Sarajevo – it takes time…

Sarajevo tram
Sarajevo’s trams

I’ve already tried to write a post on Sarajevo once and utterly failed to capture a sense of what I love about the city. Most of our time there was spent in awe of the intangible quality created by a number of small finds. After all that’s how memory seems to work, patching together a series of highlight events, discoveries and moment’s of clarity. Sarajevo has many interesting things lurking in its narrow streets that you can commit to memory but is also has its share of frustrations.

In the morning, shortly after sunrise, the Sarajevans lethargically emerge from their city flats and slowly, over the course of a few hours, begin to populate the Turkish cafes. If they do eat in the mornings it happens out of sight and before they venture outside. In Sarajevo cafes don’t serve food and venues selling burek, which is the only choice of breakfast food, don’t serve coffee. So to summarise you can either smoke and drink coffee, or, for proper sustenance, dine on burek alone and without so much as a yogurt.

Sarajevo is also alarmingly hot. Sitting inland and nestled within the Dinaric Alps the labyrinth of tiny streets cook in the still air. The public fountains by the mosque become crowded as people soothe themselves with splashes of cool water. Shaded cafe seats are strategically filled long before anyone really wants lunch.

It took a few days to get used to Sarajevo. The first morning I was reduced to hungry and frustrated whimpering as Ellie and I aimlessly wandered around looking for somewhere that served a proper breakfast and in the evening the stress was re-lived as we looked for a space for dinner. For dinner the Sarajevans eat meat and there are no exceptions to this rule. Kebabs, skewered lamb, beef and miscellaneous meat pies. But no pork of course. There is a single small vegetarian restaurant, everything else is meat. It’s not everyone’s taste but I enjoyed it, for a short time.

Sarajevo bazaars
Sarajevo’s bazaars

Picture this; it’s Ramadan and at about 8:15, which is when the sun will slip majestically out of sight at this time of year, the city’s majority population of Muslims will feverishly crowd to restaurants to break fast. Tables are cautiously reserved by hungry families who dare not risk tables being full whilst their bellies remain empty. Glasses of boza, a refreshing drink made from fermented corn, are laid out in preparation for the canon blast. The canon blast (actually a firework) tells Sarajevo’s Muslims that the days fast is over and that they are permitted to eat. Amongst this stimulating and exciting food-focused atmosphere are a two cycle-tourists desperate for a meal but all the tables are taken. As time goes by and spaces fail to appear it becomes clear that the kebab house is the best we’re going to get. It’s like going to McDonalds for valentines day because you left the planning too late, a terrible disappointment that leaves you feeling empty and sad. Except that it’s not. Actually the kebabs in Sarajevo are pretty good, they’re meaty enough to convince me that animals may have been used in their production and they have a nice gentle spiciness. Even the salad was tasty with many different ingredients, not just window dressing.

Sarajevo graves
Sarajevo’s graves

Throughout the day mosques sing their call to prayer but the churches remain silent. Coffee and bread are delicious and plentiful if you don’t mind them being Turkish. The city is consumed by eastern tradition and the western culture we’ve been immersed in so far is reduced to a whisper.

Sarajevo gets to hot and then surrenders a fountain, it doesn’t do breakfast but you start to like the two stage coffee followed by burek, it only serves meat dishes but they all come with surprisingly good salads. Sarajevo took us to the edge of frustration and then rewarded us for sticking around long enough to figure it all out. I love Sarajevo for the same reason I love its name, it suggests we are far from home and on an adventure.

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