Surviving the Sarajevo Hostels

As someone who was born and raised in Bosnia, I am by no means biased against that great country and its citizens. In fact, I have nothing but great memories of the friends I grew up with, the generosity of the Bosnian people as a whole, the great grilled food that is so much a part of their culture, and their timeless music, which can still melt my heart every time I hear it, reminding me of a time long since gone. But having spent the last 22 years living in Chicago, I am now practically more American than Bosnian, for most of my years have been spent in the United States. I also hold an American passport, and just a few years ago I was very excited to use it for the first time. My first country of destination: none other than Bosnia.
I arrived in Sarajevo on a warm, muggy day in June of 2011. It was much hotter than I ever remember it being, and you can only imagine my disappointment when, upon taking a cab to my hostel, I realized that the place did not have air conditioning. Not only that, but this place was a flat out dump in more ways than one, and in no way did it resemble the glorious and polished Ritz-Carlton image it masqueraded as on its website. It smelled of urine everywhere, the floor was very sticky, and appeared as if it had not been cleaned for months. The clerk at the main desk was not a very friendly fellow.
“You have reservation?”, he said to me, as the ash on the cigarette in his mouth hung on to dear life.
“Yes. Diab is the name.”
He took me to my room, which once again was the opposite of what the website promised. It was basically a large bedroom for about five or six people, with several bunk beds, bad lighting and poor ventilation.
“But I paid for a single room, just for myself. Do you have any of those?”
“No single rooms here, just shared.” He pointed to the floor.
“Leave your bags here, it’s safe.”
“Do you have wi-fi? The site said you have free internet.”
He just shook his head, then turned and walked out of the room.
Not knowing anyone in Sarajevo at that point, I was in a real bind. I had two choices: stay in this hole for the night, and try to find a better hostel tomorrow for the remainder of my stay in this city, or pick up my bags, pay the late reservation cancellation fee and completely disrupt my budget by moving into a hotel, which would cost about 3 or 4 times as much as this place. But alas, the money I brought to Europe with me had to last me for another 3 weeks, so the latter option was quickly eliminated.
It goes without saying that my first (and last) night in this-hostel-from-hell was a sleepless one. As I laid in bed in a pool of my own sweat, my so-called roommates were not keen on keeping the noise down, not even when I politely pointed out to them that the clock had now shifted in the AM territory. I also tried not to use the bathroom very frequently, for the smell it omitted made me want to vomit, not to mention the filthy appearance of the sink and toilet. Thankfully, the one quick time I did use it, I was lucky enough to see only one rat. Finally a tenant of this hostel worthy of its health-code hazard status.
With heavy bags under my eyes, I got up bright and early the next morning, and left this place before the sun was up. I told the clerk I was going to stay with a close friend for the rest of my trip, which is why I was checking out three days before my reservation required me to. He didn’t care much. Naturally so.
I look forward to travelling to Bosnia again. The country is a beautiful one, and there is plenty to see and experience for a foreigner not familiar with Eastern Europe. Just be sure to stay out of Bosnian hostels, and you just may last more than a day.

A Diab

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