We drove to Sarajevo from Kotor and arrived around 1630, after spending 6 hours or so on the road, easily finding our hotel near the Sarajevo old city – Hotel Sana. We pulled right in, took our bags out, and then we were shown where to park. We loved that parking was included in the rate, and it was in a safe, gated location as well. Check-in was smooth and we were shown to our rooms. There was a little confusion with the room configuration at first – apparently we had requested a room with two single beds accidentally – which got cleared up right away and we were moved to a double bed configuration. We also were confused about how to make the room darker (we had skylights) and the front-desk staff patiently explained how to use the very modern tech panel in the room to operate those windows. Wow, that was unexpected!
This turned out to be a very modern hotel, and we liked everything about it except the lack of air conditioning. It gets to 25 Celsius in the room (77 Fahrenheit) without opening the skylights, yet if you open the skylights you get rain and noise. It rained on and off the entire time we were in Sarajevo, making for tough sleeping conditions with the windows closed.
After unpacking and relaxing for a bit (it felt not to be in a car!), we ventured out in to the city around 1800 to explore and find a place to eat. The hotel staff reminded us that it was Ramadan (I keep forgetting that it shifts earlier and earlier every year). Since Sarajevo is a predominantly Bosniak (Muslim) city, the restaurants would all be slammed at 2000 or later once the sun goes down and fast breaks (sundown at this time of the year was at 2013).
We had researched food options in the hotel and there definitely were some great ones. Sarajevo turned out to be a city for foodies. We settled on one called Klopa, which was actually the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor in Sarajevo. It actually rose to the top due to, in part, being vegetarian friendly – but also because of the dining experience and the wait staff. The other selling point is that it’s smoke free.
It was only a short walk through the old city, and we immediately felt transformed from ugly Communist architecture to Ottoman charm. You can see homes nestled in the hills all around Sarajevo, making me think about Sarajevo’s unfavorable position in the crevice of a valley during the Siege of Sarajevo during the Balkan Wars.
At the end of the path above, we took a right on the main promenade (which was under construction) to find Klopa right away. Klopa already had lots of tables reserved for 2000 when the Ramadan rush started, but they had some high tops towards the kitchen available and we could stay as long as we liked. We opted for the high top because we didn’t want to rush dinner.
The waiter, Amel, came by right away and exuberantly described the menu and his favorite dishes, including the lamb and the salmon. He spent a lot of time and attention answering our questions, and even recommended a special premium beer to try – it was very tasty and we appreciated the larger size! We ordered some starters – two bowls of the mushroom soup (after he talked me out of ordered the salad, since salad came with the entree). He then came by with sour cream, which he explained we can try putting it in the soup like the locals did. It made it thicker and better! And then dipping the fresh sourdough bread in to it just put it over the top.
After our first course came the meat entrees. The waiter talked me in to the lamb, and it didn’t disappoint. Brendan got a steak, which was also really good. We discovered a side of chive sour cream that made a perfect sauce for the steak and the potatoes. Both meats were prepared perfectly – they were so tender! And the side of coleslaw was just what I wanted.
For dessert, we shared a local dessert that I can only described as a berry quick-bread with a berry sauce in cream. We think the flavor in the cake portion may have been pomegranate, because we saw fresh squeezed pomegranate juice all along the main pedestrian drag. It was topped off with some strawberry gelato. We wolfed it down.
While I enjoyed the last of my beer, Brendan indulged in what can only be described as the Bosnian coffee ceremony (reminded me of my time in Ethiopia). Amel explained how to do it. You pour a little coffee in to your cup. Then, you take a tiny bite of the sugar. You have a sip of coffee. Finally, you have a bite of the sugared gelatin. Do not call this Turkish coffee – locals will be offended! There is a good article from the BBC on the elaborate ritual of Bosnian coffee, and how to experience it.
After a satisfying meal (we were quickly discovered this is a city for foodies!), we took the long way back to Hotel Sana, enjoying a pleasant evening in Sarajevo. We were already discovering that there were many layers to Sarajevo, and like the people themselves, while the exterior can be a bit rough, there’s warmth and cultural depth on the inside.
We hadn’t even scratched the surface.