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  • Sue Stipek

Sarajevo ...

Our flight from Belgrade was short but it was raining when we got to Sarajevo. We took a taxi to our hotel near the old town. Traffic was heavy as our driver said that there had been a demonstration earlier so even though it was Saturday, things were tied up. He didn't say what the issue was but we later found out that it was a demonstration by Muslims against the first Gay Pride parade scheduled for Sunday. Our hotel did not have any English language news channels so we went for several days without CNN or even FOX. WIFI was good so we did get some news feeds online.

With only 4 days in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we had to decide whether to rent a car and do some touring or make other arrangements for seeing the country. Mostar was a recommended visit and only a couple of hours away. But instead of renting a car we decided to go on a day tour in a small group. Hearing the information from a local and meeting some other travelers would probably be good and we were right. So we extended our stay at the hotel and stepped out to explore the town.

Sarajevo is a very compact and walk-able city. There are dozens of museums, the cafe scene is huge and historic sights abound. The hotel that we were staying at was next to a large shopping center that looked fairly abandoned. We later would explore that and find out that it was the administrative center of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games that were held here. This is the spot that the torch rested during those games. It now a mix of small business and some restaurants. Not as lively a scene as the old town.

The name Sarajevo conjures up mixed emotions. I lived through the cold-war and I remember watching the Olympics. We don't usually read up on the history of a place so all we knew was what we remembered. Our only experience with the area was from the early 90's when I accompanied Larry to Bulgaria where he had a brief consulting job after the fall of the Wall. The Bosnian War was in its early stages then, and we knew the area had a lot of unrest after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

So we spent our time understanding what had happened. We really didn't know. Our lives in the states during the mid-90's was consumed with building a new life ourselves in Virginia after moving from the Midwest to a new job outside of Washington DC. Finding out the carnage that was occurring in Sarajevo at that time now 20 plus years later, was eye opening.

Sarajevo is a pretty important city in world history. In 1914, the Crown Prince of the Austria-Hungarian empire, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated outside the Town Hall in Sarajevo and triggered the start of World War I. In 1984 the first Winter Olympics in a Soviet Block country and Slavic speaking state occurred. Then in 1992 it became the center of the Bosnian conflict with a Siege that lasted 1425 days until the Dayton Accords put an end to that conflict. I knew the names of the war criminals and remember hearing some things about Srebrenica but really knew nothing.

The city today is a lively and rebuilt capital, with some remaining buildings, pot marked from the Siege that left almost 14,000 inhabitants dead. Seeking out information is not difficult as there are many memorials and museums dedicated to the events that took place. I will not go into what occurred in history, but instead try to describe how I felt.

It is great place to visit. Lively cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, lots to do from cultural activities to hiking and sports. There is too much smoking, though not in indoors nor in hotel rooms we stayed at. The people are great and friendly and English is widely spoken. I am sad that I didn't know or remember more about what had happened in the 90's. But that is why I travel ......

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