From Sarajevo to Banja Luka: Buses and Ćevapi Chasing
I’m going out of my way to make this a happy and tourist-friendly post. I will not go into that this is my first time returning home since 2001, nor the emotions that went along with all of that. This will not be about Bosnia’s tormented past. If you are here to read about all those things, well, you’ll have to wait.
This post is solely for the fun and awesome things I saw (and ate) during my short travel through the country I was born in. Eventually, the ‘other’ post will come though, whenever I am finally ready to write and reminisce about it in a more dark way.
But here you are, you want to know what being in Sarajevo and Banja Luka is like, and I’m going to tell you!
Sarajevo, Day 1
I arrived in Sarajevo via bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia on Thursday, August 15th. If you look at the map, the distance from Dubrovnik to Sarajevo isn’t particularly long and I really didn’t think it would take a long time to get there.
L. O. L.
The bus trip wasn’t expensive, it only cost $34.60 CAD (175HRK) from the GetByBus website. The bus itself was fine, I made a friend from Australia on it and I had plenty of leg space. The scenery was absolutely incredible, because Bosnia is a gorgeous country. You know what was NOT awesome? Crossing the goddamn borders between Bosnia and Croatia. I wrote about that debacle just last week in my blog post about taking a day trip to Kravice Falls and Mostar, also from Dubrovnik. I really put myself through this, TWICE.
I believe I arrived in Sarajevo around 3pm (the bus had left Dubrovnik at 8am). Once I arrived I had to take about a 10-minute taxi ride from the bus station over to my AirBnB.
Ah, the AirBnB. I absolutely loved this place! I loved it so much that I stayed there on this Thursday in Sarajevo and on the following Sunday when I returned. I stayed there twice. The host, Edin, and his wife were so welcoming and I was enamored with my apartment. If there is any place I would 10000% book all over again when I visit a city – this would be the one. I believe the cost is $36.00 a night, but I paid $0.00 because I had a bunch of AirBnB credits to use, so I did.
The space is beautiful, big, there’s a balcony and the location? AH! I was like a 8-minute walk from the place I had been wanting to visit this whole time – Baščaršija.
This is THE spot. If you go to Sarajevo, you need to hit up Baščaršija. This is where all the locals and tourists congregate to eat, drink, smoke hookah and overall participate in shenanigans.
Naturally, the absolute first thing I did was head over to find some ćevapi (che-vah-pee) that come with a whole lotta kajmak (k-eye-maak). My friends from Sarajevo all told me I had to go to Željo’s to try out the famous ćevapi in his restaurant.
Now, I get it. They were good. The service is madness because it’s so busy, but the ćevapi were tasty and the kajmak was plentiful. They were most definitely better here than they were in Mostar, so +1 point for Sarajevo.
Following stuffing my face with egregious amounts of kajmak, I decided to keep on walking and exploring Sarajevo. The break from insane amounts of tourists on the street was nice, I had space to roam and the language I mostly heard was Bosnian. I loved that. It’s rare I feel at peace anywhere, but I felt good in my soul while in Sarajevo.
As it was the night before the Sarajevo Film Festival 2019 would begin, the core was bustling with concerts and a food fair. I obviously timed my visit badly, I wish I would have been there during the actual film festival. I know better for next time.
I got my $5 Ultra tourist SIM card (a fucking steal!) and just kept wandering until I found a place to sit and drink. I love people watching and the people (especially men) in Sarajevo sure were fun to look at.
One thing I was a HUGE fan of in Sarajevo was that the second I went to stand up at this table at a bar, a bunch of men offered me their seats. Not saying that Toronto men would never do this but, men here deadass I’ve never ever seen do this and I worked in bars for five years.
I obliged and took the one seat and said thank you. I asked the bartender lady why they all offered me their seats to which she responded with, ‘why the hell do men need to sit? Their lives are already easy enough!‘ LOVE IT.
From there I ended up making friends and sat there drinking with them for a couple of hours. Another thing I was a big fan of, apparently women just don’t pay for anything/much here. I literally spent $0.00 on alcohol that night, and trust me, I video-called my boyfriend as I staggered back to my AirBnB. I was so drunk, in fact, I didn’t know how to open the gate at the AirBnB so in my cute outfit I had to hop a fence. ISN’T LIFE GREAT?
