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Laugh With Me

Laugh With Me
Laugh With Me

Experiencing The Spirit of Sarajevo

From the most delightful teashop in all the land, Cassandra, Hanna and I ventured towards somewhere much more somber. While my memories from Sarajevo are certainly full of unimaginably delicious treats and a most vibrant art and culture scene, I grip onto most dearly the unforgettable lessons in humanity and history.

After burning our lungs with steaming salep at Cajdzinica Dzirlo, Cassandra led the way towards the Yellow Fortress. As we slowly inched up the incline of the cobblestoned pathway, our surroundings became less exquisite, less pretty. Away went the trinkets hung tantalizingly in storefronts and the cosmopolitan feel of a city center. The higher we climbed, the more we saw of crumbling exteriors frozen in time.

Up high, it was quiet. Silent for the most part, save for the occasional car whizzing around a particularly sharp turn, or schoolkids shouting while chasing a ball.

When we reached the top of the sloping hill, slightly out of breath and deep in conversation about the war in the 90's, this was the view that greeted us.

It was all at once breathtaking and heartbreaking, hopeful and haunting. The panorama that we faced up there, right under the bastions of the Yellow Fortress, made us pause to take it all in. Gleaming modern facades off into the distance, projecting neon lights. Terracotta roofs, misty skies, minarets of mosques standing tall. The hills on which Serbian forces laid siege on the city of Sarajevo for four years, firing down bullets and grenades at will. And most devastatingly of all, a very small fraction of the victims of those years' fighting, at peace at last. Laid right before us, marked by striking white graves bearing birth years disconcertingly similar to our own.  

Although wandering around cemeteries isn't exactly what most vacations entail, we felt it important to pay our respects and allow ourselves to be reminded not only of the privileges we hold as individuals who live in a time and place of relative peace, but also of our responsibilities as global citizens to do our part in not allowing the sad chapters of history repeat themselves. It was extraordinarily profound.
Making our way back down the hill by way of the twists and turns of the tranquil cemetery, we eventually let ourselves out quietly through a side entrance and were once again met with the lively spirit of Old Town Baščaršija.

Rain falling lightly, the daylight retreated quicker than usual. We half-heartedly perused a couple of souvenir alleys, but then decided to save shopping for the next day. Instead, the three of us gave each other that "I need a drink" look and proceeded to make our way to Zlatna Ribica (Sarajevo's famous "Goldfish Bar").
Stepping into Zlatna Ribica is what I imagine stepping back into time feels like.

As dignified as it is eccentric, it feels like the kind of place grandfathers would be drawn to. Plastered on every inch of the wall and ceiling is any quirky trinket or interesting artifact you could conjure–in fact, drink menus are found by pulling down old phone cords from the ceiling. Rumor has it, the owner collected these curiosities throughout the war. Stamps, uniforms, medallions, photos, license plates, literally anything and everything.
Word of warning: Ribica's tiny. You can barely flag the waitress down without accidentally knocking someone in the back of their head. In fact, all the tables were taken when we first showed up, and so we brazenly made our own little nook by pulling up stools to an entryway table. A glass of visnja arrived for each of us–a cherry brandy beloved to the region that'll make your mouth pucker.

The next hour or so became a game of alternating sips of sharp visnja that stung our noses with gulps of refreshing cucumber water, and of course an obligatory hello to the namesake of the bar:
Having whiled away the early evening away in the intimate bar, it finally came time to ambitiously trek up another hill in order to make our dinner reservation at the fancy Four Rooms of Mrs. Safija.
Started off the meal by nursing the smoothest visnja we had in the entire Balkans region.

So good, we were keen to buy a whole bottle of it to share later on (but naturally, forgot to ask).

Then, dinner rolls and a cheese platter on the house, followed soon after by intricate corned beef raviolis–porcini and cheese sandwiched by salty, dried beef. Really, really special. 
I happily dug into my hearty fettuccine with tomato ragout, beef, and truffles, excited to be reunited with pasta.

Cassandra went with a simple smoked tuna salad:
And Hanna ordered what we all thought was the showstopper:

an excellent, incredibly flavorful sous vide lamb, smothered with an amazing pistachio pesto and garlic sauce, accompanied by crazy delicious potatoes. You should've seen how she had to fend us off when our forks veered suspiciously close to her plate.
All throughout dinner, we spied neighboring tables finishing their meals with glass pots of panna cotta or stout chocolate souffles.

Not to be outdone, we asked for both.

And man, oh man, did these actually steal the show.

Pillowy chocolate cake oozing with hot, rich fudge when cracked down the middle. Delicious on its own, but unbelievable when combined with a spoonful of cold vanilla ice cream and a swipe of raspberry sauce.

But even that masterpiece couldn't compare with the exceptionally creamy hazelnut panna cotta, which was flecked with subtle touches of caramel, and topped with hazelnut crumble. Dangerously delicious.
Unable to resist even as the desserts dwindled to the very last dredges, we each scraped the bottom of the vessels furiously with our spoons. And when even that proved too inefficient, Cassandra went right ahead and dragged her fingers through any remaining crumbs, licking them clean.

As our waiter reached for the empty plates, he did a double-take when he saw the spotless dishes, and then burst into laughter, shaking his head mirthfully. 

Afterwards, we contemplated hitting up another bar or even taking a long, leisurely walk home to accommodate our burgeoning bellies. But antsy after being separated from our fourth member for half a day, we hastily flagged down the first taxi we saw and sped through the city streets, at last spilling through Cassandra's apartment door and piling up next to Leah in bed to recount our day's adventures with her.

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