(Publshed in Wanderlust Travel Journal, August 25, 2019)
SARAJEVO – Just about 6 p.m. an old familiar aroma begins its daily meandering trip onto Branilaca Street. It is a smell that instantly reminds the citizens of Sarajevo of past good times.
It is coffee. Coffee being brewed. Coffee beans being ground. Coffee set in small cups by the entrances to the Cotton Club or Caffe Ramona or Gallerija to tempt those passing by. The smell embraced me as I walk through the streets, at times almost floating through the street. It is a smell I have long longed for and to spoke to rebirth.
You may talk of how electricity in the homes and gasoline at the pumps is a sign that Sarajevo has survived its 42-month siege. But to many citizens here, it is the return of the coffee cafes, of their smells and sounds, that says peace has arrived.
“Ah, to sit in a glass window or, in the summer, to sit at the tables outside and see who passes by and make your comments. This is how we know we are living again,” Erna Ribar, who works for the local UNICEF office, said to me.
In this city, coffee – and finding the right place to savor a cup – is far beyond a casual luxury. Like its cosmopolitan cousins of Prague, Budapest and Vienna, the soul of the Sarajevo is revealed among the sips of this thick, high octane ooze. Ever since it was part of the old Hapsburg Empire centuries ago, a visit to the coffee cafes was required to know what was happening in Sarajevo.
The war took all that away. It was important that I — and the city — find it again.
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