Sarajevo: Siege Tour
Get There: Check out Sarajevo Funky Tours online, and on the day, meet in the last building on the left down the end of Besarina čikma 5.
Cost: 40BAM or €20 (plus entry to the war tunnel, which is 10BAM or 5BAM if you’ve got a student card)
It is all very well to wander the streets of Sarajevo in ignorance, marvelling at the bullet wounds in buildings and perhaps having someone show you on a map where Serbian snipers were stationed for nearly four years in an attempt to crush the city they had imprisoned. But if this is all you take away from your visit, not only will you be doing the thousands of men, women and children who were massacred an injustice – you will be doing yourself one.
“If you survived 1993, nothing else matters. There is no such thing as problems,” began our Sarajevo Funky Tours guide, who was just a boy of 13 when his hometown was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska in an attempt to stop Bosnia breaking away from Yugoslavia. And so sums up the phenomenal attitude perpetuated by those who stayed in Sarajevo after the siege: do not forget the past, but don’t let it get in the way of the future.
Just seven of us met with our effervescent guide Faruk at 10am one sunny Tuesday. With the driving skills of The Stig, he navigated the windy city streets and sheer mountainous gradients to give us the most in-depth, astute and personal insight into the siege of Sarajevo. Faruk pointed out the bridge he would sprint across as a child, weighed down with water canisters and dodging the whiz of bullets, to reach the town’s only underground spring. He took us through the tunnel used as a bloodline to bring in food, medical supplies and even animals. He showed us where his friend was killed by shrapnel one day when they playing soccer, and where more than 100 children took to the sloped streets at midnight to go sledding one night when it snowed so much that the soldiers ceased fire.
Sarajevo Funky Tours went completely off the beaten track – a concept usually incompatible with the term “tour”. Keen to break the widely-held misconception that all Bosnia’s mountains are dangerous, they took us into the hills of Trebević to explore the hauntingly beautiful bobsled track and the remains of a restaurant remains from which the city was besieged. But what I liked most was that it imparted a message of stoicism, of hope and of new beginnings, focusing on Sarajevo’s future as well as its bloody past. We stopped for coffee at a sensational café overlooking the valley, chatted with local graffiti artists and petted the city’s many stray dogs.
Caring only about the quality of his delivery, Faruk silenced all incoming phone calls and didn’t show the slightest annoyance at the fact that the trip went nearly two hours overtime. To call the journey we undertook a “tour” is a massive injustice to what, to me, was both one of the most phenomenal things I have done in Europe.
A trip with Sarajevo Funky Tours is not like speeding through Normandy on a Topdeck bus, secretly catching up on sleep while someone barks dates through a microphone. It is not like wandering the compounds of Auschwitz with headphones on. It is not like buying a keyring that says “Gallipoli”. It is real and it is eye-opening, and it brings this vibrant city back to life as it so very well deserves.