Landed late evening in Sarajevo, and after a short wait for baggage we found the hotel drive which we’d arranged online waiting for us right outside customs. A quick maybe 15 minute or so ride, and we were at the hotel which I’ll talk more about later. It was already after 8pm at this point, and it was a national holiday in Bosnia, so we just went for a short walk around the river to see if we could find a cafe for dinner and walk off a bit of the jetlag. Managed to find a small cafe/pizza shop in a mall that was still open for a quick snack, and it was relatively early to bed.
No meetings the next day until mid-afternoon, so was nice to sleep in a bit and recover and walk around the city a bit. All told, I think we ended up walking a good 10km in the morning, which was fantastic for getting rid of a bit of the jetlag. Most of the following pictures were taken on that morning walk, but some are from random walks in between meetings the next several days.
After walking a few km, the first major site was the Latin Bridge, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated, largely sparking World War I.
Another nearby cool bridge:
The central square in the old town – at day and night. The old town had a distinctly east-meets-west feeling, with the call to prayer constantly heard, several mosques, and a really unique blend of people and cultures:
Another shot of the old town central square from a different perspective:
Some ruins near the old town – never did find out exactly what they were:
…and showing the mix of religions and cultures in this city, the rather large Catholic Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart:
On the walk back to the hotel, a smaller Orthodox church:
Since you can see our hotel, the Hotel Bristol in the background in this picture, I guess this is a good time to talk about it. We spent four nights in this hotel, so got a pretty good feel for the place I think. Overall thoughts in a few categories:
Rooms: The rooms were a bit on the small side, but were completely adequate. No problems at all with noise, the bed was decently comfortable, and the air conditioning worked to minimally acceptable levels in my opinion. It wasn’t that warm outside (maybe 20C during the day, 10/12C at night) yet the room was still slightly warm with the AC going. That said, my standards of warm might be a bit unfair, so take it with a grain of salt. One of the nicest things was a minibar in the room, replenished daily, which was complimentary. Before you get excited, it was just water, coke, and a few juices. Still nice to have. That brings me to…
Food and Drink: Or, should I say food. The Hotel Bristol is run by Shaza Hotel, an Islamic Company, so it’s a completely dry hotel. No alcohol anywhere on site. We didn’t have dinner in the hotel (not because of this, but just in order to experience more local places) but I understand the restaurants are completely dry as well. We did have the breakfast every morning, which was quite a nice buffet with eggs cooked to order and plenty of fresh fruits and pastries. Definitely an above-average breakfast.
Staff: English was slightly limited, but we had no trouble at all arranging anything we needed, including taxis or finding places that we needed. The staff was very polite and helpful, and definitely did a good job of making us welcome during the stay.
Facilities: The only real facility I used was the hotel’s gym, which was minimal but barely acceptable for a few days. A few cardio machines and one or two multipurpose machines with a few light free weights. Very basic, but enough for a very simple workout. Wouldn’t have kept me happy past a few days, but it was ok. I understand the sauna was quite nice, but I didn’t get a chance to check it out.
So, on with the tour!
I’ll start with a couple of views of Sarajevo from above. In the second, you can see the snowcapped mountains outside the city:
…in the second you can also see the incredible eyesore that is the Holiday Inn Sarajevo. Built for the 1984 Winter Olympics, it’s a tribute to the 70s in all their gaudiness. Inside, it’s a dim cave, barely lit, and has a very soviet feel about the place. Definitely something to avoid!
As you see on the facade, they’re still trying to capitalize on their association with the olympics…19 years later. I don’t think a thing has likely changed since then either!
On the walk from the Holiday Inn to the Bristol, is the new Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
A little further along is the National Museum, which as the sign clearly states…is closed. Something to do with a funding dispute between the two large entities which comprise Bosnia and Herzegovina – Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. More about that later. Suffice to say they have a common currency, with two different sets of pictures. Two different parliaments, budgets, etc, and then a larger national parliament which rubber stamps things that have been agreed upon at lower levels. Rather confusing!
So when I found this out, and found out the Republika Srpska is a distinct entity per the Travelers Century Club, and I’m working on their list as well, I convinced my colleagues to use a half day we had free to take a little field trip to the nearby town of Pale in the Republika Srpska, about a 20-30 minute taxi away. It actually didn’t take any convincing at all, and the hotel set us up with a taxi. Upon seeing this sign, I had to stop for a photo-op:
…and right on the other side of the road, this road brought to you by….Tito!
Once we got to Pale, it was time for a bit of a wander. A few photos:
Before heading back to Sarajevo (and the airport) we had to stop at a cafe and make sure to sample a Serbian beer while we were at it:
All said, Pale had a very distinctly different feel from Sarajevo. The alphabet was cyrillic instead of latin, and it had a much more “western” feel as opposed to Sarajevo, where in places you could mistake it for a smaller version of Istanbul. More interesting, our taxi driver seemed distinctly uncomfortable sitting around in Pale. There’s clearly still a bit of tension there.
So, on to the restaurants!
First up was Restaurant Kibe which we found on our own, but later local colleagues recommended to us as the one place we really must eat at! Situated on a hill, it had a fantastic view over Sarajevo. We had a selection of local appetizers which were fantastic, and then an order of roast lamb, which is served by the kilo! One kilo was plenty for three of us, but according to the waiters locals will often order a kilo each and leave most of it in a display of being macho. Um? Ok? The view:
The next night, we ate at Dveri which was billed as a small local authentic Bosnian place. The food definitely seemed authentic, but the crowd was (as per TripAdvisor reviews) pretty much 100% foreigners. It’s a small place with maybe 10 tables, so I’d definitely recommend a reservation. The food was quite tasty, and we were very happy with the choice, but if you want a local place filled with locals this isn’t it.
The final night, we had a bit of a hard time deciding on a place. We walked around hoping to stumble on somewhere local, but also a sitdown place that would be a bit relaxing, and just couldn’t really find anywhere that seemed to fit the bill. After wandering for a bit, we finally stopped at a hotel and asked a concierge for a suggestion, and ended up at 4 Sobe Gospodje Safije, translated as the “4 Rooms of Mrs Sofia.” This was definitely Sarajevo’s answer to fine dining, complete with white tablecloths and slightly stuffy waiters.
That said, the food was very tasty, but maybe a bit politically incorrect:
That said, it was absolutely delicious. The “Bosnian special meatballs:”
Next up, travel from Sarajevo to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Turkish Airlines!