During my trip to the Balkans, I moved from Dubrovnik, the pricey haunt for backpackers, to Budva, the tourist spot for Eastern Europeans, to Mostar, a city rebuilding itself after devestation and then to Sarajevo. And the Bosnia and Herzegovinan capital could not have been more different from the rest. It has a chic and metropolitan feel like none of these other places, which usually centre themselves around a bustling Old Town. Whilst the Old Town of Sarajevo is still as busy as any other, outside these parts you will find tall, stylish apartment buildings lining the streets, similar to that found in Western capitals, and streams of people walking through them below.
Compared to the amount of destruction that Mostar had encountered during the war, it felt like the centre of Sarajevo had never been hit. And unlike the resort kind of feel that Budva presented, with tourists walking around in bathing suits barely covering their dignity, the residents of Sarajevo were impeccably dressed and minced through the streets like any Parisien debutante would. No longer were the older ladies tiny, hunched-over and adorably wrinkly. These strong female powerhouses were dressed head to toe in designer, as well as the men attached to their arm and the fluffy dog on the end of their lead. The other not so financially fortunate older women in Sarajevo still make sure they at least have a blue rinse through their hair, just to add that touch of glam.
The cafes and restaurants that line the main pedestrian street, Ferhadija, are a perfect place to sit and watch these kinds of people float by. You certainly won’t be the only one, plenty of locals were sitting there doing just the same as I sat and sipped my tea every morning. The bakeries down this street are also worth checking out. I barely knew what was in anything, but just bought an assortment and sat in the park watching a group of old men play giant chess every morning.
My favourite part outside the Old Town of Sarajevo has to be the Sarajevo Brewery. Order a beer in the Balkans without specifying a brand name, and you more often than not will be given a Sarajevsko. Having consumed several for a week before arriving in Sarajevo, I figured it would be rude not to go and see where it was made. The bar attached the the brewery is classy, spacious, and entirely dissimilar to the squat bars I had be frequenting elsewhere in Europe. It’s definitely worth a visit, and you can spend a little while alternating between different kinds of beer served in huge tankards. Just remember to note where you are before you stumble out a couple of hours later and discover you’re drunk and lost.
Sarajevo is a perfect place to visit if you’re a traveller used to Western European cities – it is safe, clean and unlike any impression you may have had about Eastern Europe before you got there. I can see it’s popularity rising in the next few years as more and more people catch on to the cheap prices mixed with Western metropolitan style. This, of course, is just the new side of town. My upcoming posts on the city will explore the parts of Sarajevo that cling on to the traditions and customs you might expect from this part of the Balkans.