Sunday 15 May 2016

There are no mistakes in history...

I left you with a glass of Turkish tea in a Han deep within the old part of town. These places were designed for weary travellers and their horses to stay, and as Destination Sarajevo explains Kolobara Han, Sarajevo’s first inn, was a caravanserai built in the second half of the 15th century by the city’s founder, Isa Bey Ishaković. It is a green sheltered paradise with a fountain, and a quiet spot away from the hubbub of shops. I was happy to spend time there just soaking up the atmosphere, and wonder what the two ladies were making on the next table along - something crafty and delicate by the looks of it.

I meandered back through town, taking in the copper works and tiny streets, picking up milk on the way, feeling quite damp and alone. But as experience has taught me, there is nothing like a good night's sleep, a natter with a friend, and a plan for the following day to make you feel better whilst travelling. So after a small altercation with my laptop which was protesting about something, I settled down with a milky hot chocolate, a stunning view of the city lights, and my first and only early night here!

The next morning I threw my plan in the bin and instead went wandering along the river to see what I stumbled across. First stop was the Latin Bridge, just metres away from the assassination; in the murky gloom it's easy to imagine dark deeds and it was a somber moment as I stood on the bridge next to a missing monument. Despite the rain, I didn't feel the urge to visit the museum - Dan Carling's hardcore history of the First World War is pretty much all you need to know about this incendiary moment in time and his dramatic retelling is fresh in my mind. 

I carried on until I reached the fairy tale Vijećnica - city hall. I had no idea if it was open so was cautious in entering. 5km later, I was alone in a mind bogglingly beautiful space, full of colour, light and drama. The staircase had me wanting full ballgown, and the council chamber, full on regalia. Then you realise the significance of this place and, suddenly I wanted to fade to black and white, and  mourn. An entire archive was lost here...the national library lost 90% of its material. That is when the first tears of the day appeared, the screen said;

There are no mistakes in history. The whole of history is a mistake.

This incredibly simple statement sums up precisely what I've been struggling comprehend in my history classes. From the earliest time this region has sat on a metaphorical and ideological fault line, with regular tumultuous earthquakes occurring. It must seem to the population that no sooner had they found prosperity and stability, they were at the mercy of some new world catastrophic mistake.

The modern history exhibition on the lower ground floor of the city hall is brilliant. Like a burek, it coils through the story of Sarajevo since 1914; from Franz Ferdinand and his love match, through the World Wars, socialism and the rebuilding of the economy, then sports, Olympics, leisure and societies, and finally the last war and the re-rebuilding which is taking place. This very building only re-opened 6 months ago; the regeneration is extremely slow but determined.

From images of cultural devastation to the bright space of the well preserved Gazi Husref Bey's library and museum. I had enjoyed a lunch of cevapi, salad and flatbread from Mrkva along the way. Nothing was lost from these archives, and the atmosphere is that of prosperity and wealth. When I was there a large conference was taking place and they didn't look too concerned about having men only panels... The museum downstairs was opened especially for me and I enjoyed the 19th century framed calligraphy, embroidery and the time pieces. Some of the fragments of masonry were very beautiful; it was a light peaceful place to regain equilibrium.

My wandering feet took me back through town and the weather was definitely looking ugly. It hadn't been great anyway but the showers were now getting longer and harder. One thing I really wanted to see was the Despić house museum; not because I knew who they were but I love seeing how people used to live. There is something curiously and eerily dolls house-like about wandering around domestic houses with preserved furniture, wallpaper, and set tables...especially when you're the only one in there. They were a well to do Serbian family interested in theatre and the arts; I wonder if the trams rumbling past outside were welcomed by the family?

By this point I'd had enough and was ready to burst wth information and feelings. I needed a beer in a completely familiar environment. Retracing my steps I found the pub with a red London telephone box outside. It was lucky I chose to make my move then as the heavens opened, and I was happy to sit there for the rest of the afternoon, to write and to drink!

Three hours later I felt much better. Even the weather agreed, and for the first time since my arrival the sun came out! Feeling mildly guilty about my afternoon in the pub, I remembered that were was music in the town hall and headed back there, but sadly I was an hour early so I set off for a walk to see if I could find a panoramic view of the city. My invaluable guide said the best nearest spot was Vidikovac - sadly the cable car was yet another victim of the war so I walked up. And up. Past endless cemeteries. Met some angry looking dogs, so ran up for a bit. Collapsed to soak up the sun and admire the colours, then just kept going up. What a place. What a view.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I was due to meet some actual real life people later that evening, and now I was thoroughly hot and sweaty. Heading home I had a serious attack of not wanting to go out, but pulled myself together with a warm shower, a glass of wine, and some music. I was an hour late in the end but happily so was my contact. Ha! He welcomed me and introduced me to the group. They were mostly Bosnians who had spent time in Germany and so often gathered to speak German and just network over coffee. They delighted in my 'proper' English accent and we talked about life in Sarajevo (hard!), opportunities (few!) and pop concerts (rare!). As the party drew to a close, Mirza and I went for a stroll around town and then had a quick ticketless tram ride, which was a giggle - like most people I meet, he was curious as to why I'm travelling alone and why I'm single. I don't know, if I wasn't alone, I wouldn't be doing crazy things like meeting strangers and having interesting conversations on late night trams.

Finally getting in at 12ish, it was the end of a long and interesting day. Then I remembered, I had no clean knickers for the rest of my stay.

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