When I was 17, and headed off to travel without my family for the first time, on a trip to Israel, I invested my lifesavings in a fancy new camera. The photography advice my mother gave me then stands by me today. It also is good advice for just taking in and writing about a new place. She said, "Look around you, and figure out, what do you see that would let you know that you weren't in Los Angeles? That's what you should take a picture of."
Here, then, are a few observations from Sarajevo, in no particular order:
- Cobblestone streets are quaint and charming, and a pain in the neck (or ankle). They are slippery (no traction) and uneven – not so great for paving a large pedestrian area. (This observation is not new per se… Try walking through the Palatino ruins in Rome in flip flops. Actually, don’t try it. Take my word.) This is something I’m daily reminded of in old town Sarajevo.
- Bosnian Muslims seem to be more religiously observant than Kosovar Albanians, at least in their dress. This is not to say they’re super religious; they’re definitely not. It’s all relative. In Kosovo, where the population is now around 90% Muslim, I saw very few women in hijab. Fewer than I see randomly in Beantown. In Sarajevo, (the Muslim population of BiH is unknown as there’s been no full census since the war, but pre-war it was a little under 45%) the number wearing hijab is much larger. Clearly not as large as the Muslim population itself in the town, but quite prominent, in a colorful sort of way. I love seeing the coordination between headscarves and outfits.
I’ve also seen a few women wearing their headscarves in the manner I associate with Tichels worn by married Orthodox Jewish women (knotted in a bun in the back – covering the head but not neck & shoulders). The women here who do so are always wearing it with a turtle neck or equivalent to remain modest. This is clearly not the mainstream style, but is also not completely isolated. Totally fascinating.
- Not un-relatedly, Sarajevo is great place to shop for scarves (to be used as headscarves or otherwise). There are shops selling beautiful colorful options all over the place.
- If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck. Bosnians love their slatičarnice (approximately dessertaries). It seems like every third shop you’ll find one of these small cafes selling ice cream, pastries, and of course coffee.
- Other specialty food shops are čevabdžinica (places specializing in ćevapi and other grilled meats), and buregdžinica (places specializing pitta – burek (meat), sirnica (cheese), krompiruša (potato), and zeljanica (spinach, with cheese).*
*In Serbia all these pitta dishes are called burek, and are specified more by naming the filling, whereas here they all have specialized names. Thus Bosnian sirnica is what Serbians call burek sa sirom. (Cheese burek). Etc. These filled savory filo-pastries are really not equivalent to what Americans call burekas. Similar concept, but very different. Among other things these are cooked as huge flat (think pizza pan size) circular dishes, and you are served a large slice. It’s a meal by itself.
- As in Serbia, the preferred national coffee is what we would call Turkish Coffee. Though here I’ve often seen it called Bosnian Coffee. Go figure.