(My mom already knows about this happening, she’s probably mortified reading this knowing I shared it with all of you though. You’re welcome)
On Sunday, August 25th I returned to Sarajevo with my brand new teeth.
As I mentioned, I went right back to staying in Edin’s awesome AirBnB and after landing, I dropped my stuff and went to search for more ćevapi. This time I came across a place called Hodžić. I figured I would try their ćevapi, because life is full of variety you know?
Unlike Zeljo’s, this place gave a smaller portion of kajmak BUT they also had a nice and quiet place to actually enjoy eating my food. I took my time, sat on their patio and breathed in my last night in this amazing city.
They were good ćevapi, but nothing spectacular. I was just happy to be eating.
At the recommendation of my extremely handsome Sarajevo-friend-in-Canada named Boris, I went to this dessert place named Egipat. You know those moments where you’re like ‘yes, I will have one of everything’? – this was one of those. I literally wanted to get everything, but I only got three things. Watching my figure you know? (NOT!)
This place had DELICIOUS desserts and if you’re in Sarajevo and have a sweet tooth, you must visit Egipat.
On a super early Monday morning, I caught a bus from Sarajevo to Banja Luka – the city I was born in.
The bus was leaving at 5am and I had pre-purchased my bus ticket on GetByBus as well, the cost was $22.61 CAD (114.06 HRK). Apparently this bus was supposed to take 5.25hrs to get from Sarajevo to Banja Luka and I anticipated this would be correct because no more borders right? Urgh.
I think my bus finally arrived in Banja Luka a little after 11am instead. I spent six hours on this damn bus. Thank goodness I had bought that SIM card with a bunch of data on it or I would have suffered severely.
The scenery was beautiful, again. I tried to sleep during some parts of the ride because I had to close my eyes when we made certain turns. Yes, I am a chicken.
When I arrived in Banja Luka my mom was waiting at the bus stop for me. Best part of this whole trip was finally getting to see her. The last time we were in Banja Luka together was when I was about 14-years-old and it sure did look different.
She was finishing up getting her teeth done in Banja Luka so she left me with one of her local friends to chaperone me around my birthplace.
First we went to this bar next to the Vrbas river. I don’t remember much of what this place looked like when I left last, but I know this river. The colours still looked the same to me and I took a nice moment enjoying it all.
Following the bar, we went and did the most important thing in Banja Luka – GET SOME ĆEVAPI!
I foolishly didn’t take a picture or get the name of this little hole in the wall restaurant we went to, but hoooooly. Best ćevapi I’ve ever had. My parents had always told me that the best ćevapi were in Banja Luka, but now I am a strong believer as well. These were far superior to both of the ones in Sarajevo and the one in Mostar.
Banja Luka is known for having the best ćevapi and the best looking women – so duh, here I am.
After the ćevapi we went walking through this area called Gospodska Ulica. My chaperone showed me the sights, I got to see the old building my dad use to work in and I found a pretty good sneaker store. Managed to get my boyfriend a $30 pair of Nikes, real ones! Big win.
The best part was seeing the Ferhadija Mosque. I remember this mosque as a child and it kind of remained in the back of my mind as a symbol of resilience in my life. It was destroyed but it was also rebuilt. Beautiful mosque.
So there you have it, two days in Sarajevo and an afternoon in Banja Luka. You can drink, eat and go pray. Not exactly like ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ but close enough right?
Also make sure you have one of these when you get to Bosnia:
They had to-go Rakija in the damn convenience store. If you’ve never had it, oh boy, you’re in for a treat. I’m shocked they don’t have more instances of drinking and driving in Bosnia when you have this puppy for purchase. Make sure to drink this!
Go visit Bosnia. Whether it is for Mostar, Kravice Falls, Sarajevo or Banja Luka. I don’t care where you go, just go. The food is amazing, the people are nice and the scenery is serene. If this post taught you anything as well, don’t eat ćevapi just anywhere. It will taste different everywhere, and unless they are Bosnian ćevapi, they aren’t the same. Good way to tell? If the restaurant doesn’t offer kajmak as a side – DON’T EAT THEM THERE. Frauds. They’ll probably offer you ajvar as an alternative and you are a cultured person who will not fall for such a thing.
Okay now go book your flight to Bosnia.