Reporting Live from Sarajevo
I grew up watching Dan Rather and Peter Jennings dole out updates on the “war in Sarajevo” as a kid. Of course, at the time, I had no real conception of war, much less even where Sarajevo was even located. And of course, never in a million years did I ever think I’d actually be going there; not until this crazy “country-counting” mission became a part of my life. But here I was, in the summer of 2019, heading to Bosnia.
Bosnia was part of a quick, ten-day, six-country, Summer European trip that would start in Greece and finish in Romania. While I enjoyed every destination on this journey, Bosnia would be the most special stop, as I would stay with a local family and witness a level of hospitality I’d never experienced in my life.
I don’t talk much about my day job on this website, because, after all, travel is supposed to be an “escape” from work life, right? But my stop in Bosnia was very well connected to my job. I’m the Program Director for two of the world’s most amazing radio stations, in San Diego, California. We have a top-rated morning show (it’s really good), whose co-host, Edina Macic, is originally from Bosnia. Not only is Edina a fun character on the show, but she’s a fantastic human being in real-life as well. And the most “fun fact” about her, is that she’s from Bosnia.
Edina arrived in the US at 8-years-old, an immigrant, fleeing the war-time violence of Bosnia and all of its aftereffects. And while Edina’s birthplace is the subject of many jokes on the show (Host Rick Morton often jests about Edina playing with “tires and rocks” as a kid in Bosnia, all in good fun), being from Bosnia is an interesting facet of Edina’s personal story, and we’ve engaged in so many conversations about it. Me being the crazy traveler, she knew one day I would visit. The great news was, that this day would come sooner than later. I planned my trip to Bosnia for July of 2019, the same time Edina would be there, visiting her family. Little did I know, I would be ushered into Bosnian life as if I was a full-fledged family member. It would be an incredible and heartwarming experience and like nothing I could imagine.
Meet the Parents
I arrived into Sarajevo very late on a Wednesday night; grabbed a cab to the hotel and lights out. The next morning I was greeted by Edina and her parents in front of the hotel lobby. My car (their Peugeot) was waiting. I had no idea about the adventure I was about to embark on and the exquisite treatment that lay ahead. I was just happy to see Edina, though it was weird seeing her in such a faraway place. It reminded me of sitcoms from the 1980s, like Growing Pains, when in one of the episodes, The Seavers went to Italy. Same characters, different location; familiar, yet strange. Edina’s parents, Fadil and Jasna, were lovely, and very enthusiastic to have me as their guest. Jasna was the talker, Fadil drove and spoke mostly in Bosnian. They seemed genuinely happy to see me. I felt bad I was taking up their time.
Our first stop, Bascarsija: Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city. Built in the 15th century when Isa-Beg Isakovic founded the town, the word Bascarsija comes from the Turkish language. The word “bas” literally means “head” and “carsija” means “bazaar” or “market.” Bascarsija is located on the north bank of the river Miljacka, in the municipality of Stari Grad. The area includes several important historic buildings, such as the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and Sahat-kula. We spent about an hour strolling its corridors, plazas and alleys. The weather was perfect and I didn’t see any other American tourists, which is always nice, and a pleasant change from places like Rome, that are just completely overrun with tourists.
You Really Shouldn’t Have
I began to really feel the sense of true Bosnian hospitality and love while strolling the bazaar with Edina and her parents. Jasna insisted on buying me souvenirs. I didn’t know what to say! It was enough that she and her husband were taking time away to host me for an entire day (so much was still to come), but the fact that they were eager to purchase something special for me from the shops of the old town…well that was just so sweet. I said no thank you, but they insisted! They were truly happy I was here.
Bosnia’s #1 Hit Music Station
Before the trip, Edina asked me if there was anything in particular I fancied to see in Bosnia, and I told her a radio station. It’s something kind of weird I do on a lot of international trips: I visit radio stations. Radio is my life’s first passion and I love seeing how stations abroad are operated. Seeing the studios, meeting the people and touring the buildings of foreign radio stations is always a thrill for me, and I’ve learned that no two stations are the same. Some are on the top of giant skyscrapers, while others reside in shacks. Some stations boast a staff of hundreds, while others are a one-man-band. Radio Sarajevo was somewhere in the middle, but most of all, like Edina’s family, they were very welcoming. Edina and I were given a tour of the radio stations and its studios, served drinks, and even presented with special “gift boxes” before we left. It was a real treat!
Next stop: Edina’s hometown of Konjic. But not before stopping for some food! Jasna bought us all burek for our car ride to Konjic. Burek comes from Turkey and was brought to the Balkans by the Ottoman. Bureks have a flaky pastry with a meat, cheese, or spinach filling. I chose beef. Of course Jasna would not let me pay.
Bosnia’s Number Two Hit Music Station
The hour-plus drive into Konjic was pleasant, with nothing but countryside in between the two cities. Our first order of business in Edina’s hometown was to stop by its radio station: Radio Konjic. The reception was similar to our last stop: Every single employee left their desk to greet and welcome us. One of the hosts even interviewed both Edina and me. It was a great stop and perfect timing. A roaring thunderstorm came and went during the twenty minutes we were inside, cleansing the streets and making way for sunny skies by the time we were finished with the tour.
