Sarajevo’s Famed Cable Car is Back in the Mountain Climbing Business

Sarajevo is freaking gorgeous.  Situated in a small valley in central Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), orange tiled roofs and conifers of every variety descend from the tops of evergreen-covered hills down towards the sparkling Miljacka River, weaving its way through the valley floor.  Buildings encompass a mix of elaborate Austro-Hungarian facades and simple Ottoman architecture.  Cathedral steeples and mosque domes and minarets puncture the skyline, and days are passed by ringing church bells, the call to prayer, and sometimes both at the same time.

Sarajevo Cable Car

And all of this can be enjoyed from two hillside forts, dozens of cafes and restaurants, and even random back alleyways snaking up through Sarajevo’s vertical neighborhoods.  My husband and I moved here in the dead of winter at the very end of 2017, and even cold and snow failed to deter us hiking to these vantage points.  But now Spring has come, and in every direction Sarajevo is in full bloom.  And the timing couldn’t be better for the magnificent vantage point provided by Sarajevo’s newly reopened cable car provides the best views of the city (and surrounding area) yet.

Sarajevo Cable Car

Coinciding with Sarajevo Day on April 6, 2018, and almost 30 years since its destruction during the last war, the famed Sarajevo gondola began again, hauling visitors up two kilometers from Sarajevo’s Old Town station to a plateau on Mount Trebević.

Sarajevo Cable Car

As it climbs, panoramic views of the sprawling city give way to rolling green hills and sheer cliffs before reaching the top, where riders are deposited into crisp, clean mountain air, laced with the scents of pine and dirt and the promise of rain.  I took the trip up twice in three days.

Sarajevo Cable Car

There is not much at the top of the hill, though a café is expected to be completed by summer.  For those wishing to stretch their legs, however, hiking trails and walking paths descend from the top platform, leading pedestrians to picnic areas, graffitied Olympic bobsled track ruins, multiple valley and mountain view points and newly rebuilt hotels and restaurants.

 

Mount Trebević plataeu

Originally opened in 1959, Sarajevo’s cable cars ferried people out of city hustle, bustle and smog up the hillside for fresh-aired picnics and hiking, rightly bestowing the looming Mount Trebević with nickname “The Lungs of Sarajevo.” During the 1984 Winter Olympic Games the gondola served as transport for bobsled event spectators.  It was the pride of Sarajevo, if not the entirety of BiH; a feature locals felt put the city on par with the great capitals of Europe.

Hiking below Mount Trebević

Unfortunately, the cable car, and eventually the rest of mountain’s hotels, restaurants and sports facilities, were destroyed in the early 1990’s during the four-year siege on the city.  The mountain languished for over twenty years, and the area gave way initially to terrorizing sniper perches, then to abandonment and neglect, and eventually to bandits and thieves.  But no longer – today the cable car is a hopeful symbol of peace and reconciliation.

 

Abandoned Olympic Bobsled Tracks

“We are reconstructing the last destroyed symbol of Sarajevo. We are building and talking about emotions here; we are taking down the invisible border here and working jointly on building Bosnia and Herzegovina and on reconciliation of peoples,” Sarajevo major, Abdulah Skaka, reportedly told a packed platform on opening day.

Abandoned Olympic Bobsled Tracks

A majority of the rebuilding fund came via donation, the largest of which was made by married nuclear physicists Edmond Offerman and Maja Serdarević, who managed one ride up the gondola before the war and have worked tirelessly on its restoration ever since.

Abandoned Olympic Bobsled Tracks

The reopening has been emotional, especially for those who remember spending weekends enjoying the mountain in the decades before the war.  Everyone I chat with is excited to take advantage of their restored access to the mountains.

Sarajevo Cable Car

Almost a month since opening, long lines and packed cable car cabins have become the new weekend norm.

www.zicara.ba ◊ Tel: +387 33 292 800 ◊ Email: info@jpsarajevo.ba

As of posting:

  • Daily Hours:  8:30 am – 6:30 pm
  • First ride at 9:00 am; last ride at 6:00 pm
  • Round Trip Cost:  6 KM for residents; 20 KM for non-residents (around $14)
  • Children ages 7 and under are free

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

Are you new to blogging, and do you want step-by-step guidance on how to publish and grow your blog? Learn more about our new Blogging for Beginners course and get 50% off through December 10th.

