Oh, how wonderful it was to be back in Sarajevo, a city that made a lasting impression on me as having such heart and soul. Cassandra and I were in Sarajevo last year, learning more than we could've possibly imagined. So much so that Cassandra quit her job in August and moved to Sarajevo for three months to work at a NGO (for her experiences, see her blog). Although Sarajevo was always in the cards as a possible destination for our 2016 Balkans trip, Cassandra's being there for work (and having a place for us to stay!) cemented it as a must-stop.
After making our mid-afternoon descent into Sarajevo, we walked a fair distance out of the airport to locate a taxi company rumored to be much cheaper, got really, really lost, and turned back to the airport to sheepishly take the more expensive taxi... which ended up costing us only like $15 and an enthusiastic conversation with the old chatty driver, pieced together using his broken English, our elementary Bosnian, a few German words, and good old fashioned pantomiming.
That, combined with the flight, early morning packing, and the previous evening's Belgrade escapades, had us TKO'ed:
Because our stay in Sarajevo would be a short one (only two full days), I roused the sleepyheads around dinnertime in the hopes that we could squeeze in a mellow evening in Baščaršija, Sarajevo's Old Town. Reluctantly, we peered out the window at the grey skies and preemptively bundled up in sweatshirts and scarves and raincoats.
From Cassandra's Grbavica neighborhood, we took a pedestrian path along the Miljacka River. A residential area far from city center, its dose of ordinary was quite refreshing.
The apartment is located directly behind a perspective-altering museum that we had visited last year. Being just beyond a place so vivid in my memory felt like we were sharpening edges that had begun to blur, like we had traveled back in time and simply wandered off a bit.
Although there were plenty of routes that could take us to Old Town, Cassandra directed us on the exact same path (even making the same pit stops) that we had taken last year so as to give me the most opportunities to exclaim, but OMG this is so weird!!!
All the while, in between pointing out her office and favored lunch spots and other landmarks from her FaceTime calls (where her friends lived, where stray dogs followed her, where she stood crying when she first arrived completely overwhelmed), Cassandra and I broke down bits of Sarajevo history for Leah and Hanna.
It's not an easy history to listen to, but it's certainly a meaningful one. They asked hard questions that neither of us, or anyone really, had the answers to.
We ambled down the Austro-Hungarian influenced half of the Ferhadija pedestrian street, and stepped over the "meeting of the cultures" mark over to Baščaršija which is the eastern, Ottoman part of Old Town. The contrast between the two is striking, but I think my very favorite thing about Sarajevo is that the city as a whole is a literal "meeting of the cultures."
Baščaršija is, simply put, a maze. Alleyways tangle with wider streets, holes in the wall dictate shortcuts to an altogether different pathway, all of which look so incredibly similar. It's much too easy to get lost. Which we did, even though Cassandra had been to the destination multiple times.
Oh, and that destination?
Ćevabdžinica Željo. Because we'd be breaking all sorts of laws if we didn't introduce Hanna and Leah to ćevapi at the first opportunity. I'm telling you, the first thing anyone will say when you mention you've been to Bosnia, is–ah, the ćevapi!!
Željo is Cassandra's preferred ćevapi place in town, confirmed after meticulous research, she assured me. It's a no-fuss kind of place–you're seated, asked how many sausages you'd like, and not too long after...
You're served heaven on a platter!
Ćevapi is the epitome of simple food being the kind that rocks your world. A naan-like pita pocket whose texture bears resemblance to that of focaccia bread. Thick and chewy, with the perfect amount of give. You tear off pieces of this bread with gusto, smear wonderfully creamy kajmak cheese on it liberally, pile it high with chopped onions, and then plonk a smoky grilled sausage right on top.
It's outta control is what it is.
Washed down by ice cold, fizzy Cokes!
Craving something sweet, we crossed the threshold of the first baklava place that we came across and spent a solid 10 minutes considering our options until we finally just asked the friendly girl behind the counter to fill a box up of her favorites for us.
Insisting on a proper Bosnian evening, we made our way over to Damask (where, funny enough, we were shown a proper Bosnian evening last year) for Bosnian coffee. Cassandra walked us through the steps: muddling the thin foam at the lip of the copper džezva, transferring the foam by the spoonful over to the little cup, pouring the coffee in one fell swoop so as to avoid mixing in grounds. Then! The best part! You take a tiny bite of a sugar cube and sip the hot coffee. Meant to be savored in good company, one serving of coffee could last you hours.
We... improvised a bit. Sure, the sugar cubes were good and all but we ate those real quick and needed some backup.
Which came in the form of baklava!
As hookah smoke circled around our heads and cheers from Bosnians young and old watching a soccer match on TV resounded, the four of us sampled every baklava flavor. Fingers sticky with syrup, Cassandra would take a bite of a square, pass it on to me, I'd do the same, pass it to Hanna, and then she to Leah, who polished it off. Repeating this over and over again, we'd also contribute eager commentary about our favorites. Mine–the walnut–was by far the best, let's go ahead and settle that argument.
We tossed around the idea of hitting up a couple of bars, but our shoes and socks were soaked with freezing rain. And despite scarfing down ćevapi and coffee and a box of baklava, we were still feeling peckish.
So we snuck onto a tram, hopped off upon spotting a pekara (bakery) for somun (bread), and then raided a supermarket for Tangerine Schweppes, kajmak cheese, salami, chocolate, hot cocoa, Bailey's, and whipped cream. Then, piled up onto the futon with our spread of goodies and a dubbed Sex and the City episode, we instituted our own kind of traditional nightcap!