“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
Our first year is coming to a close in Sarajevo. We will be back for another, but I thought it warranted reflection after having some time to take in our new home.
The year was full of celebrations, festivals and activities at our school, exploring new restaurants and foods, seeing ancient castles, fun runs, long runs, learning about Balkan history through people, books, and museums, experiencing a new culture, making new and interesting friends, and encountering ample travel opportunity. To keep it real, the year also brought some of my most stressful times. I had my first panic attacks. It is hard to move to a new place, figure out a new job, figure out where things are, learn how the country ticks, always be emerged in an unfamiliar language–all of that with two little people that take priority and need their well-being taken of, along with some normalcy. There are certainly trade-offs living overseas, but they are well worth it to us. I think we came out the other side stronger and more capable, so I am going to focus on the positives and be grateful for all that we have and get to do. We live in a strong and vibrant international community, have excellent teaching jobs and consequently, an excellent school for B, and get to travel the world.
Seasons are really how I experienced Sarajevo. After the endless summer that is Thailand, the changing seasons helped mark the time. I am going to break our experience into fall, winter, and spring.
This is my absolute favorite time of the year. It was the first time we had experienced cooler temperatures in years, and we soaked it in. Sarajevo is a city packed with trees and foliage, which naturally is striking in the fall. The changing colors made me fall in love with this city.
We were introduced to much of Bosnia in this first season. I’ll start with the food–it is mostly meat, cheese, and bread. Ćevapi is the main dish, which is pita bread and a type of sausage. There is burek, a flaky pastry with meat, cheese, or spinach inside. There are large meat platters that are popular. They have klepe and dolma. But, some of my favorites things are the Bosnian coffee and the baklava, preferably served together. Also, the wine and beer have been a pleasant improvement from previous places we lived. I should also mention that it is all really affordable. It is far cheaper than surrounding countries in Eastern Europe. One can buy a meal of burek for 3 km, or about a $1.70 usd.
I have observed that Bosnians seem to have found a good balance between being extremely friendly and strong-minded. Sarajevo is a small city with a population of about 275,000 and I think that adds to the small-town vibe where you see people stopped in the middle of the road, talking with their windows rolled down. You see people constantly running into people they know. I have had strangers help me, whether it was giving me their gloves in an unexpected snowstorm, or seeing if I needed help after twisting my ankle on a run. People generally seem to look out for each other more here.
Bosnians are predominately Muslim. One can hear the call to prayer five times a day here. It is currently Ramadan now, where most people are fasting for a month (they are able to eat and drink water before sunrise and after sunset). I think most would describe them as more liberal Muslims. There are few countries in Europe that are Muslim, so they are in a unique place.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina went through the longest siege in modern warfare during 1992-1995. The horrendous Siege of Sarajevo killed nearly 14,000. They are certainly still recovering from this.
Arriving to lush green space, great European coffee (albeit small), and our creatively decorated school.
Finding new running spaces.
Landmines are a legit concern here. During the Siege of Sarajevo, landmines were placed all over the mountains and there is little chance of them all being cleared, ever.
I learned you have to stay on the path, pay attention to landmine warning signs, and know that they move with the seasons.
Fun run with the kids. NGO Marathon Sarajevo is a great running group that organizes lots of cool races in the city.
Birthday celebrations with new friends. Luckily, B made quick friendships with his classmates, as his birthday happened not long after arriving.
Sarajevo is famously known as a foggy city.
Castles, archery practice, and fall colors. This is at Vranduk Castle near the town of Zenica, about 45 minutes from Sarajevo.
Fall Festival costumes and Halloween cookies. Baking in the fall is the best.
If you know our family at all, you know we love Halloween. And by we, I mean me.
A brisk hike with the family to the beautiful Skakavac Waterfalls before winter arrives. I was so proud of B that he made the whole 12 km hike.
Warming up with tea time after playing outside.
Cheers to beer sampling and friends.
Winter started off strong. We had a busy and productive first semester at our school, Lady H saw her first snowfall, and B reveled in snow forts and snowball fights. The house was cozy–there was baking, hot tea, wine, spices, and lots of good food. We snuggled under blankets and stayed inside more than we usually do. That meant movies, popcorn, museums, and having friends over to share in the holiday season. We did manage to defy the icy roads and dark days by getting out into the mountains for some snowy hikes and to escape the pollution that hangs over the city in winter. We traveled over our three week break. Everything is so close so we drove to Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia in that time. Around February I decided I had had enough of winter and it really started to get to get into my head. It seemed longer than I remembered from my Kazakhstan and Idaho winters, but maybe it wasn’t. Running in snow, ice, and pollution eventually got to me, too. At first it seemed novel and exciting, then it felt tedious and frustrating. Let’s just say, I was beyond thankful when temperatures slowly started to increase and the days started to get longer. My body soaked in every extra drop of Vitamin D until I felt normal again.
Lady H turned two this year! She loves Elmo, her brother, her new friends and nanny, and cake. She was happy little girl to have all of this in one place.
The night of the Christmas performance.
The staff Christmas party and the Goldfish Bar with new friends.
The Gaines’ crew still gets outside, even in winter. Some are happier about it than others. I won’t name names.
We got to celebrate Christmas at home before heading out on our European vacation. Santa brought presents and sparklers.
I don’t think I have ever felt more grateful for any other spring in the histories of springs. Hyperbole? No. Winter was rough, spring has been gorgeous. Everything is so green and the sun is blazing. Bosnians are emerging from their homes, the city seems alive and active, shops have reopened that were closed through winter, and the pollution has lifted. We have gotten outside every single opportunity possible.
Enjoying the sun on a hike above Hotel Cavljak. There is a cool little tea shop at the top that we always stop at to enjoy the view.
Beautiful, warm spring morning runs. The first picture is known as the Latin Bridge. This is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg were assassinated, starting World War One.
Vrelo Bosne in the spring–she’s a knockout.
B doing his 5k. We had a nice post run meal at Vucko, our favorite restaurant in Sarajevo.
I’m a lucky lady to have these people as my tribe. The spoiled me for Mother’s Day by taking me to Four Rooms.
And again, they spoiled me for my birthday. Mr. G made me a strawberry birthday cake and we went to another favorite restaurant, Blind Tiger.
A solo run and then hike with the family around Trebević mountain.
I would highly recommend traveling to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think most would consider it is a little known place, but there is so much see and do here. We are looking forward to seeing new places next year, like Lukomir, Kravica Waterfalls, Štrbački Buk, seeing more of Jahorina, going to the National Theatre, maybe find a vineyard to visit, check out Tito’s bunker, do some Visočica hiking, possibly see Srebrenica if we can handle the heartbreaking recent history there, and Počitelj (an old Medieval castle and town outside of Mostar), and possibly check out Jajce (the old capital in the 14th century when it was the Kingdom of Bosnia. Cool factor–it has catacombs). There is so much to see and do, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. It takes time to become familiar with a new country and I would say we are still sussing out how it all works here. We are really happy we made the leap and decided to explore a new land, even if it did mean we lost sight of the familiarity from our previous homes.