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Laugh With Me

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Laugh With Me

Sarajevo's Famous Little Teashop and a Hidden Lunch Spot

Staying in a neighborhood far away from the heart of a city has plenty of benefits. Chiefly, you're privy to a place at its most authentic, at its pinnacle of normalcy. But what a double-edged sword that can be!

Bright and way too early on our first full day in Sarajevo, we had a rude awakening. Literally. Stirred awake abruptly by the buzzer, which was as loud as an earthquake siren. The person pressing it was persistent too–they kept it buzzing for 30 seconds at a time for ten, fifteen minutes. To answer the obvious question, why the heck didn't you just answer it...? Short answer: there was no one in the entire country who could've needed us at 7am on a Wednesday morning. Mercifully, we drifted off again when the buzzing stopped... only to wake up VERY ANGRY 5 minutes later because it resumed. Fuming, we screamed into our pillows.

A couple of hours later, upon waking up on the right side of the bed this time, we decided to take a long, leisurely walk towards Old Town. This time, entirely by way of the path lining the river.
We passed the University of Sarajevo,

and admired the modern "festina lente" (make haste slowly) bridge marking the Academy of Fine Arts.
...and of course, it wouldn't be right if we didn't make a stop at the Latin Bridge, where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, sparking World War I.

Standing there and gazing upon this spot, otherwise unmemorable, is entirely too sobering:
Cassandra spent her first month living in Sarajevo being a true pal and doing some meticulous research for us: again, our stay was to be a short one and so we hit the ground running. The best cevapi place, the best restaurants, the best cafes and bars and coolest landmarks–Cassandra drew up an impressive itinerary.

I've got to give it to her. She did an excellent job.

(She'll probably screenshot that sentence and hold it over my head for the next seven years, but... well-deserved, my friend, well-deserved.)
Our first stop:

Dveri, a most wonderfully hidden corner of Old Town. From the busy streets of Bascarsija, you duck into a long hallway that leads to a space resembling the Secret Garden, with a bit of a rustic touch. Local art and colorful dried goods posted at the corners, greenery hanging low, Dveri feels so very serene. 
Famous for their bread, we of course had to order a large portion of it. We each grabbed a sizeable hunk of the doughy pull-apart loaf, forkfuls of fresh tomatoes and feta from our simple garden salads, cheeses from our sampler plate, and a glass of cold, white wine to wash it down. All very much enjoyed!

Two large bowls of beef goulash, with homemade gnocchi. Ugh, so scrumptious. Cassandra and I scraped the bottom of our bowl shamelessly, and then reached over the table to polish off Hanna and Leah's as well. (Someone's gotta put this team on their back!)
Followed by steak served with herbed butter, potatoes, and a criminally DIVINE gorgonzola sauce. CRIMINAL, I tell you. We delighted in unctuous bites of tender beef, glistening in butter, and melt-in-your-mouth potatoes practically swimming in said butter.

But the best part?!

The gorgonzola! We went about dipping the steak and potatoes in it like we were supposed to, but then the meat started getting a bit too rare (we found that in the Balkans, they liked meat rare, no matter how well done you asked for it)... so then we started dousing gnocchi from the goulash in it and then eventually, we abandoned all decorum and simply started spooning the sauce into our mouths, fighting each other off.
Sadly, Leah wasn't feeling well after lunch, so we sent her home in a taxi and continued onward.

Stopping by the Sebilj Fountain first, a well-known landmark. Rumor has it if you drink from the southern side, you'll return to Sarajevo (which, seeing as we did last year... guess it works!) and if you drink from the northern side, you'll marry a Bosnian.
Next up was a truly special gem.

Cajdzinica Dzirlo, the most charming teahouse of all time. Dzirlo is exactly the kind of place you hope to find when traveling. It's not a well-kept secret... this teashop as been featured in the New York Times and travel TV shows, but I think the magic of it is its ability to retain its charm and 'hidden gem' feel despite its fame.

Hussein and Dijana, the owners, greet every guest with a handshake and warm smiles and engage everyone in conversation. Dzirlo's a tiny space, strewn with prayer rugs and colorful cushions and ottomans. There are shelves of tea every which way you turn, and relics from all around the world. It can fit less than ten patrons at any one time, and Cassandra's told stories before of how Dijana and Hussein corral strangers for group photos and how they turn away guests just to make sure previous ones don't feel rushed to leave.
We ordered three Bosnian coffees, which Hussein brought to us personally. Unprompted, he sat down and walked us through the proper way of drinking Bosnian coffee (once again) and then hand-selected a Bosnian travel book for us to flip through.

The Bosnian coffee took us the better portion of an hour to finish–in such a special place, we wanted to savor every taste. And so we bit off corners of sugar cubes lightly and enjoyed the bitter depths of the coffee, flipping through the book about Bosnia.

In between sips of the Bosnian coffee, we also tried a cold herbal tea that tasted suspiciously like fall. No other way to describe it. Cassandra nodded enthusiastically at this comment, agreeing with the sentiment and said, "just you wait–we're tasting the seasons!"

A creamy, frothy, thick drink akin to chai but actually made of dried orchid root. So hot that it burns your throat a bit, and tasting thoroughly like Christmas, it was the loveliest treat to share with friends (too rich to have all to yourself). Joyfully, I've discovered that a Mediterranean cafe next to my office serves salep and when I'm missing Sarajevo, I pop down for a mug full of this goodness.
(That's Hussein in the pink–a true host.)

Last week was a grim one to be sure, and it's days like the ones we spent in Sarajevo that remind me of all the good that's out there: warm hospitality, a rich mix of cultures and ethnicities and religion, respectful and enlightening conversations with people who have different backgrounds and viewpoints than you, and the sheer excitement over discovering new places and foods and ideas, and savoring their existence. Always a lifestyle to strive for!

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