So this is a story that happened about 4 years ago and I never realized how interesting of an experience it was until recently as I've told friends about it. I was very new to "going out" back then, especially outside of the U.S., so I took advantage of my weekend in Sarajevo and met up with one of my family friends who was a local in the city. I wore a tight black dress and heels, not knowing a few things where that would be problematic.
1) It was the 27th night of Ramadan, which is a night of prayer for much of the Muslim population, which had grown exponentially since my family once lived there. Muslims were not allowed to drink alcohol for this period of time as they were fasting.
2) Wearing a little black dress was NOT a good idea, overall. Especially not for someone as young and terrified as I was.
My uncle owns an apartment right in the Stari Grad - or old town - part of the city. He actually lives right above the famous Egipat ice cream place that is pretty well known to locals and their kids growing up. This is a part of town that is flooded by people walking in the streets, so the moment I stepped out I was carried away by a river of people walking in a certain direction. This was a scary moment for me because literally a minute of walking I got my butt grabbed twice, which then instilled a sense of paranoia for the rest of the night.
This is a picture from my uncle's apartment during a much less busy time:
Anyways, I found my friend, Sandra, who took my hand and led the way. The first place she took me too was an outdoor bar where you sit outside, drink, and smoke hookah. I believe we were in Bascarsija, which is a historic and culturally rich section of the old town. These outdoor bars are called "Baste" - pronounced Bash-teh - and they are basically the core of Sarajevo culture. They are everywhere and always packed with locals and some tourists all over the city.
Afterwards, we made our move to the next spot and since I was already a little tipsy I really could not explain where this place was, but I vividly remember the vibe and what it looked like. We walk in and it's a regular bar, but then we went up the stairs that were right in the center and it opens up into this big room. The room was filled with red velvet couches all along mirror covered walls and elaborate lanterns and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It was amazing and gave me a whole new look on this city I've heard about my whole life. So we sat down and did as everyone else did: had drinks, talked and continued to people watch.
I just want to emphasize how awesome Barscarsija is because until this trip, I didn't ever look at it the way I do now. It was built during the Ottoman Empire and it is an old Bazaar, which resembles the image you've always had of a picturesque, Aladdin-type marketplace with street vendors selling all kinds of goods. It is a very nice mix between the Arab-type of marketplace and European stone buildings and streets.
As interesting as that all sounds, the walk home was where it got extremely mind blowing. Like I said, it was a special day for the Muslim community and I was drinking in the cultural center, so my walk home was bound to be a little weird. At this point, I was feeling the alcohol pretty bad and I had loosened up a little. We walk out into the cobble stone streets and, at first, its quiet and calm. We kept walking and I see a crowd of people, still quiet, but definitely at tightly packed crowd. Sandra grabs my hand and begins to push through. As I'm slipping through all these people I look over into the metal gate that they are surrounding and all I see is a very old Mosque and the backs of a hundred bowing heads. Everything was silent. This was the image and moment that stuck with me forever. Coming from a very non-religious household in the suburbs of Florida, I never could imagine seeing so much passion for faith and the setting was just perfect. We are talking 15th century architecture, here.
I was very in the moment so I didn't ponder much on what had just happened, it kind of just clicked instantly, but, frankly, my mind was focused on finding the closest restroom. So we continued our voyage through the city, walked into a couple hotels to use their bathrooms, and then bought some flavored popcorn from a street vendor and sat on some steps to sober up a little before I went home.