Saturday, October 29, 2022

[SARAJEVO] Of Diversity and Genocide

Coming from Mostar regardless if by train or bus, make sure you sit on the left side by the window so you can enjoy the views. Hills. Mountains. Rivers. Lakes. That scenery for this particular trip is just so pretty. The trip is advertised as two hours and a half long but ours took almost 3 hours for some reason. The bus stops at the bus station near that spiral Avaz Tower. Walking all the way to the Old Town takes around half an hour, which I have no choice but to do because I didn’t have cash.

It wasn’t that bad. Sarajevo has been the coldest city I’ve visited in this itinerary. Belgrade was cold but you can leave your sweater at home if you’ve just had a hot shower or if the sun is out. Here in Sarajevo, you really have to wear your sweater even if the sun is out unless you want to catch a cold. The temperature dips to single digits at night, so I was thankful that the aircon in my hotel room doubled as a heater. I booked a boutique hostel called Nortel right across McDonalds at a really central area.

I had the option to go sightseeing once I arrived but the cold weather was discouraging so I just chose to hibernate. After finishing work at around 4 PM the next day, that’s when I ventured out to go sightseeing. Luckily, the main attractions are all nearby. Just follow the length of Maršala Tita Road and you will end up stumbling upon random tourist attractions. It also pays to look up to the horizon to see the many domes, minarets, and spires of religious buildings you might want to check out.

As for me, the tried and tested method is to leave Google Maps on and follow the blue dot which is me. This works even without WiFi as long as your GPS is on. With that I was able to isolate whatever attractions I wanted to see. The first stop was a monument of a man within a globe, a tribute to the country’s multiethnic setup from which it derives great pride. This statue sits at a green park where locals congregate, some of them playing with the human-sized chess board that can also be found there.

Behind this statue is an Orthodox Church, the interior of which was under construction and with the lights off so I wasn’t able to see what was inside. It serves as a good backdrop for the monument. There is free WiFi in this area if you are itching to upload anything on Insta. A few cartwheels away is a Roman Catholic Church, whose doors were closed when I dropped by. Walk another 100 meters or so and you will end up in a mosque. When Sarajevo mentioned multiethnic and multireligious, it defo wasn’t joking.

Seriously, the only other country I can probably think of with such cultural diversity is Singapore. Reading up on the country’s history lets you realize how this multi-kulti setup has been in place for the longest time, which is why it feels more depressing once you pay the Genocide Museum a visit. It’s horrendous what we human beings are capable of doing to one another. The horrors are unthinkable. Bosnia & Herzegovina might have survived the onslaught, but it will bear those scars forever.

Before we delve into dark history, let’s check out the remaining tourist attractions first. After all, things start to get interesting once you reach Baščaršija, an old bazaar built in the 15th century and serves as the historical and cultural center of the city. The mosques start to multiply here and you will eventually find your way to the Sebilj, an Ottoman-style wooden fountain which is the de facto favorite when you search the key word Sarajevo on Google Images. The fountain was built in 1753 and is the favorite selfie central for tourists and locals alike.

Walk towards the river and you will see an Alcázar-inspired building that looks out of place because it feels as though you were suddenly transported to southern Spain. That’s Sarajevo’s city hall. The river in front of it is controlled by a dam and was almost devoid of water when I was there. A curious thing is that there was an abandoned truck and a tractor ON the river when I walked along its banks. Talk about weird. After this, it was museum time.

I wanted to check out the museum dedicated to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife that sparked WWI, but it was already closed. They do have some sort of monument with a pair of footprints and a plaque saying that it was the exact location where the assassin stood. I took a photo and moved on with my life. The only museum left to visit was the Genocide Museum. The entrance fee is BAM12 (~PHP360) and they accept credit cards.

The last and only Genocide Museum I’ve visited was Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh which was depressing AF because it was the only attraction I visited there and the only one I remember the city by. For Sarajevo, the memories are at least a mix of the awesome diversity and architecture and this depressing historical event. The museum is full of stories you can read for days, personal anecdotes of survivors themselves and those written for the unlucky who didn’t get to live to see another day. It’s depressing, but it’s a constant and necessary reminder that we still have a long way to go as a species.

[SARAJEVO] Of Diversity and Genocide

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