Sarajevo – coffee and roses

My favourite cafe ever in possibly my favourite city ever…

If only I sat in Zlatna Ribica now, not my rainy West London Starbucks. The pavements of Sarajevo are awash with cafes and bars inviting regulars and visitors in to sample their refreshments and Bosnian hospitality in equal measures.  

We discovered Zlatna Ribica on our first afternoon, wandering in search of the famous coffee that would shock and stimulate us. In the end the serotonin levels were flushed with strawberry tea in small ceramic pots, mismatching cups and saucers, melting ginger biscuits served on a shell, all sweetened by heart shaped sugar cubes. The decor was a shambolic and coincidental mash of…everything. Imagine if Marie Antoinette had fallen down a rabbit hole and taken tea with the Mad Hatter and Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. Clocks tick in every corner, jewellery dangles from every spot not filled with sewing machines and vases and fountains. Such variegated beauty is an attribute of Sarajevo.

On leaving the cafe, we pass friends, smoking cigarettes, laughing together. With some kind of beautiful horrible synchronicity I realise what they saw as children, whilst I played nurses and my brother played armies. If someone had told the child me watching Newsround that Sarajevo could be such a beautiful, fun, soulful city, I would have dismissed them. Buildings continue to teeter on the verge of collapse, shell fire is evident, but the city still bristles with excess energy and a sense of flirtatiousness.

Occasionally in the pavement we step on a Sarajevo rose, the indents of shells filled with red paint – blood, love, life, war, memories. We make our way to the history museum – what remains of it. A war  exhibition is even more powerful in a damaged building where shell fire holes litter the floor. I am struck by human tenacity. School children risking their lives to learn. Men huddling, away from the sniper fire – but it’s ok, they have cigarettes! Sarajevo was Capital of Culture in 1994 – hunger cannot kill emotion and creativity.

A self walking tour, guided by a grammatically dubious leaflet supplied by the Tourist Information Office, takes us past the spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, until the 1990s Sarajevo’s claim to fame.

We reach the market, stomachs rumbling as the smoke from deep pizza ovens and burek shops floods our nostrils. We settle for a kebab and sit on the hill looking down, the Turkish Quarter Basacasarlija covered in the long twilight shadow. Subtly mesmeric, the tap of the coppersmiths is interspersed only by church bells ringing and the calming reassuring call to prayer. As well as minarets and cathedral towers punctuating the skyline and sharing the airwaves, the Franciscan cathedral of St Anthony is used by Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. Who believe  Sarajevo could be a lesson on harmonious relations?

Sarajevo is like a jaunty yet heart wrenching song, the dark chords cloaked and covered by the living melody. Drowning in dimensions, it is a city I will return to. It will always be changing, because it will always be living.

Published by Francesca Baker

Passionate about music, the world, exploring, literature and smiling. Writing, marketing and events for all my favourite things.

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