Next stop: Sarajevo

Peeling my T-shirt away from my hot, sticky skin, I stepped off the ancient train and onto the platform, closely followed by my four friends and our enormous rucksacks. After a very long day winding our way south from Budapest, it was a huge relief to have arrived in Bosnia at last. The temperature at that time of day was perfect; the smells and sounds of the city greeted us on a lazy breeze as we entered the Sarajevo night.

All tiredness from a whirlwind month backpacking our way around Eastern Europe suddenly faded, overtaken by the giddy excitement of discovering a brand new city in the dark. With salty cheese pastries in hand we wandered through the Turkish Quarter, past lively cafes, ornate mosques with towering minarets and into the chaotic streets of the bazaar. Here we found all kinds of everything on sale: fancy tea sets, gleaming silver trays, rugs, pots, jugs, hookah pipes - all beautifully arranged on wooden trestle tables outside the shops.

The dusty stones, still warm underfoot from the day's sun, were interrupted here and there with splashes of red resin - 'Sarajevo roses' that mark the sites of mortar shell explosions. Vestiges such as these of the siege opened up before us as we walked; walls riddled with bullet holes surrounded a building lying in ruins, a cemetery full of headstones all dating back to the mid nineties lay peaceful amid the hustle and bustle of the city. Whilst these reminders were never far from the surface, when faced with the fairly mundane reality of everyday life going on around us trams rattling past, couples out for an evening stroll - it was hard to comprehend that just a few years ago people here were living in constant fear.

Eventually we emerged from the narrow streets into a square where flocks of pigeons were gathered around a central fountain. We sat for a while and took in our surroundings: the modern, high-rise buildings in the distance beyond the Old Town, and beyond that the steep hills encircling Sarajevo on three sides. Today just a few twinkling lights from houses perched on the hillsides looked back at the city. Sitting on the steps that night I contemplated the prospect of snipers hiding amongst the trees above us, with perhaps this very square in their sights an extremely sobering moment.

E Poppe

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