It’s been a long-time coming, but finally here’s my take on what to do (and not to do!) in one of the cities closest to my heart. Bosnia’s capital makes for a great city trip or 2-3 days stop-off on your Balkans round trip. I’m sharing some things you should do in Sarajevo, some things to watch out for and some things that I missed out on or weren’t for me, but that might be for you.
Sarajevo was under siege for almost 4 years – to help understand what was going on and learn about the day-to-day life, head to the city’s History Museum – just off ‘Sniper Alley’ which tells the complex history of the Balkans, and details life in a city under siege. For extra credit, read Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović, where 12 year old Zlata documented her wartime, and Fools Rush In by Bill Carter, an aid worker in the region at the time with an incredible story to tell.The city had a hectic history long before the siege, so join a walking tour to get the low down on this. The tour stops include the spot which kicked off World War I (where Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot), the so-called ‘Sarajevo Rose’ – where the mortars hit and were later filled with red resin creating a floral-like memorial, and the Canned Beef Monument, an ironic statement on the quality of food aid given during the siege.
Allow some time to get lost in the cobbled streets of the Old Town, a crossroads of cultures with the Ottoman architecture alongside Austrian-Hungarian. Wander around market stalls, and stock up on hand-made woollen socks, jewellery or local copper-ware. Followed this up with a traditional Bosnian coffee at a ‘Kafana’ or Cafe bar – they come with a sugar cube or piece of Turkish delight.
The Old Town is also where it’s at for food. For lunch grab a sandwich at Fan (Kundurdziluk 11) or chown down on burek (meat or veggie filled pastries) from one of the many bakeries. Or maybe skip lunch and wait for dinner with cevape at Ferhatović Petica (Bravadžiluk 21). Everyone will tell you to go to the famous Željo 1 (Kundurdžiluk 19) for their cevape, but after some very in-depth research I can tell you Petica is the only location you need to know about.
Just outside Sarajevo, in the village of Donji Kotorac, is the famed tunnel the Bosian Army built during the Seige of Sarajevo to bring supplies into the cut-off city. Today, the tunnel entrance has a small museum where you learn how it worked and you can enter a small section of it to feel what the people at the time went through.
Don’t spend money on bottles of water ad it’s safe to drink the tapwater. Plus if you fill up your bottle at the Sebilj Fountain in Old Town, legend says you’ll return to the city again!
Hiking in the mountains is definitely something you should add to your to-do list, but do not wander off trails as some of the hills around the city may still contain unexploded landmines. There are enough ways to safely explore the Bosnian countryside, but make sure to check the latest info at the tourist information or take a guided tour.
This brings me to empty and abandoned buildings in rural areas that might look like great for urban exploring. Just don’t as they might be booby-trapped with explosives and mines to stop looters from stealing their homes. The explosives may not have been removed so stay on the safe side.
Of course not everyone who is being up-close and friendly is on the hunt for your wallet or phone, but keep an eye out for pickpockets on trams. It’s not terribly bad, but similar to Prague or Paris.
Did you know that Sarajevo played host to the ’84 Winter Olympics? The abandoned 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics Bobsleigh Track, found high in the mountains above the city is the place to be for urbex. Remember to stay on the tracks though.
A day trip to Mostar to see the Stari Most, Old Bridge of Mostar – a rebuilt 16th-century Ottoman bridge connecting the two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed in 1993, the replica was rebuilt in 2004 and it’s as glorious.
I avoid leaving the country on bank/public holidays, almost always have. I grew up doing jobs in hospitality which meant they were always days to work with the hope of overtime while everyone was out having fun, and that was fine by me. Then I worked in tourism, where you instead go on holiday during the low season and never pay the full price. Now I just avoid leaving London’s Zone 2 on bank holidays. Though many people would see it as wasting an opportunity, and I see why, it just isn’t worth the stress that it brings.
This bank holiday I was ducking and diving to avoid all the obstacles thrown at me and as each one hit me I clearly remembered why it’s not for me.
1 | Public transport is a mess
The drama already starts as soon as you leave the house. With a bit of luck someone’s decided it’s time to do some repair work on your route so you’re forced to get a bus, a train, a replacement bus, and alternative train and then a taxi. With journey times doubled or even tripled your patience may begin to wear thin as mine did, but whatever you do try not to think about the fact that the extra buses and train tickets really eat into that ‘cheap airline ticket’ deal you smiled as you purchased weeks/months before.
2 | Drama at the airport
If you do make it to the airport, chances are your flight will be delayed, plus everyone else’s will be as well, meaning it gets a little crowded in the tiny terminal and everyone’s eying up everyone in a desperate game of musical chairs while getting grumpy with the lack of information. If you succeed in grabbing a seat, be prepared to hold on to it with your life, and if you’ve got a plug nearby, make all you can it of it before it’s pounced on quicker than a 1st class upgrade!
3 | Expensive & Crowded
Ticket fares as well as accommodation costs go up during bank holidays to ridiculous amounts, meaning you’ll end up hurting in the wallet a lot more than you expect – 2-4 times as much in many cases (mine was 3 times for this trip) And while tickets for most attractions stay the same it gets super crowded, on a recent bank holiday I saw the lines double, possibly even triple for the London Eye
I’ll just stick it to staying in town and host a BBQ and support group for the people facing the same trauma.
