Green lush and mountainous would be my words describe Bosnia, it was unlike anything I was expecting from this country, actually im really not sure what I was expecting! The war stories and fairly recent historic unrest all serve as a veil over your perception of a place. As recent as 20 years ago there was brutal fighting over the recently independent country following the collapse of Yugoslavia. There is still alot of evidence of this, especially in Sarajevo where the city was under siege for years and still full of bullet holes in the buildings.
Before the fighting, bosnia was home to the 1984 winter olympics were held here, something that the Bosnians are still very proud of as even 30 years on, it still features heavily on maps and signs, it made me think of the British Olympics and how our perception of the games is, moreover whether we will still be talking about it in 30 years time.
The areas that I planned to visit were the bobsleigh track, the ski jump and Olympic hotel.
Arriving a bit later than planned on tuesday, the road to the bobsleigh track was very windy up into the mountains, decent enough but it pushed the ford focus hire car.
The track itself emerged from the trees like a massive concrete snake. Graffiti almost covered the whole inner part of it and added some colour to an otherwise grey and dull looking construction, these things are meant to be seen coated in a thick skin of white ice. It was the acoustics which were amazing, there were a few other people around and some of them went further up the track and I could hear their voices and footsteps clearly from what may have been a kilometre or two away!
It was the bends which were scarey, huge curved banks which you can imagine hurtling towards at 200mph – it must have been something else to actually see! Walking down and around which winded down and around the mountain to the base where there were ruins of what would have probably been snack shops and facilities.
On the drive back there was a small shell of a hotel which looked interesting on the way, a broken and war damaged slab of concrete, but walking through the door, the room gave way to an awesome panorama of Sarajevo, quite an odd comparison between the lush mountains seeing through a trashed shell of a retreat which must have been a pretty special place to stay at some point before the war. It was a coincidence that a few days later, on a short tour to the tunnel museum, the guide drove up near this place which was where some of the Bosnian/Serb army snipers shot indescriminantly into the city below.
The ski jump would probably be the last sporting event that I would sign up for, throwing yourself down a sheer edge to a ramp below on a couple of bits of wood just isn’t my thing and I would find it frightening just being at the top of the mountain. Abandoned and in the summer months, the ski jump looked even more out of place – like some sort of military launch facility and certainly not somebodies idea of sport. It was bad enough being at the bottom of the ramp looking up ( it was too hot to hike to the top )
In the are below, the podium still stood strong, a concrete structure in the grey and orange of the Olympic colours, it was recently restored because of some heavy damage in the war, a testament to how much pride the Bosnians have in their hosting of the games!
Some of the hotels which were used in the games had been abandoned as well. The first was at the top of one of the olympic mountains, flanked on all sides by newer hotels and construction projects. The hotel certainly had seen better days and hardly had any glass left in it. A moody looking cloud front had closed in and the temperature had dropped this made the hotel look like something out of a horror film, the overlook hotel from the shining once you knew what went on inside it. The hotel had its own lifts, ancient compared to the newer ones in the neighbouring hotels, consisting of rusting single seats in faded colours hanging swaying in the wind between yellow posts. The harsh elements hadn’t been kind to the hotel and it was completely trashed inside.
A large bar area still looked out onto the stunning mountains below, the wood faded and broken surrounded by a carpet of broken glass. The hotel was basically just a shell,
maybe on the demolishing list judging by the other construction work but there were a few interesting things such as an empty elevator shaft and long corridors. Striking red signs warned about unexploded land mines in the area leading up to this beautiful vista, it was one of the things that I had read about and was careful not to stray too far from roads and paths. Landlines must seem like such an ideal weapon at the time of war, extremely cheap and devastating, but as soon as its over and the realisation that they were spread randomly across the countryside – they become a deadly hazard for everyone.
There was another hotel on the way to the ski jump, there were workers here and demolition was underway but this hotel had some of the most interesting angles on it that I had ever seen. The hotel was used as a headquarters for the Bosnian/Serb army and there wasn’t a foot of concrete without shell damage.