Sarajevo at 6am is daunting. A magical time of day when everything is still slow, trapped in sleep. Walking out of the train station, a little dazed, I notice the sky is purple, like a bruise.
The snow had moulded itself around the corners of the pavements and gathered around the foot of the street lights, turning it rock solid.
It was peaceful at this time of the morning. Eventually you could hear the beginning of the eastern prayer, the low hum of the men being called to the mosques. Even the pavements were iced with the thick snow, making it hard to walk. The morning brightened, and the newly painted, garish colours of the Holiday Inn came into sight. This was Snipers Alley. The streets revert back to news footage of reporters in bullet-proof jackets, shouting into cameras to be heard over the gunfire.
There were mounds of shoes outsides the mosques, the men already inside praying. I walked past the Eternal Flame, a small, flickering glow, commemorating World War Two. There were two down trodden tramps holding their sodden gloves to it as if it was a campfire.
I stayed at, and I quote, “the student-ski dorm”. (And you thought putting ski on the end of words was just a myth.)
It was a massive communist style block, with tiny windows watching out of the walls. I was given a room of two single beds, one table and chair, and my own bathroom consisting of a tiny shower in one corner, the toilet in the opposite corner. The hot water was only available for three hours a day. This was Bosnia.
It was the kind of city to be content with wandering and watching. By the end of the day, perpetual snow had softened the city. The gravestones in the parks pried out of the white flakes. It’s a strange feeling to walk through crumbling streets. The past is not easily ignored here. Sarajevo is a scarred place. Buildings are left standing dead. Empty, shelled out, and riddled with bullet holes. And yet, it’s in no way a ghost town. The shell indentations in the pavements are symbolically filled with red rubber, and are known as the Sarajevo Roses. The locals don’t even notice them. Or don’t seem to. I can’t help but shiver.
Going out on a snowy Saturday night in Sarajevo and I felt caught up in a festival. The whole town seemed to be out enjoying itself. There were young students, professionals, and huge families of people. The town was alive.
The Turkish district, of which seems untouched or at least well restored, was a labyrinth of wooden huts, selling jewellery and antiques. There were traditional coffee and cake shops, the haze of smoke hanging in their windows. They seem ancient and at the same time fake, like a film set. The shops are brimming with shiny things to tempt you, selling shells from the war (made into pens and key rings) jewellery, brass twisted round to make rings and necklaces and bracelets of the most intricate Turkish designs. All traditionally handmade. Every shop was like entering an attic and discovering treasure from a different era. The door bell would sound and the shop keeper would slink through a door at the back of the room to greet me. Each one of them wanted a conversation, someone to talk to, about their relatives studying abroad in America or London.
Mostly, the food is excellent. Outside the snow would turn the city into night too quickly and the restaurants and the cafes become the cosiest places to be. I ate feasts of chicken, beef, pork, lamb, rice, potatoes, and carrots, onions and peppers. And that was during just one meal. And the Bosnian burgers were amazing, just pita bread and slabs of beef. No frills.
I spent endless afternoons in cafes and restaurants, watching the snow, cover the city’s wounds. The children sledged in the parks avoiding the graves.
Sarajevo is not a city to go to for a carefree weekend. Although there is a lot of fun to be had here, there is also a lot to be learnt from such a resilient city. Nothing is as it seems. The city may look shell shocked but it’s shaking that feeling off slowly but surely. They are re-building their future.