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Bosnia and Herzegovina

How Sarajevo earned the name of ‘Soul City’

**Disclaimer: I am actually writing this during my lecture on Contemporary Art as I was just too excited that I couldn’t wait for this evening’s free time. Setting my priorities right, that’s for sure.

I’m going to be 100% honest with you all… I had never really ever heard of Sarajevo before a month or two before actually arriving. Yep, that’s right. I didn’t know that they held the 1984 Winter Olympics, the turmoil of war that broke out in Yugoslavia or even the Sarajevo siege that saw thousands of innocent lives taken day in and day out during the nineties. I can reassure you that after my five days were up, I left Sarajevo feeling like I had just sat through an intensive degree on Yugoslavian history that was meant to be done over three years.

Ever since the conflict eased in the late nineties, Sarajevo has been on an endless roller-coaster and is still pushing economically to get back on their feet. If anything, the distressing history that made Sarajevo known for, is what makes it one of the most memorable places I have travelled to to date. Okay, I know that sounds like I am a horrible person…but I’m not. Let me explain…

We all know someone that seems to always draw the short straw in life and runs into some pretty bad luck, but when I think of these people, I always tend to believe that they are the stronger, more independent people that as a whole are more grateful for the wonderful journey that is life. When I see these people, I begin to compare them to those that I met in Sarajevo. I can say it with the upmost pleasure that the people of Sarajevo have hearts and souls made out of gold. Each individual that I met always greeted me with a warming smile and welcomed me as if I was one of their friends. They taught me about their traditions, culture and passed down many lessons on history. Not only was it a highly beneficial destination for my taste buds and my bank account, but it has given me a strong bond and love for the people of Bosnia.

I would go back to Sarajevo in a heart-beat just so I can be surrounded by such nurturing and kind hearted people again (maybe also for the gelato that is comparable to Italy’s but at half the price, who would’ve known?) Sarajevo really is the city of Soul and will always have a piece of me. But for now, here are some of my favourite portraits and locals that I met whilst in the city of Soul.

Bosnian local Bosnian local My parents and I got talking to this lovely Iranian man whom owns a huge stock of traditional rugs in the heart of the old district. He played us a lovely song on arrival and ended up giving us a huge tour of their store even though we weren’t looking at buying. Bosnian local Bosnian local Bosnian local A friendly Bosnian woman giving me a wave from inside her store in the Bascarsija district.Bosnian local The owner of ‘To be or Not To Be’ standing outside her restaurant. This was my favourite place to go for lunch or dinner in Sarajevo. Bosnian local Believe it or not, this gentleman in Pigeon (Bascarsijia) Square spent a few minutes staring into my camera lens. I took it as an open invitation to shoot away. Bosnian localThis lovely lady lived and worked through the Yugoslavian war and still runs the same cafe that she did at the time of turmoil.

 

Photo of the week: Amina

What better way to start a weekly ritual than with a gorgeous portrait of a gorgeous woman. This is Amina, a local villager in Lukomir, which is one of the last standing true Bosnian villages. Although she spoke very little English, there was so much to admire about her friendly and very humble presence. I love the way the light falls on the right side of her face, illuminating her eyes and making her really glow. This photograph was shot in colour on my Canon 5D mark ii with a 50mm lens at f2 and a 1/15th second shutter. Unfortunately due to the low lighting conditions and having my external flash out of function, I had to up my ISO, but I feel as though the grain doesn’t necessarily take away from the image. I hope you all enjoy this snap as much as I do.

A day in Lukomir: the last true Bosnian village

First of all, a huge shoutout to The Blonde Gypsy for her post on Lukomir. Without it I wouldnt have ever made the trip so far up into the mountains, missing out on what was surely an unforgettable day

The last true Bosnian village, Lukomir is located approximately 50 kilometres from the capital city of Sarajevo and situated about 1500 metres above sea level. With only two families populating the somewhat thousand-year-old village, there is something so welcoming and warm about Lukomir. Since commercialisation in the early 00’s, the people of Lukomir still live a very primitive life, needing only the bare necessities to survive. Most of the villagers are on pensions, but still use the increase in tourism to sell their handmade woolen and maple tree products to make a few extra marks to support their families. Times have changed a lot since the 21st century and with the newly created dirt road leading in and out of the village, the people of Lukomir are able to descend lower into other villages and surrounding areas of Sarajevo where they retreat during winter to escape from the brutal temperatures and dangerous avalanches that can inundate the village and cut off sources to food and water.

