I'm a New Yorker, born and bred, a Boston transplant, a temporary Serb and, for now, a Londoner. As I look to the ever nearing 2018, I am curious to see where I will be. Right now, the plan consists of Boston and then a series of question marks over the spring and summer on my calendar. 2017 has been all kinds of busy, but I can't help but be on the look out for the next city that I may call home, at least for a little while. And Brugge certainly made an impression.
Somehow this list is even more ridiculous than the last. Cheers!
Sitting in an airport bar on the tail end of my first visit to a city I will soon call home, I wrote down several short anecdotes from my limited time there, concluding the page with, “I have rarely felt so lucky”.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about this experience, or the rest of this weekend but I woke up this morning feeling like I could finally call Belgrade home. And then promptly remembered how ridiculous my current life situation is. I feel back asleep with a smile on my face.
Getting reacquainted with Belgrade has been lovely, to say the least. Despite my joy last July to find myself in such a large city after two weeks in Sarajevo I did not leave Belgrade thinking I would return- at least not anytime in the near future. And yet, as the first month of 2017 reaches its halfway point, I’ve found myself back in Serbia.
The bunker was created in the 1950s under Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, so I had originally (and unimaginatively) pictured a small, reinforced tunnel (or cave, or literally anywhere inside a mountain) that would house and protect a handful of important people for a few months should that be necessary.
Needless to say when what I found instead was essentially an underground city I was bewildered. Throw in the artwork featured in the 3rd edition of the Biennial Project, and, to say the least, I was more than blown away.
Sarajevo was the first city in a long time to make me fall in love. It's still difficult, almost 6 months later, for me to pinpoint the reasons I became so enamored with the city so quickly, but I think it really began the night I arrived.
To be honest, I don't have the slightest idea what time it was but it was dark and I hadn't slept since leaving New York a day and a half earlier. Regardless, I was exhausted, so when I got to the hotel room I was keen to shower and get in bed. As I dragged my suitcase through the too-narrow doorway (this seems to be a recurring issue in European hotels) I was startled by several things. First, the size of the room- it looked much more like a Boston hotel than a Bosnian one. Second, the size of the beds- my travel mate and I each received our own queen. And lastly and most importantly, the view.
Sarajevo is located within a valley which is surrounded by mountains on all sides and given that our room was on the 7th floor, about three stories higher than the majority of buildings in the city, every light in the city twinkled before us. It was absolutely magical.
In the daylight, the city more than lived up to its charm. It blew me away. From its own admission of having 'too much history' to its resilient and playful atmosphere, it was simply mesmerizing.
My first day in Sarajevo was spent wandering. After an invigorating walking tour I decided to get to know the city for myself and took off without much of a plan. In the end I accomplished little other than gaining my bearings, but as I was headed to the hotel I came across a coffee shop called Cafe 311 which I honestly still have dreams about.
It's located along the river and is all open windows and brightly colored chairs mixed with double espresso and dark mahogany tables. I was in heaven. The young woman who was behind the counter spoke absolutely no English- on par with my nonexistent knowledge of Serbo-Croatian- but we made it work and I was able to settle down with my espresso and my books, perfectly content. I returned to Cafe 311 every other day or so and cannot wait to cozy into its arms again soon.
On my second day in Sarajevo I witnessed the procession of the remains; each year the remains of newly identified war casualties are driven through Bosnia to their intended burial sites, often at the Srebrenica memorial site in Potocari. In Saraejvo the procession stops in front of city hall where locals gather to pay their respects to their own lost loved ones or to stand in solidarity with those still in mourning. As the truck stops they all swarm the street, placing flowers between ropes or placing a hand on the metal for a prayer.
My heart hurt, in that moment; a relatively young man placed one hand on the truck and the other hand on the head of the young boy who was clinging to his leg, presumable his son, and bowed his head. When he looked up there were tears in his eyes. Afraid to intrude, I kept my distance from the street, but several Bosnians nodded at me in acknowledgement. One older woman stopped and patted my elbow, seemingly grateful that I was there to witness this display of sorrow. I was amazed.
Over the course of my time there Bosnians impressed me left and right with their resilience, friendliness, and their levity. Their love for Sarajevo is contagious, but the city still has no problem spreading that feeling on its own: the cobblestones and hillside views and streets lined with sunset buildings splayed with the rays of late afternoon light are absolutely mesmerizing.
And, well, the portrait I have of Sarajevo in my mind gets pulled up quite often as a method of procrastination so it only makes sense that I make a visit to update it, right?