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Waiting for Barbara Streisand

Through the long months of rain and the snow, tucked between the Sequoia, Pine trees, Magnolias and Palms in Portland’s Washington Park, a magical little garden remains quiet and dormant.

IMG_7123.jpg

With February showers leading to March showers leading to April showers, I watch the thorny sticks, willing them to bring spring.

On the occasional warm, sunny day, the bushes seem to tease, refusing to show any small pricks of color until they are ready.

So I wait for the roses in the Shakespeare Garden, where all the non-roses – flowering trees and bulbs and tropical plants – make an early spring appearance.

 

And then, without any particular pomp or warning, the rose buds begin to open. The fragrance of the garden becomes sweeter as the roses emerge in every color imaginable: pink, purple, red, yellow, blue, magenta, burgundy.

 

Over 650 varietals of roses fill row after row up the hillside.

Some of the roses are so unusual that it is hard to make of them, such as the tie-die rose that reminds me of dyed carnations in middle school.

American Graffiti

O’er Blue Yonder is one of my top three favorites, for its unusual color, tissue paper petals and unique fragrance.

IMG_1649
O’er Blue Yonder

Near the fountain, is my second favorite, the rose aptly named Peace. Its soft yellow color laced with pink dares you to be anxious in its presence.

IMG_1645
Peace

And then there is the Barbara Streisand. A dear friend first showed me striking blooms several years ago. Their color is unusual, classy, and sophisticated, much like their namesake. They look so magnificent that you can hardly expect anything else from them, but then you take a waft of their scent and realize that is what makes them absolutely divide.

IMG_3873
Barbara Streisand

Portland may have some long, gray, rainy days in winter and spring, but Barbara Streisand is completely worth the wait.

For more information, visit Portland International Rose Test Garden.

A Day in Dubrovnik

I always have a plan.  And I used to almost always have a color-coded travel spreadsheet – a beautiful, multi-tabbed document detailing business hours and transportation routes and hotel check-out times.  For years I wouldn’t approach a vacation without either; even downtime was scheduled.  When trips involved multiple destinations and I’d end up with only one or two days to explore a particular city, my research would turn to those limited-day itineraries, detailing how to pack in everything of importance, often at breakneck speed.  I thoroughly believed in maximizing my time in a new place, for who knew when I’d return?  It was best to visit the most important attractions the first time around, or so my mantra went.

Dubrovnik

I’m not nearly as neurotic these days, but maximizing my time in Dubrovnik, the tantalizing walled city resting at the southern tip Croatia’s coastline, was exactly my intent.  Lord Byron’s “Pearl of the Adriatic.”  A city with roots so deep, there is debate whether it was founded in Roman times, or earlier, by the Greeks.  It controlled trade and commerce into the Balkans for almost a century.  Built on so many layers, both physically and historically, it would easily take three-plus days to explore everything, and I wanted the trip to be perfect.

But the circumstances of my Dubrovnik visit were unexpected.  It turned out to be one stop of many during a weekend excursion, and one that lasted only a day.  And I was with two dudes who had no intention of running around to take in this or that museum, cathedral or a walking tour.  Which, I came to realize, was just as well – the moment I set foot inside the massive walls the city itself seemed to demand we do anything other than race against a self-imposed clock.  Here, it whispered, on a sunny day with practically no crowds and a lovely light breeze blowing through the streets, life is fjaka: blissful and unhurried.

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

So, we wandered.  We didn’t visit a museum, but we did walk the city’s almost thousand-year-old walls.  Reaching up to 80 feet high, they provide a spectacular vantage point for forest-covered islands dotting the Mediterranean, adjoining fortresses, and the city they define.

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

Below us, laughing and shouting children chased soccer balls and each other through the streets, deftly avoiding shoppers and diners and photographers and lollygaggers, all of which appeared visibly taken aback to find themselves in such a beautiful setting.

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

Orderly, stone buildings rested on gently rising slopes towards the east and west walls and were divided by the main promenade running north-south through the city’s valley.

