Sarajevo, Bosnia – Trains, Hotels, Tunnels & Tours

On the bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar we ran into some girls from Papatoetoe who shared some mutual friends back in Auckland.  They were going to Sarajevo a day earlier than Nish and Corey so I decided to tag along on the train to get an extra day up in the City.

Our train was great value at 15.50 Convertible Marks (about $13 NZD) for the “business class” train (and it was definitely right up there with the Stanstead express train in the UK) getting us seats right next to the cafe/bar.Beers were 2 Marks, or approx $1.80 NZDWe arrived at Sarajevo train station, dragged our luggage up and down a few more flights of stares, had a taxi driver try and convince us we could fit our luggage into his tiny car (we couldn’t) before settling on a VW station wagon with tires that had less tread than a Waiuku burnout car.  10 Euros later we had a tiki tour around town (including the heavily fortified US embassy) and we were at, what we thought was the hotel we were recommended by friends and in lonely plane.  Its location seemed a little “strange” but it looked nice from the outside, check in was a breeze, they didn’t even ask for a credit card or payment when giving us the keys – more about the that later.We went to old town to grab some dinner and do some souvenir shopping for the girls family and friends.  If you are into copper coffee gear, pens made out of bullets and the like, then this is the place for you. Me, I’m into the food, and there is meat and cheap beer (almost) everywhere.  We went looking for the place with the most locals (I think its a local chain restaurant?), and ended up grabbing some food at Mrkva in the old town, loads of meat and some rather “interesting” yogurt.Walking home Michelle spotted the sign for the hotel, but we were a little confused, we were on the other side of town, what the hell had happened, then we saw it in more detail.  The sign said “deluxe”… we’d been dropped off and booked into the…… not so Deluxe one, on the other side of town. Yes, that is a burnt out old car across the road, and yes, we had the delightful sound of dogs barking outside, and dodgy gypsies raiding the trash 20m down the road.   The girls body language says it all!  Still, the place is pretty good value at 77Euros for 3 of us per night, including breakfast, all you can use wifi, proper hot showers that don’t threaten to electrocute you, and decent, comfortable beds, and at 2.30 Convertable Marks (about $1NZD) taxi from the old town, you can avoid some of the sketchy parts of town at night to get there.As you can see, inside it was much better than a hostel room, and well worth it for only 10 Euro extra each per person for the night! Michelle had been reccomended a walking tour/tour of the tunnels  on facebook, so we decided to check it out, resulting in us walking the wrong way through the university to find the office/museum where it started.  Turns out we still hadn’t got our bearings yet.  Still a good way to get around a bit more of the city.

The tour is the highest rated tour on tripadvisor and its easy to see why.The tours start from one of the more famous locations in Sarajevo, the location where Austro-Hungarian Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, kicking off the War to End All Wars, WWI.We started with the Tunnel tour, which the tour guide gave us a very personal insight into her experiences during the conflict as a child.  Was very intense as she would have been two years younger than me, and living in a war zone as a 5-8 year old.

The tunnels were hand constructed by the Bosnian army (which was really just a volunteer force put together after the conflict started) going under the UN controlled “neutral” airport, and into “Bosnian Free Territory” and was literally a lifeline in the longest military siege in modern history.The tunnel was used to transport humanitarian aid, people and weapons (there was an arms embargo in the region, leaving the Bosnians pretty much defenseless, as the Serbs had most of the weapons factories in the region – so small arms, remember the tunnel is 1m wide by 1.6-1.8m high were the only weapons they could get in). The tunnel was so small that you could only go in one direction at a time, if people met in the middle they would get stuck with their 50+ kg packs.

Apparently it was dug from both directions during construction, though I’m still unsure how they ensured it met in the middle, considering the circumstances.Outside the tunnel the building, which was once a private house, is used as a museum to remember the conflict and the amazing job the tunnel did in providing a lifeline to the city. Its been left in pretty much its original state after the conflict, as you can see from the high calibre bullet holes in the walls.  Apparently in the late 90s most if not all buildings had some sort of firearm damage to them.After the Tunnel Tour we grabbed a bite to eat, and returned for the free walking tour a 4:30 that had been recommended to us. Part tour and part ad for local sights and businesses, it really gives you an understanding of the place, and is well worth it.  It does put things in perspective when the town hall (one of the most important buildings in the city) has only just started reconstruction – 20 years later, and still only on the outside.

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