Do you ever brave travelling on a bank/public holiday?
Blondies Kitchen are taking over London with their cookies + milk combo and if you’ve been on social media this week you’ll know they just opened a new location on Kingly Court. Their cookies are perfectly soft, ready to melt in your mouth and there’s tons of flavours to choose from. Try the white chocolate and biscuit butter with a glass of milk or go for a soft serve with cookies crumble and/or Nutella crunch for the perfect dairy/baked tastebud pleaser.
It looks like something out of Harry Potter, tucked away in the attic of an old church with potion-like herb collections with hand-written descriptions of their medicinal uses and apothecary bottles that will make your bathroom cabinets look so 2018. It also houses the only surviving 19th century operating theatre where performances are held, plus there’s a collection of torture-style instruments. So happy things have moved on since then.
Grand tudor palaces, gardens in bloom and a maze you need to get lost in… you can read all about my day of exploring Hampton Court Palace and its grounds here. And if that doesn’t get you on the train to the south west London then I have failed as a blogger.
I might not get Harry Potter tickets until 2024, but in the mean time I should watch another play here and there to stay cultured. Last year I saw a Shakespeare comedy at the Globe and this year I was ready for a tragedy. This version of the Scottish king gone mad tale is set in a dystopian world (I’m thinking Brexit aftermath) and includes a lot of beards (‘MacBeard’ would have been a much better title) … so if you like watching beards and drama while sipping on some fine red then this might be for you.
It was only a matter of time til the Dutch cuisine made its way over to the UK…but we’ll have to wait for the traditional ‘hutspot’ dish or the herring with raw onions for the moment! Until that joyous day there is the chips hole in the wall just off Leicester Square that sells what we Dutch call Flemish fries: thick-cut and double fried makes them crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside. And you know they are Dutch when they offer satay sauce. I’d like to see them a bit more crispy next time though and I need to ask what the name is all about as well.
The world’s leading travel guide has just announced their Top 10 Europe destinations, highlighting the hidden gems you have to visit when you want to avoid mass tourism. Being a self-proclaimed traveller myself I’ve crossed of a whole three of them: Vilnius (you can read my findings here), Dundee (maybe one day I will find words to describe my experience) and the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. I lived in Leeuwarden during a lost few months in my life so as an expert and expat I can tell you what to see and do there.
When you think of Netherlands you think of Amsterdam and perhaps Rotterdam or The Hague. But according to Lonely Planet, Friesland is where it’s at. It’s located in the North West of the Netherlands and stands out as it has its own language, traditions and lovely nature (very hard to admit from someone from the the rival province). What are some things to see, do and eat then?
Visit One Town Visit All Towns No matter which city of town you visit they all have the same blueprint: cute historical city centre with an old church, a random museum that showcased why it was important at some point in history and boats to escape to other places. If you have time to visit one city then make it Harlingen: get lost in the compact city centre and check out the charming houses, visit the port and see the #AccidentalWesAnderson light house and top it off with an ice-cream at Min 12. It was where I lost my salted caramel virginity and it changed the game (and jeans size) for me.
Culinary Sugar Explosion
The French have a croissant, the Scandinavian have cinnamon buns and Friesland has … sugar bread. It’s literally a white loaf of bread, with large lumps of sugar mixed in with the dough. Wait … what? It gets better… To top it off you it’s best when served with a layer of butter. So definitely not for the ones working on their #Summerbody2018.
Bring Out Your Inner Water Rat (It’s a weird Dutch phrase, but bear with me!)
Friesland is the watersport capital of the Netherlands and many school trips have taken me there. Canoeing or sailing are great, but you really want to go traditional rent a sloop and explore by boat. The engines are silent so you can also combine it with nature and visit a reserve like De Alde Feanen.
If you like climbing poles Fierljeppen might be for you: you basically jump and grab your pole (usually between 8 and 13 metres) and then climb to the top of the pole while trying make sure it moves forward and lands on a designated spot.
Or perhaps mudflat hiking: Twice a day – when it’s low tide, the Wadden Sea gets all dry and you have can actually walk in the gooey seabed to one of the nearby islands. I did it twice and ended up crying both times, once out of frustration and other time out of happiness that I made it. Make sure you book a guided tour unless you want to end up stuck in the mud!
Have you been to any of Lonely Planet’s Top Europe Destinations?
Getting lost in a city isn’t something you always want on holiday, but places like Dubrovnik practically beg you to escape from the crowd and savour the architectural treasures of the old town, imagining all the drama that took place on these cobbled streets over the centuries.
Though most people rent out their place in summer you will still spot signs from the locals: the old ladies who are chatting, hanging laundry out to dry, and cats sunbathing all day and give you a fuck off when you try to take a photo. While you, me and everyone’s grandma seems to have discovered the place, it suffers from overtourism (there are plans to only let 4,000 people a day in) so enjoy those views while they last.
If Dubrovnik was a travelquote it would be something in the line of: every alley leads to new adventures so don’t be afraid to get lost in the labyrinth. Like you might stumble upon a hidden bar built into the side of the cliff that also happens to be a cliff diving spot. You can watch people jump or decide to actually to embrace your inner daredevil and take the leap.
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