 

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

Bright, orange tiled roofs dominated Dubrovnik’s aerial view, a reminder of the recent renovations done to repair damage inflicted two and a half decades prior by Serbian forces’ unsuccessful – though destructive – shelling attempt to take the city during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

The city has been so wholly repaired, it’s easy to forget the war ever reached this part of the region.

Walking the Wall - Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

White-stone laden and lantern-lit alleyways are lined with shops and cafes and framed by potted plants and hanging laundry.

Dubrovnik

Instead of communing with God in one of the many (many) cathedrals, we communed with nature on an outdoor terrace overhanging the ocean:  sipping hoppy Croatian beer and dry, citrus white wine in plastic, wicker chairs, which had no business being as comfortable as my back and bum perceived them to be.

 

Cliff Side Bar - Dubrovnik

FullSizeRender (6)

Cliff Side Bar - Dubrovnik

Cliff Side Bar - Dubrovnik

We filled our lungs with crisp, salt-tinged ocean air and watched a burnt orange sun sink down a purple-hued sky and slip beneath distant white-capped waves.

Cliff Side Bar - Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

At some point during the day, I was lulled into that kind of mellow, contemplative state that pairs sublimely with a slow saunter through new streets.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

As the sun set, I reflected on my perfect day in Dubrovnik, done without pulling one page from a tourist playbook.  I was more relaxed than I’d been in months, yet a low hum of excitement, running just below the surface of my skin, reminded me how crazy fortunate I was to be there.  Even if it was just for one (gloriously unplanned, un-spreadsheeted) day.

A Birthday Road-Trip to Jajce

What better way to celebrate my birthday than with a road trip to a medieval village, killer waterfalls and a castle on a hill?  Almost none, I tell you.  Jajce, about two hours northwest of Sarajevo, was the perfect escape for a low-key weekend away with the hubs and an ideal second Bosnian road-trip.

This little town has witnessed just about every major event in Bosnia’s history – from the crowning of the last King of Bosnia in the 15th century, to hosting the second convention of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia in 1943 (a coalition lead by Tito to unite the various ethnic and religious groups of the Balkans against the Axis powers), to boarder wars between the Muslim-Croat and Serbian armies in the 1990s.  It’s famous for its abundance of water – beautiful waterfalls, converging Pliva and Vrbas rivers, and quirky watermills dating back centuries (many of which have been restored and are currently working).

IMG_0769.JPG

Upon arriving in Old Town – resting just below the fortress, and sloping down to the river – we quickly realized our little Kia rental wasn’t the best idea for a snow-bound adventure (for the record, it wasn’t snowing in Sarajevo when we left).  It navigated the tight roads and alleys deftly enough, but somehow got itself stuck – sideways – on a moderately inclined street, tires spinning in two inches of snow.  Brendan masterfully maneuvered it into alignment and backed it down to the intersection below, and once parked, declared we were staying put for the rest of the day.

FullSizeRender (1)
Jajce fortress

But since we had ventured out in the dead of winter, most everything in town was closed (we’re sensing a Bosnian trend…).  The museums and fort attractions were dark, and top restaurants padlocked.  This left us one option to fill the afternoon; a hike around the upper portion of the village and walls of the fortress.

We soon acquired a friend.  Old Town accommodated a number of docile, furry pups, and a fantastically shaggy, black-furred little guy decided to join us on our hike.  He confidently took role of tour guide.  Every time we strayed away from his paw-laden path, he would track us down us again, finding us as we circled back to discover that his suggested route – with its narrow cobbled paths, rock wall gardens, sweeping valley views, and trails that descended down the fortress walls – was, in fact, superior to our own.

Our Tour Guide

Back in town we were able to find a open cafe, delivering top-notch macchiatos mid-afternoon and ginormous beers after dinner.  And our lodging, Hotel Stari Grad (built over a Turkish bath), served up the best Bosnian Pot (a thick stew consisting of tender beef, potatoes, carrots and cabbage and smelling of everything comfort food) and Chevapi dinners we’ve had to date.

