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Travel Report: Sarajevo

As plenty of ARRSERs served in Bosnia back in the day and some have expressed an interest in going back, I thought I'd post a quick summary of the trip I took to Sarajevo last month. Hope it's of interest to some...

Unless you're slightly strange and want to re-live your youth by flying into Split, you can get flights to both Sarajevo and Banja Luka from around £150.00 upwards, depending on how much of a tight-arse you are. There are few direct flights between the UK and Bosnia, meaning a change at one of the usual European hubs. I flew with the Slovenian airline Adria, which I highly recommend, if only for the stunning views of the Slovenian mountains around Ljubljana.

Sarajevo airport is small and easy to get around. There are two cash points just past arrivals, both of which rejected one of my Visa cards whilst accepting the other, so probably best to take more than one card if you can. You have to go through security as soon as you enter the airport - each and every time - so don't think "I'll just nip out for a smoke" before hiring your car, withdrawing your cash etc in the terminal. When you come to depart, you can smoke upstairs once you're through security. God bless Bosnia. There's also a interesting plaque to the French soldiers who died in Sarajevo during the UN and NATO operations.

The airport is a bit of a trek from the interesting parts of the City and, although there are tram and bus links of a sort, I took a taxi, which was 25 KM to the far side of town - no doubt a 'special foreigner price' but, at around £11.00, who's complaining? There are about 2.2 KM to the pound. Euros are also apparently widely accepted in hotels etc.

The city itself is an interesting mix of old and new. Given the history of Bosnia as first an Ottoman province, then an Austro-Hungarian condominium and eventually a Communist state, there is no one style of architecture, which makes for an interesting contrast between the old and new parts of the City. I stayed in the old town (Stari Grad) in Eastern part of the City, close to Bascarsija. Most of the tourist sights are clustered around this area and there are plenty of hotels, ranging from international standard to, well, negative star rating. Take your pick. I stayed in the Hotel Herc, with an interesting view of a Muslim graveyard but the advantage of an all-night bar, complete with home-made Sliv.

The city isn't the easiest place in the world to get around by foot at first but is actually fairly easy to get to know once you've been around the block a few times. The Miljacka river runs right the way through the bits of the City you're likely to be interested in, so as long as you remember if you're North or South of it, you should never be really lost. The tourist office is at Zelenih beretki 22a and will shovel more maps and info at you than you can shake a shitty stick at. It has to be said that some of the typical tourist sites are somewhat less than impressive (like the Latinski Most, scene of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination) but the 'real' City more than makes up for it. You can be walking down an anonymous street full of grotesque Communist-era buildings before suddenly coming across a medieval mosque or something equally unexpected. It's that kind of place. It's a good idea to pop into the old Seb Orthodox Church, the Catholic Cathedral and the Bey's Mosque (all close togther), if only to get re-acquainted with just what a complex place Bosnia is. Also worth a look is the 'Monument to the Murdered Children of Sarajevo'. If you served in Bosnia before 1995 - or even if you didn't - some of the dates of death listed might well move you. Sarajevo has fewer Western-style shops than some Eastern European capitals but there are a couple of classy malls in the City centre.

You'll be spoiled for choice for places to eat and the food is generally superb (especially if your memories of eating in Bosnia revolve around rat packs and what the sloppos dished out). The restaurants around the Bascarsija are mostly over-priced tourist traps but there are cafes and restaurants literally everywhere and I didn't have a bad meal once. Even the donner kebabs come with decent bread and don't taste like they're made from minced cat. Cevapi (little sausage things) are the most common street food and if you have a plate of Ražnjići (like shish kebab), you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. American fast food places are mercifully few and far between, though there are a couple of locally-owned burger places called 'Hamby King' (and when you see them you'll wonder how the **** they haven't been sued out of existance by Burger King).

Some final points to note. The Bosnian people are as wonderful and friendly as ever and many of the kids and young people speak embarrassingly good English. The population is over 75% Bosniak (Muslim) but but for the minarets on the sky-line, the odd woman in a headscarf and the Iranian cultural centre, you wouldn't necessarily guess it. If, like me, you served in a more rural part of Bosnia, Sarajevo can feel a little different (whilst still being recognisably Bosnian). To see the typical two-storey Bosnian buildings and people wearing clothes from the 70s, climb one of the mountains surrounding the City. You'll pass through little hamlets and the views from the top are truly stunning. Finally, take the opportunity to watch some local TV in your hotel room. The former Yugoslav republics still receive each other's TV broadcasts and, believe me, Macedonian telly (MKTV) has to be seen to be believed. 18 hours of Balkan folk-singing, anyone?

I'd recommend a trip to Sarajevo to anyone, especially if you served over there. I fully intend to go back ASAP and maybe try to get out of the City this time. Go soon, before the tie-dyed travel numpties and chav ********* decide that it's the next hot destination, and revisit your mis-spent youth to the scent of grilled meat, pivo and sliv. After all, where else are you going to get the 'returning veteran' experience. Basra?


