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Travel Story: Sarajevo’s tin can

Aisha Al-Janabi reveals why Bosnia is a country worth visiting

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I never thought the highlight of a walking-tour would be a sculpture of canned beef. I doubt I will forget this sculpture any time soon.

This masterpiece was created by Nebojsa Seric Shoba and was unveiled in 2007, in memory of the Siege of Sarajevo by the Yugoslavian People’s Army during 1992 to 1996. Despite this statue seeming random, far from it.

During the siege, the United Nations provided food aid in the form of canned beef. Some cans were so old they had been produced during the Second World War. Despite the label, not all of the cans necessarily contained beef. To me it sounds as if the UN was trying to clear cupboard space, and saw this as an ideal opportunity.

The inscription on this tin reads, “The Monument to the International Community” from the “Grateful Citizens of Sarajevo.” Wonderfully ironic and passive aggressive, this is certainly a monument to look out for.

After having been there, I don’t believe I would be doing the marvellous country justice by only discussing the past. In Sarajevo, there is a mixture of architecture of the Middle East and Eastern Europe — unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s as if you were wandering between two different countries, a feast for the eyes.

Bosnia also has some of the best food I’ve had. Everywhere sells Burek, a flaky pastry stuffed with cheese and spinach or spiced meats. The owner of one hostel I stayed in proudly stated that McDonald’s in the town of Banja Luka had to close shortly after opening because Bosnia already had the best fast food — cevapi and burek. I can only agree.

With a burek in hand, I was wandering around the city and joyfully stumbled upon the giant chessboard, which I had previously read about. If I could play chess I would have loved to get involved, but as I can’t I decided to watch from the side lines as a mixture of generations were completely engrossed in a game. The cheers and groans that you would more likely hear at a sports match than a chess game fuelled my hope to return once I’d learnt how to play.

There is of course more to Bosnia then Sarajevo. It is full of beautiful landscapes with lush greenery. I headed down to Mostar where I spent an afternoon swimming by a waterfall, walking through old ruins taken over by nature, and looking over vast expanses of rolling hills. Mostar is most well-known for its bridge, Stari Most, standing at an impressive 24 metres, with skilled jumpers dropping elegantly into the water.

I was always pleasantly surprised that whenever I met others who had been to Mostar, they all spoke fondly of their hostel hosts and described them more like family. I opted for Hostel Majda, which certainly did feel like a family home. Majda — the hostel owner — often told stories after breakfast, accompanied by photos and videos from which I learnt a great deal. Her cooking was fantastic, as one evening she surprised us all with a delicious stew which we ate under the stars.

I can’t recommend visiting Bosnia enough, and this is somewhere I will be going back to in the near future. Once I’ve learnt to play chess.