Oriental" atmosphere. The area has cobblestone streets, and layers of rooftops that belong to many shops and good restaurants.
The dimly lit Tourist Information Center located at Zelenik Beretki 22A has a few brochures and maps that are useful and interesting. The staff is helpful with doling out directions and information. There are also a few things for sale, including the fascinating "Survival Map" that is a cartoon poster depicting the layout of Sarajevo during the war.
There are limited train connections to Sarajevo, but I did wind up taking a night train from Sarajevo to Budapest. It is a shame that there are so few trains, as the largely deserted central station looks like it could handle quite a few more runs. Bus connections are more frequent, with daily trips to Mostar for instance. Buses also depart regularly to cities in Germany and Croatia.
Thanks to honorary war correspondent Marius Ronnett for contributing some of his evocative photos of Sarajevo.
It is a fairly short walk from the central train and bus stations. The hotel can be reached along a diagonal street that is best to be avoided at night thanks to a collection of locals still suffering from the aftershocks of war. In the daytime, it is best to avoid staring at the ghastly yellow and brown colors of the hotel's exterior. The driveway area, demarcated with a fountain, gives a cosmopolitan feel to the property. The outdoor parking lot is free, but one must pay for indoor parking.
The Holiday Inn has 10 floors with 338 guest rooms. The interior design of the main lobby is a bit dated, as it originally opened in October 1983 prior to the 1984 Winter Olympics. There are a few seating areas in the lobby if you are waiting for friends or hanging out for a drink. The public bathrooms are clean enough to conduct a proper freshening up before leaving for your next destination. There is actually an ATM conveniently located in the lobby.
The interior design style extends to the rest of the hotel, including the wooden touches in guest rooms. The room had a large window that opened inward to let in some fresh air. My room had a great view eastwards towards the old town, with views of the bombed-out shell of the Parliament Building across the street. Although the exterior has been extensively renovated, the metal frame of the window still contains a bullet hole, a bizarre reminder that this hotel sits along what was known as "Sniper's Alley" during the war. The room with two double beds was comfortable and reasonably spacious, but had a thick smoky odor to it. The television had a good variety of channels to it, and it rested over the minibar. The bathroom has a dark color scheme; its amenities include a blow dryer, soap, and shampoo.
The breakfast buffet was very substantial, perhaps in a step to appease the healthy appetites of so many foreign stomachs. The dining hall was very spacious and opened out to views of the city. There were a variety of meats, eggs, sweet rolls, fruits, etc. The beverage section had a nice selection of coffee, tea, juices, and mineral water with or without gas. You could end your breakfast with a small chocolate, a surprising touch for breakfast. The hotel has three restaurants in total.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 24, 2003
Holiday Inn Sarajevo
ZMAJA OD BOSNE 4
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 71000
Approach the whitewashed exterior with the extruding wooden corner bay. There is an outdoor dining area that is fenced off for privacy, but the interior has some wonderfully intimate seating nooks where you can get a great view of the surrounding city. Guests were very anxious to get the tables with the better views, and they would be reluctant to leave them once they became entrenched in them. Our view was not bad, but we were a tad disappointed that we did not do a bit better in this department.
We arrived on a drearily rainy day, so I was looking to order something to warm my bones. My dinner was the reasonably priced and appropriately named Bosnian Pot, a quaint lamb and vegetable stew delivered in the self-titled pot. Also called "bosanski lonac" in the native language, this is a typical and hearty entree. Apparently these little foil-topped kegs are used to heat up the meaty mix. The serving is a bit small, so sop up the insides of the pot with the bread. My friend enjoyed a juniper juice, a little-known fruit that is subtly sweet. The lemonade is less exotic but nevertheless refreshing.
The restroom is inexplicably muggy, so try not to spend too much time. When you are leaving, you may be tempted to purchase a sweet from the glass displays on the main level.
Veliki Alifakovac 1
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
We ordered what seemed to be different shapes of the same chopped meat seasoned with mild spices. The flat and wide rounds taste like hamburger patties, while the little sausages are like little sausages. Vegetarians will enjoy the salad plate, which offers a colorful and fresh selection of tomatoes and cucumber slices. The waiters cleverly serve the pop by bringing the opened cans while inverted in glasses, so that the pouring of the drinks seem automatic. You can also order a yogurt drink as a light beverage.
The casual seating areas include a few outdoor tables that have panoramic views of the bazaar and the surrounding hills. An indication of the restaurant's size is the fact that it hosted a huge school group that seemed to have over a hundred schoolchildren. The restrooms are hidden away in the basement level.
Cevabdzinica Hodzic II
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo was a melting pot for many religious and ethnic groups for hundreds of years. Serbian aggression is said to have killed over 10,000 people here during the staggering siege from 1992 to 1996. The locals were able to endure this ordeal with a long tunnel constructed under the airport that was the lifeline from the city to a nearby suburb. Any random walk through the city will take you past many structures that have been damaged or annihilated. The National Library still stands empty and in a state of semi-disrepair along the Miljacka River, whose sludgy chocolate waters mock the brownish exteriors of this handsome Moorish-style edifice. Originally designed by Alexander Wittek in 1892 and later revamped by Ciril Ivekovic, the National Library was originally the Town Hall and is slowly being rehabbed.
Perhaps the most moving sight in Sarajevo is the graveyard that has taken over the landscape surrounding the Kosevo soccer stadium. It is sad to see thousands upon thousands of mostly whitewashed grave markers, a majority of them with the death year of 1992. A wander through the cemetery is a small history review, as you will see fancier older tombstones from previous generations, which contrast with the simpler, hastily erected ones of the more recent batches. In a close second place, the burnt-out shell of the former Parliament Building is a morbid and recent reminder of the ferocity of these dangerous times. Deserted hotels scattered about town are identifiable as such only because of outdoor signage, which distinguishes them from the ruins of residential blocks.
Despite the rough spots, it is heartening to see areas that are slowly recovering. The well-to-do members of the middle class appear as if they could be in any other European setting. The cafes and shops along Ferhadija, the main pedestrian street, look very lively as the young locals enjoy each other's company. A walk around busy thoroughfares like Marsala Tita and Zmaja Od Bosne ("Dragon of Bosnia") could lead you to giant chessboard matches, bustling fruit markets, and the somewhat sedate Eternal Flame commemorating World War II. The ethnic mix of Sarajevo is evident with the proximity of several prominent places of worship that cater separately to Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Serbs, and Jews.
A walk through the Turkish quarter gives its trademark Muslim flavor to the city with its prominent mosques and shops. Most visitors are welcome to stop by, but some Muslims are still put off by those who dare to interact with the ritualistic fountains. Pop into the courtyard of the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque for a peek into local life. Designed by Persian architect Adzem Esir Ali in 1530, this important mosque has an attractive "birdcage" fountain in its courtyard. Muslims pray on the outdoor terrace, as the interior is still undergoing postwar renovations.
The beautiful mountain ranges contrast with the bleak and gray Skenderija quarter that is one of the few remaining venues from the 1984 Olympics. In the city center, umbrella salesmen pop out of the woodwork during downpours, although the local police seem to crack down on the more unsavory vendors. Speaking of security, soldiers from around the world still maintain positions in Sarajevo and elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These peacekeepers reveal their ethnicities by their tongues and their flag-embossed uniforms. The international mix also includes humanitarian aid workers and the ever-present journalists.