Just a Small Town Girl
Konjic really did seem like a magical little fairy-tale town. Its windy roads were built around the Neretva River. It was peaceful and quiet. I didn’t hear one car horn. We stopped at Edina’s grandmother’s house for tea and snacks and I felt lucky to be part of this mini-family reunion between Edina and her relatives. Grandma was just the cutest, and though there was quite the language barrier, we certainly enjoyed each others company. She had a smile that could melt the coldest heart–a smile that was never ending!
Next, Edina showed me her parents’ house; the place she grew up in as a small child before fleeing to the US. It was neat to see where Edina had come from, literally. She shares some really good stories on the radio of her childhood, and I was now standing in the exact place she used to collect and carry wood! Her parents had spent the last 20 years fixing the place up from abroad, as they lived and worked in Boise, Idaho, with eventual plans to move back to Bosnia to retire. That day had come–the whole reason for Edina’s trip–and their place had turned out really nice. A third-floor walk-up on the main drag, Edina explained that the street below was the only conduit from Sarajevo to Mostar.
We stopped for a late lunch at Restaurant Han, where we dined on the banks of the river with views of that gorgeous old stone bridge. I just had to try Bosnia’s most well-known local dish, Ćevapi, which was basically a handful of Jimmy Dean sausages playing hide-and-seek under a pita blanket. It was interesting and tasty. Lots of onions. Dragon breathe after this plate for sure!
I tried to pay for lunch. Really, I seriously tried. I tried to slip the waiter my card before any would notice. But the meal was already paid for. Sigh.
Old Town Road
It was going to be a full day! Next stop Mostar, and it was already getting dark. The two-hour drive had Fadil winding the car through lush mountains of greens and stone and above and alongside the Neretva River. Our first stop was just outside the town, where we visited Edina’s great aunt’s house and pigeon compound. As with every stop, new friends were so happy to receive us, and invited us in for food and drinks. Edina’s aunt was the sweetest but dog Rex wasn’t feeling me (and I’m a dog lover!)
Mo’ Star Mo’ Probems
Mostar exceeded all expectations. In fact, I didn’t know what I was expecting. I’d left the entire itinerary in Edina’s hands, so just coming to Mostar was a surprise. And if Konjic looked like a fairy-tale town, then Mostar resembled a complete fantasy land at Disney, with old stone buildings and winding cobblestone corridors. It was a touristy place, but not necessarily filled with Americans, which was good. There were lots of souvenir stands, the famous Stari Most bridge and restaurants with little tables under the stars that overlooked the river below. After the giant sausage party I ate earlier and all the snacks on the road and at relatives’ houses, I couldn’t fit much more in my stomach; but I was able to find a little room for some of the best baklava I’ve ever tasted at a place called Restoran Tomato. The food was wonderful and the company was even better.
After the two-hour drive back to Kojic, why was I surprised that Jasna took us to a late night bakery (it was close to midnight) for a delicious 5th meal?! We took home loads of Bosnian pastries and ate at the coffee table at their house before crashing out for the night with the fullest stomach I’ve ever had. I was beat!
Edina’s family had laid out towels, PJs, toiletries and even a chocolate bar for me. I’m telling you, the hospitality was out of this world. I will definitely step up my hosting game for the next person who stays with me. Edina’s family taught me a lot.
In the morning, we had just enough time to venture over to Boračko Lake before heading to the airport. Edina’s parents had a really neat cabin nearby that they were fixing up and her aunt had an all-out “compound” which we toured. The place was all things awesome and included acres of fruit trees and other crops. Three doggies presided over the land, and while Edina’s aunt wasn’t in town at the time, we did meet another family member who was tending to the house.
Edina pointed out many abandoned houses along the way that had been looted and destroyed by enemy soldiers during the war. Some families had returned to rebuild, others hadn’t, obvious by the structures missing windows and doors and growing trees inside. Back in town, many buildings had visible craters on the outside walls, evidence of the fighting. A mosque’s minaret was left crumbling: Edina told me they purposely left it that way, so they wouldn’t “forget.”
I wished I had more time to enjoy the lake. I would’ve definitely enjoyed a swim. The water wasn’t too cold and was actually clear! Boračko Lake looked like a great place to hang out for the day. Edina told me stories of spending time there as a kid and how nice it was to swim in. I was so tempted, but I had a flight to catch.
Bye Bye Bosnia
We raced back to Sarajevo to make sure I had to enough time for my flight. I insisted to pay for the cab and Jasna almost fist-fought me about it…it wasn’t happening!
“We’re family now,” she retorted. “When we come to San Diego, you host us!” Okay, deal!
I enjoyed Bosnia tremendously, and if you ever get to visit, I hope it’s with a family like Edina’s. Thanks Edina, Jasna and Fadil!
And Now…the REST of the (Insta)Story!
Don’t Have a Bosnian Family at Your Disposal?
I was so lucky to have Edina and her family. If you don’t know any locals, that’s okay! Here are some Ramblin’ Randy approved tours we recommend…