Welcome to my place... Sarajevo

‘I am not divulging my favourite lunch spot and having it overrun by tourists’

Sean, Garret, Nerma and Lara in Sarajevo. Photograph: Edin Pašovic

Sean, Garret, Nerma and Lara in Sarajevo. Photograph: Edin Pašovic

 

Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit Sarajevo?

Let’s be clear, I am not divulging my current favourite lunch spot to friends, visitors and family and having it overrun by tourists. Yes it’s on Zeleni Beretki or Green Beret Street (many streets have such martial-sounding names since the siege of Sarajevo) and yes it doubles as the pop-up VIP entrance to the Sarajevo Film Festival in August – arguably now the best festival between here and Berlin and next year’s 25th anniversary is a “must” – but more than that I will not say about my eatery of choice.

Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Sarajevo?

My concession to you, as first-time visitors, is that I will spare you the top 10 Trip Advisor recommendations for this Jerusalem of Europe, while bearing in mind that some cliches cannot be done without – they are simply part of the fabric of a place. Maybe you can’t avoid sampling the national dish cevapi, but you can avoid the overhyped Zeljo 1 and 2 restaurants. My recommendation is the family run Hodžic established deeper into the old town and near the infamously destroyed National Library, burnt to a crisp in 1992.

Cevapi may seem like an unassuming little meat sausage but there are rules which shall not be broken when consuming them. First, they come in fives: 10 for the hungry or 15 for the gluttonous, wrapped snugly in a freshly baked somun. Second, they shall be eaten with only one condiment, a cheese-like butter called kajmak. Finally, they will be paired neither with cola nor beer but with a liquid yogurt. Some say the raw onion is optional, but not for any true Sarajevan. For those not inclined to meat, the choux pastry pie of cheese and spinach, again with yogurt, is a deliciously satisfying alternative.

Where is the best place to get a sense of Sarajevo’s place in history?

If it’s war you want you have come to the right place. For a uniquely off-kilter view of everything from Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination here in 1914 to the current state of the nation you can ask Sarajevo Insider [internet site] for a tour with Ena Hodžic. While her city tour will take in all the key locations, if you want to see up close and personal how the citizens of this great city survived the food and water shortages and brutal murder of 11,541 citizens in the longest siege in modern history I recommend a trip to the history museum of BiH. It’s a squat, international-style 1960s building tucked in by the river, across from the American embassy.

Nerma and Garret in Sarajevo
Nerma and Garret in Sarajevo

The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are …

I first noticed the uncommonly beautiful geography of Sarajevo when I drove into the city on the night U2 played here and the twinkling lights on the steep slopes of the hills, which cradle Sarajevo in her palm. The city is compact enough to walk from its Ottoman Turkish market, through its Austro-Hungarian core and on to Marshal Tito’s SFRY main drag, passing in short succession the main mosques, Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals and a synagogue.

To catch the sense of all this from above take the funicular linking the heart of the town up to the bobsleigh run built for the winter Olympics – one of Sarajevan’s proudest memories. For a quieter and more substantial escape in leafy forest glades and a vertiginous mountain waterfall, a hike to Skakavac; the walks are free but you’ll need a car to get there and solid footwear a help.

What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Sarajevo?

Outré it may be in this digital age, but a trip to Buy Book – which runs the Bookstan Festival – is a must. If you want to immerse yourself in the city at war as seen by a foreigner, get Kevin Sullivan’s evocatively written thriller The Longest Winter and for the alternate view – how Sarajevan’s saw their “saviours” – the acerbically witty Sahib by Nenad Velickovic. I may have avoided the cliche locations, but not the cliche of Sarajevo at war, a deeply unfair stereotyping of this jewel. You will have to come yourself and discover what lies beneath.

If you’d like to share your little black book of places to visit where you live overseas, please email your answers to the five questions above to abroad@irishtimes.com, including a brief description of what you do there and a photograph of yourself. We would love to hear from you

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