View of Jajce from the hilltop Fortress

I have a sneaking suspicion Jajce also turns into quite the party town during warmer months – most of the cafes in Old Town seem to be biding their time until they can throw open their patio doors and turn up the dance music ‘til the wee hours of the morning.  The town also boasts an impressive Pliva Lake resort, with little boats, picnic areas, and lounge chairs currently piled with snow, waiting for summer to kick in.

Just like me.  Waiting for summer to kick in, not piled with snow (unless I turn my back on Brendan).  But taking advantage of the winter wonderland that is Bosnia and Herzegovina makes the “wait” well worth it.

IMG_0746

A Short List (10!) of Must-Do’s in Istanbul

I love history.  I was even one of those weird kids who loved history in grammar school.  And I can say with relative certainty that though Istanbul was occasionally mentioned in history class, it was never as a city benefited by a focused study (such as Rome or Paris), and rarely presented as importantly tied to the West’s overall historical narrative.  As a result, it was never at the top of my travel to-do list.

What a mistake!  This exotic, familiar, modern, ancient city is a must-see for every traveler and history hound, and is officially my favorite place on the planet.  Actually, it’s probably a good thing Istanbul appeared later in my traveling adventures; had I been there first, many “popular” places I’ve seen would have subsequently been down right boring.  Everything from back-alley coffee shops and street-food vendors, to high-end shopping malls and state-of-the-art metro systems, to thousand-year-old (and older) structures, exotic smells, and the melodic call to prayer – all of it clamored for my attention.  With only a week on the ground, it proved impossible to get through my must-see lists (plural).  But out of everything I did manage to squeeze in, there were definitely highlights, and missing out on the below experiences should be avoided at all costs.

1. The Grand Bazaar

Shortly after the conquest of Constantinople in the mid-15th century, the Grand Bazaar was erected specifically to house trading commerce, encouraging the sale of textiles and jewels.

Today, thousands of small shops line the arched corridors, selling everything from glass-blown lamps to hand-stitched leather goods to delicious (and some downright disgusting) Turkish Delight.  The structure is held together by centuries of jimmy-rigged engineering, methodic craftsmanship, and sheer consumer will.  Vibrant jewel-toned wares and crockery, stands selling sizzling, pungent donar kebab, shouting, tray-toting delivery boys carving paths through the crowds to serve hot afternoon tea to vendors, and even a brief electrical fire, made this one of my favorite Istanbul experiences.

2. The Hagia Sophia

Built in 537 AD, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral was the most expansive and impressive cathedral on Earth.  Almost 1,500 years later, I stood as a tiny speck in the middle of the nave, gazing up in captured awe of the colossal space above and around me, encompassed by domes, pillars, chapels and chambers.

Sultan Mehmet II laid siege to, and conquered, Constantinople in 1453.  He was so enthralled by the church, he had it converted into a mosque rather than let it be destroyed.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, and the rebuilding of Turkey as a modern, secular state, the Hagia Sophia reopened as a museum in 1935.  Pains were taken to restore and maintain both Christian and Islamic artwork, and much of the Christian mosaics and paintings and Islamic calligraphy remain in tact and on display.

Many of the city’s subsequently built mosques mimic, in part, the Byzantine architecture of the domed, multi-leveled Hagia Sophia, giving Istanbul its beautifully iconic skyline.

3. Basilica Cistern

Emerging from the bottom of a non-descript stairway, in a non-descript building, into an expansive, dark, dank underground cavern filled with hundreds of roman support pillars eerily lit by sporadically placed lanterns and casting long, deep shadows over slick walls and pools of black water, was easily one of my best moments in Istanbul.  The kind where your heart starts to race and your eyes dart everywhere at once, unbelieving in what they’re taking in.

Built over the site of a previous basilica in the mid-6th century, the Basilica Cistern served as a fresh-water holding for the city until modern times, and little has changed over the last few hundred years.  Largely unspoiled, the structure continues to capture the imagination of pop culture – many films have shot on location here, and James Bond fans would recognize it from the second Bond film, From Russia with Love, as the conveniently located underground waterway running directly beneath the fictional Russian Embassy.  Today, most of the water has been drained and visitors can explore the cistern via wooden-plank paths weaving around the pillars.  Many unique pillars have been discovered over the years, including two with Medusa’s head as the base – one upside down and one on its side.

