From Sarajevo, With Love

Article and Photos By Paula Wheeler

Bosnia was never on my destination radar. I knew next to nothing about the country, except Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and the country saw war in the 1990’s. What brought me, well, in a nutshell I woke one morning saying “Sarajevo”. Not many people would visit a country for that reason, But I have been living as a nomad for over a year and have set my compass by intuition.

After a seven-hour bus ride from Dubrovnik, Croatia, I arrived with a tentative feeling. The sky was threatening a thunderstorm, the concrete buildings were scarred by shrapnel and the currency exchange clerk was keen on letting me know she was not interested in figuring out what I wanted, even with me pointing to the neon sign behind her. The contrast from Dubrovnik was significant.

My tension eased upon arriving at my vacation rental, located in one of Sarajevo’s oldest neighborhoods, just a five-minute walk from Stari Grad. As I stood on the terrace waiting for my knock to be answered, the city below mesmerized me. Surrounded by lush green hills, terracotta rooftops, Mosque spheres and onion-domed cathedrals, I felt my stress dissipate and inner peace bloom.

Feeling at Home In Sarajevo

For the next month my residence was a studio apartment located within the property managers parents’ house. In Bosnia-Herzegovina homes are constructed with three-levels to accommodate the entire family. In this house, the parents reside along with their son and his family. The daughters have married and moved out, leaving available rooms. Mine was designed to accommodate a solo traveler.

The area is safe, yet for extra precaution, three keys are given: one for the garden gate, one for the house and another for my room. The studio fits the bill for a traveler’s needs. The kitchen nook is complete with a sink, refrigerator, hot plate and utilities. I always appreciate having a private water-closet; with a shower-tub combo, sink and toilet, here the term accurately describes its size. Upon the desk are travel pamphlets, covering everything from attractions to SIM card information.

The Siege of Sarajevo

On an average day, 350 mortar shells were dropped upon Sarajevo during the forty-six month war; resulting in around fifty-five deaths per day. Most of those casualties were people trying to cross “Sniper Alley” to get to the tunnel of Hope, a 2624 foot tunnel that was dug under the United Nations protected airport, to get people out and supplies in.

My inquiring mind wanted to know how people lived before, during and coping after the war. To fully understand Bosnia-Herzegovina, I toured with Meet Bosnia, a team of young motivated guides that have more information than an encyclopedia.

To start my lessons, we set out for Srebrenica, three-hours away from Sarajevo, where some of the most horrific acts against humanity took place.

The war was about ethnic cleansing and the Bosnian- Muslims were the target. From 1992-1995 over 11,000 men were murdered. A fourteenyear-old boy was considered an adult, yet some aggressors captured and killed boys much younger.

There are plenty of stories, yet the most known is of Ramo and his son Nermin. Ramo, a Serbian captive, was told by the soldiers to call out to the boy and his friends, who were hiding in the woods, conveying their safety for joining the troop.

Cupping his hands around his mouth to magnify his voice, Ramo repeatedly called out to Nermin, “I am with the Serbs, it is safe to come out, no harm will come to you.”

At the time of my visit, the memorial cemetery had 8372 graves, each year thousands more are identified and added; Ramo and his son are amongst them. This is not a feel-good tour, yet one that should not be missed if you are not sensitive to the issues of war

Scars Are Deep in Bosnia- Herzegovina

“The shot that changed the world,” in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo. This act of terrorism contributed to the start of WWI. Throughout the ages, war seems to be the fate for the area, regardless of whose jurisdiction it falls under.

Mostar still enforces segregation between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, yet Sarajevo is known as the “The meeting of cultures” and while the older generation is doing their best to trust those of different religious practices, the younger generation is locking arms and standing by one another.

Determined to see each other as human beings, not as their titled religion, which Bosnia-Herzegovina makes them identify themselves by.

Abundant Natural Beauty

Despite the gloomy tales that surround Bosnia-Hergegovina, the countries natural beauty and towns, along with the citizens love for their homeland makes this destination one not to be overlooked. There are plenty of surprises no matter where you roam.

On my way back from Srebrenica, we stopped at natural springs that have high levels of minerals within the waters that have cured a variety of ailments.

The Sarajevo area does not have nearby lakes, but it has Ottoman-era forts, Muslim Mosque, Austro-Hungarian architecture, Christian churches and Catholic cathedrals. The sound of hammers hitting copper can be heard as you stroll down the Coppersmith Street, as merchants craft each piece by hand, just as their ancestors have done for centuries.

The Meet Bosnia team wants to be sure the splendor of the country is not missed, so they pack a lot in their twelve-hour tours with both man-made and natural wonders: forts, waterfalls, watermills, lakes and oodles of rebuilt bridges that were destroyed during both World Wars.

I went on two twelve-hour trips, one in both territories. Bosnia is covered with alpine meadows and spectacular mountain ranges, some of the best ski slopes in the world are found near Sarajevo. Lake lovers will have to travel a couple hours from the city to take a dip, but once you’re at the lake, the distance will become irrelevant.

To showcase Bosnia’s landscape, forts and reservoirs our journey begins in Travnik where we meander its medieval fortress and museum to unveil the area’s history. On our way to the lakes, we stopped at the Jajce Waterfalls and got soaked by mist as the water tumbled 59 feet into the river Pliva.

A little further in town, we descended into the catacombs that were built in 1943 for the duke and his family to live, when they felt their safety was at risk. Our day ended at viewing the upper and lower Pliva Lakes in Jajce, with special attention on the Jajce Watermills.

The quirky huts that were once used by farmers to process flour are now a heritage site. They are located in a park, beside lower Pliva Lake, with no admission cost.

The beautiful Old Stone Bridge in Konjic´, built in 1682, started the tour around Herzegovina’s Mostar area and ended in famous Mostar. What a sight it was seeing divers show off their talents from the 78-foot restored bridge.

In-between sites displayed off-the-chart beauty with Blagaj’s natural spring, where the water escapes a mountain cave and Kravice Falls is a piece of heaven on earth. It’s a lovely twenty-minute walk down, or take offered transportation, to the lake that is fed by an amphitheater of cascading water plummeting 80 feet.

The jade and emerald water is enticing in the humid climate. For an overview of the valley, we made a quick stop at Počitelj for a step back in time and to climb up to the Ottoman-era fortress for a view that was priceless.

As an outdoor enthusiast, especially one who enjoys historical buildings, I found Bosnia-Herzegovnia to have everything I look for in a destination: safety, interesting structures, breathtaking landscape and kind-hearted citizens. Many of the places I saw on tour I would love to revisit, but with my own vehicle, so I could examine each at my own pace. The exception would be Mostar, the train from Sarajevo has been marked as one of the prettiest train routes in the world.


Paula Wheeler

Paula Wheeler has been living a nomadic life, sonce June 2017, as a freelance writer and videographer. You can find her adventures at

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