Luckily, there are a few tour companies that do day trips on selected days of the week, so hiking or mountain bike riding isn’t the only option available to experience what life is really like in one of the most remote villages in Bosnia. Through excellent recommendations from the very trusty TripAdvisor and of course the Blonde Gypsy’s blog, I reserved a spot for myself and my parents on Green Vision’s tour with the very knowledgeable and friendly guide, Benjamin.

Green Visions tourA quick stop off to take in the views of the valley below. 

Meeting at the taxi rink opposite ‘Pigeon Square’ in the old town, we were greeted by our guide in his white, seat-beltless (which is totally reasonable in Bosnia) Toyota van. Coming from Australia where seat belts are compulsory and fines are handed out if caught without one, this came as a shock, but as soon as we were on our way up the mountain, I never questioned once what would happen in the case of an incident. To put it simply, he is brilliant and very safe driver, so have no fear. After the 1 and a half hour drive, which was partially on a dirt track road, we had made it to the village of Lukomir. After swiftly looking through photographs of the village online prior to the day trip, I had an idea on what to expect, but it was truly unbeatable. Pictures simply don’t do a place justice.

LukomirThe dirt road into Lukomir. 

It wasn’t long until we took off on a short hike down along the edge of Vijenac mountain, working our way towards a small, but shady tree on the ledge of the mountain which overlooked a running waterfall and the very impressive canyon below. The steady hike takes about 2 and a half hours return with enough time at the half way point to take it all in, get some edgy photos (literally, on the edge of the cliff) and regain hydration before heading back up the rocky mountain.

Lukomir LukomirThis red dot symbolises a continuation point for hiking along the Vijenac mountain. 

After returning, we made our way over to Amina’s humble abode, for a traditional Bosnian lunch and kafa. Without my individual request when booking, this authentic experience wouldn’t have been made possible, so I am so pleased that Benjamin went out of his way to organise this special treat for the tour. The food is included in the price but is usually in the form of a picnic, so we all felt very lucky to have an authentic lunch and kafa. From the cottage cheese to the spinach, the food was all organically sourced from both the surrounding villages and her own fruit and vegetable patch.

Lukomir foodSpinach and Cottage cheese Burek made fresh by Amina. 

I don’t even know my luck, but I was invited inside the home of Amina’s so I could get a grasp on the living conditions inside the small, tee-pee like homes made from maple tree, stone and shingles. With three separate rooms (kitchen, bathroom and lounge/bedroom), all within the area of what one lounge room would be in a western home, there was nothing that could describe it more than cosy and humble. Tarps lined the roof in the kitchen to catch any dirt or shards of wood from the maple tree ceiling and was illuminated by one bright light in the corner of the room.

Lukomir LukomirMaking Bosnian kafa for afternoon tea.

Continuing on the tour along the rusted fence of the overgrown cemetery, we made our way up to two tombstones that were lodged in the hillside. It is unknown whether this was the original location or if they had been shifted from the top of the mountain during an avalanche many years ago.

Lukomir

The last stop on the tour was to the peak of Vijenac, which was just about 1500 metres above sea level. We marveled at the remote village of Lukomir from atop, took some happy snaps with the Bosnian mountains as the backdrop and had a slow wander back towards the van.

Although I was very sad to leave this almost untouched, local and very remote village, I was so excited to get back home and search through the hundreds of photographs that I had taken on my marvelous day. If you do decide to make this trip, I am sure you will have nothing short of an amazing time. I couldn’t recommend Green Vision tours highly enough, with special mention to our guide, Benjamin. His wit, sense of humor and never ending stories made for a very informative, yet enjoyable day that I will always remember.

Lukomir Lukomir Our guide Benjamin on the peak of Vijenac mountainLukomir Lukomir Lukomir Cemetery Green Visions tour Lukomir Lukomir Tour group