Wedge, thanks for that. If you go again, let me know. I'll take a trip out there with you. But no botty sex.
Certainly will do mate. I'm in Vienna in October so might pop down for a couple of days then or, failing that, next June. Rickshaw_Major lives over there so between the three of us, it could be a heavy one :wink:
Always wanted to go back, although I never got as far as Sarajevo (Split-Ploce-Rastevic-Split), just to show the wife how stunning the place is.
Split is worth a trip as well, mate. In the summer it's a bit like Italy but a little cheaper. It's firmly back on the bucket-and-spade tourist trail now though, but Trogir is slightly quieter.
Nice review, every time I was there it was shrouded in thick fog which never shifted for days so I never really got to 'see' anything bar 20 meters ahead out of the windscreen! Are the CD shops still there, or have digital downloads killed them off?
I want to go to Gornji Vakuf,Donji Vakuf, Kupres, Sipovo, Tomislavgrad,Mkronic Grad, Bugogno, Livno and Sanski Most again.

I dont know why, but I feel like those people in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" who are inextricably drawn to the mountain.
The skiing on Mount Bjelasnica is also pretty good, but beware the locals ski like they drive. A friend had to be flown back to the UK for surgery after being hit full in the face by a flying snowboarder.

It's eight years since I went, so I'm sure a lot has changed, but the Hotel Marsal was OK (albeit the food was execrable). The ski area was a bit limited, but I did the dance of the twitching arrseholes at the top of the men's Olympic run before going down it very, very carefully as the top section was iced to feck.

Now trying to persuade MrsPlume that a trip to Croatia would be good craic!
Thanks for that. Must return some day to Vitez, Travnik, Guca Gora, Stupni Do and Tuzla, if only to lay a few ghosts.

Edit. Bummer, just lost an hour to reading testimonies from the War Crimes Tribunal over Stupni Do.
I dont know why, but I feel like those people in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" who are inextricably drawn to the mountain.
I know exactly what you mean. If you can get hold of a copy, there's a great book called 'Heavenly Serbia' that deals with the whole 'cult of the mountains' thing and gives a good insight into the Balkans without being too heavy. For anyone wanting to do more than scratch the surface of the Former Yugoslavia, it's well worth a look.
Nice review, every time I was there it was shrouded in thick fog which never shifted for days so I never really got to 'see' anything bar 20 meters ahead out of the windscreen! Are the CD shops still there, or have digital downloads killed them off?
April seems to be a good time to go, weather-wise. Warm enough to be pleasant but not too hot to make going up into the mountains uncomfortable. I had clear weather every day for a week. As for the CD shops, Sarajevo is a proper City, complete with proper shops. You'll be amazed at the contrast between it and the rural poverty that you probably remember from out in the sticks.
Wedge is quite right - SJJ is a brilliant place for a city break.

I could recommend the Europa Hotel - bang in the middle of the old city.

Also a beer at the Phoenix Club (Vratnik mejdan 4, Kula Širokac (‘Shirokats’),Kovači, Stari Grad Sarajevo Tel: 061 133 887) especially if the owner has got his banjo out - stringed instrument, not egg.

A walk along the river to the goat bridge (upstream towards Pale) is a good bet for a Sunday stroll, as is a walk up to part of the old Serb front line, up the hill from one of the Wedge's photos.

If you've got time, hire a car and go to Mostar. Brilliant place now with lots of good restaurants and bars around the old bridge, which has been beautifully restored.

It's a grand drive through the mountains.
You know the old line: what do you get if you put 20 gorgeous (and they are) Bosnian girls together in a room?

A full set of teeth...
Aye, it's certainly a good place for a letch. I think it was Misha Glenny or Noel Malcolm who observed that there is no such thing as a typical Bosnian face. Thanks to centuries of population shifts and inter-marrying you get blonde Muslims, Serbs who look Turkic and everything in between. Means that there is something for everyone to feast their eyes on :wink:
I had a brief stay in Sarajevo back in '06; nice to see it's still improving!

I'm shocked that nobody mentioned the rakija, though, especially with wedge's avatar being šljivovica!

They said it was "fruit brandy", but the guy uncorked something that smelt like gasoline from two tables away and I wondered how loose that translation really was. Beware the unlabelled bottles!
The more Sarajevo improves, the worse it gets. Its a bit of a shite hole and I hate going there to be honest, far too much traffic on those roads these days and those feckers don't know how to drive. Much rather hang out in Banja Luka.
I've just spent 2 weeks in Croatia. Right on the border just N of Bihac. Very nice part of the country, still alot of signs of the war. Old buildings that were destroyed are still standing but have newer smaller houses built next to them.
I did the usual touristy thing and took a few pics of destroyed buildings and the locals all wanted to know why and were happy to chat about the war. It helped that I was there twice and spoke German. My croatian isn't that good, but I muddled through.
When I got home the wife has announced that she would like a drive down later this year. When I drove down we did it over 2 days. On the way back I stopped off in Ypres for the Menin Gate Ceremony and a few beers so took a bit longer. But some of our group took 23hrs solid driving from the town/village we were staying in to get back to Calais.

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