Though the entire cavern is around the size of two football fields, the lack of daylight and a musty, mossy scent can be a bit claustrophobic.  All of this combines into a singular experience through which to view historic Istanbul.

4. Antakya Mutfağı Meyhanesi

After a long day of site-seeing, my husband and I ended up at what we thought was an empty little hole-in-the-wall eatery.  Not so much – Antakya Mutfağı Meyhanesi was clearly one of the “it” restaurants in the Besiktas neighborhood, and we lucked out getting seated without a reservation.

Within 30 minutes, the small, dark cafe was packed – alive with celebrations as diners clapped and sang along with the hottest Turkish pop music blasting from speakers directly above our table.  Gobbling up plate after plate of creamy hummus, grilled, spiced meats, stuffed vegetables and two different kinds of bread, I managed to only spill one glass of wine all over the table next to us before we waddled home – a major coup, considering we were sitting elbow to elbow with the rest of the (chair-dancing, chain-smoking) patrons.

5. Süleymaniye Mosque

One of my favorite sultans was Süleyman the Magnificent, a man defined by his brilliant military campaigns, legal reforms and cunning wife, Roxleana.  The mosque built at his commission was at the top of my must-see list.

While the Blue Mosque is one of the most divine structures in the world, the Süleymaniye Mosque, in my opinion, takes the baklava.  Completed in 1558, its chief architect, Sinan, created a rich and beautiful center for public life (mosques were built to include schools, public bathhouses, hospitals, and soup kitchens for the poor – it was as much a community center as a place of worship).

Süleymaniye Mosque greets visitors with an arch-walled open courtyard and bright blue calligraphy artwork flanking the prayer hall entrances.  Similar to the Hagia Sophia, the vast prayer hall, with its intricately painted red and black archways and low-hanging circular chandeliers, succeeds in instilling a sort of reverence in visitors, especially when experienced as modest rules dictate:  without shoes and with scarf-covered hair.

6. Turkish Cooking Class

A trip to Turkey would not be complete without a cooking class, so I signed up for an evening with Cooking Alaturka.  The experience was fantastic, from the charming and informative hosts (a married couple – one Greek, one Turk and both well versed in current events) to the delicious food.  And we got to use a ginormous, curved knife.  We chopped, stirred and simmered for hours. “This is why Turkish women, and always the women, spend so much time cooking – barely is one meal finished when preparation for the next must begin,” explained our host, Rocco.

7. Istiklal Ave

Istiklal Ave is a wide, pedestrian-only boulevard, linking Taksim Square, the heart of modern Turkey and Istanbul’s political center, to the Galata Tower, a 14th century tower built by the Genoese and offering some of the best panoramic views of the city.

Lined with boutiques, music stores, bookstores, cafes, pubs, patisseries, and multi-national clothing chains, it’s where the young come to see and be seen, and everyday treasures from Gap jeans to ancient maps can be procured.  Almost every corner boasted different versions of painted dishware (a popular local souvenir), and alleyways swelled with the smells of baking baklava and fresh squeezed citrus fruit juice.

8. Princes’ Islands

The collection of Princes’ Islands, off the coastline of eastern Istanbul, are a great escape from the city bustle.  The nine tiny islands evolved from a place of royal exile during the Byzantine era, to a popular tourist destination today.  Reached via the public ferry system, motorized vehicles are banned, making the primary mode of transportation bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.

9. The Asian Side of Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world straddling two continents – Europe and Asia.  We spent most of our time on the European side of the city, so we decided to hop the ferry over the Bosphorus and explore the Asian-side neighborhood of Kadikoy.

10.  Rooftop Bars

There was one more thing we had to do before we left for home – find out just how much of the mega-city can be seen at once.  Preferably at sunset.  The Rooftop Bar at the Marmara Pera Hotel served delicious cocktails along with a 360-degree view of Istanbul, allowing us to watch the sky roll from light blue to lilac purple to deep, rich magenta, before a bright moon (and an unending sea of city lights) lit up a black night.

Sadly, we were about two months too early to enjoy both from the hotel’s rooftop pool.  But like everything else we couldn’t get to on this trip, I emphatically declare, “next time!”