Thursday, February 10, 2011


(Downtown Sarajevo at night including famous city hall)
(spot were Gavrillo Princip stood when he shot the heir to the Austro Hungarian Empire, starting WWI)
Bosnia is my favorite place on Earth to vacation, I may be a bit biased but I will try to present my best argument to explain why.
Growing up Roman Catholic, Rome, Italy was the mecca of our religious culture. Also much of our western democracy comes from the principles set by the Greek and Roman empires. When you visit Italy you can see the traces of the past that still influence and guide our cultures and values to this day. For many people Italy is the ultimate dream vacation Rome, Venice, Pompeii and Florence are always busy with tourists and is the backbone of the Italian economy. I enjoyed some aspects of Italy, the food, the culture and history. The problem I had is, it not very romantic like they make it out to be. Travi fountain is beautiful but you have to share the view with 2,000 of your closest friends and the coliseum is busy even at night. Venice the common areas your are packed in like sardines in a can. I enjoyed Italy but wouldn't see the need to return to any of the places I visited. I liken it to a trip to 6 flags or Wisconsin Dells or Disney World, overcrowded, over hyped and overpriced.
Bosnia to me offers the best of all the worlds and the cultures that influences it's history and people. Bosnia has always been a crossroads for peoples and cultures and the border between empires. It has made the Bosnian people very accustomed to offering hospitality in the greatest manner. When I visited Dubrovnik and Croatia a few years ago, my wife and I felt that the locals attitude was very arrogant, if they had a slogan I believe it would be "You came to visit me; not me visiting you" it is similar to what we experienced in Italy (not surprisingly there is a strong cultural connection between Dalmatia and Italy). Whereas in Bosnia there is a feeling of "thank you friend for coming to visit us" that permeates the air. Also the fact that during the war many journalists, celebrities and news media came on Safari to watch the hunters (Serbian army) attack their prey (Sarajevo civilians) has made them accustomed to strangers taking pictures and being generally intrusive.
The first time I visited Bosnia my friend took me to a local kiosk close to were I was staying. My friend explained to the man it was my first visit to Bosnia and the owner gave me an item for free, telling me I need to try it and to enjoy it, only in Bosnia, only with the ones I love. The Motel that I stay at (I plan on doing a story on them another time) are always friendly, always the same people after 10 years and have become like friends to me.
The last time I went to Bosnia we arrived after 10pm at the Sarajevo airport and by the time we got to the hotel I was exhausted and it was very late. We took two cabs to the hotel and I paid for both. I didn't realize at the time that I handed the guy a 100km (about 75 usd) bill and he left (I thought it was a 50km) about 15 minutes later he showed up at the hotel telling me I overpaid him and brought my money back. (a typical cab ride costs about 15km from the airport to the city proper) I gave him 50km and thanked him. I realize this is a rare occasion that something like this would happen, but it did and it happened in one of the poorest countries in Europe were 100km is a  weekly salary for many. You can call it a fluke and luck but to me it is typical of the Bosnian people when they see and deal with people they consider friends.
The history and cultural experience of Bosnia is great as well. Sarajevo was the cultural capital of the former Yugoslavia and today has regained much of the reputation that was lost due the war and the breakup of Yugoslavia. The governments commitment to the arts is limited at best so some of the facilities are less than spectacular but the arts and culture is as strong as ever. I had the chance to experience Bascarsija nights, named after the famous Turkish quarter downtown. It is a 30 day arts festival that is not to be missed. Sarajevo's film festival started during the siege and usually is running in August, is not to be missed as well. Also, for those winter travellers Sarajevo's Olympic ski facilities and "Zima" or winter festival is a must visit site as well.
Standing on the spot were WWI started is a once in a lifetime experience as well, so is just walking the city as there is a great walking path that takes you along the Sarajevo river, Miljacka from New Sarajevo to the downtown. The cultural history of Bosnia is rare and one of a kind. It is called the Jerusalem of Europe because it is the only place besides Jerusalem were you can visit a Mosque, synagogue, Catholic and Orthodox churches all within a couple of blocks.
There was a tradition in Bih to plant fruit trees in Sarajevo for visitors to eat in Ottoman times, these fruits (almost like an apple) called Donja I believe, grow all over the downtown area. You used to be able to stay in a hotel in Sarajevo for free for the first three days because it was said it would take three days to see the city. Walking the city and seeing the old Roman ruins by Verlo Bosna (a amazing walking park with a beautiful river) to the Austro Hungarian influences and the Ottoman architecture are a must see.
The natural beauty that Bosnia posses though can't be missed from rolling hills, stone towns and rushing rivers you can't really imagine a country with so much beauty until you see it. From Jajce, Blagaj, Mostar, Stolac, Trebinje, Bihac, Nuem (on the Adriatic coast), visegrad, Jablanica, Travnik and so many other places make Bosnia one of a kind and a can't miss.
I used to love visiting post Cold War Berlin (having visited the city 3 times in the last 10 years) I haven't been back since 2006 and from friends who live in the city say the tourism is booming and the city has lost some of what has made it so interesting. Tourism is on the rise in Bosnia, when visiting last year it was the first time I noticed large numbers of Westerners vacationing, it is still small compared to the rest of Western Europe but it is one of the things that still makes it great is it accessibility. Also the fact that you can't buy a McDonald's hamburger is a plus (I have a story coming about McDonald's and the famous Sarajevo "Hamby King"). Bosnia with it's rich history and culture is the place I would rather visit than any other, to be amongst civilized people and to be among friends.

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