*I’ve been a bad blogger recently because I haven’t posted for a while. I blame studies! Anyway i’d much appreciate you check out this post because a fair amount of research when into it and i think it touches an interesting topic.
There has been debate between the media and travellers over the emergence of ‘dark tourism’, which is a tourist destination that is some way connected to death or disaster. This could range from Auschwitz to the Parisian catacombs to the 9/11 Memorial site. Generally, the destination is connected to a “dark chapter in history”. The debate stems from the ethics of visiting these places and the obsession with the macabre. In this article I will use Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, a destination I visited a couple of months ago as a case study. It is here I discovered the phenomenon of ‘dark tourism’ and came to question my own stance on the subject.
Sarajevo has been considered a dark tourist destination since 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, it is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s recent history; the war following the countries succession from Yugoslavia in the 1990’s that counts for most of Sarajevo’s tourism today. This is noticeable walking around the city as it is not long before you are confronted with a building still full of bullet holes or the ruins of a house. I didn’t visit any of the memorial museums because that is not to my taste. However, I still felt that the effects of the war were very fresh and visible in everyday life for the people of Sarajevo. After a couple of days in the city I began to realise that almost every place of interest was connected to the war. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and so I made the journey to the abandoned bobsleigh course because I wanted to see something out of the city. It was an eerie experience, this was partly due to the weather and partly due to me being the only person there. Saying this, there was still an atmosphere of paranoia, that made me constantly turn my head around because I thought someone was walking behind me. I researched the site once I was back in my hotel and discovered that the track was used as artillery defence during the war. This hit home the reality of what happened historically there. It was once a celebration of sporting achievement and the coming together of nations through friendly competition. Now it has much darker associations.
I had to do some research into dark tourism. My initial view was that it was for tourists who found pleasure in seeing the destruction and misery that had happened to other places and people. However, I have come to realise that this is not the case at all. We are essentially all dark tourists; the umbrella term covers sites of huge historical significance such as the Berlin Wall, all the way down the spectrum to a War Museum. All these sites have in common is that they relate to death, destruction or dark history – either natural or man-made. The term can be adjusted to include just about anything. Dark tourism has received a bad reputation in the media. It is this idea of voyeurism that is the main reason. Tourists visiting these sites are seen as glamorising the disaster and getting pleasure out of the trauma of those effected. It could be compared to the ‘snuff video’ movement that you sometimes see on social media. While I am on the subject – social media also contributes to dark tourism’s bad reputation. Most recently there was controversy over people posting selfies at Holocaust memorial sites. It was this particular incident that made me aware of my own position on dark tourism. While I was in the city I came across a ‘Sarajevo Rose’, which is the remnants of a mortar explosion that has been filled with red resin, making it look floral in its appearance. A tourist brochure also told me it was “the most instagrammed picture of Sarajevo” – I was also guilty of this! Is there a moral stance of posting pictures from these sites on social media? Is it right that a mortar explosion is Sarajevo’s most popular photo, instead of its beautiful old town?
After researching dark tourism and visiting a dark tourism site I have come to my own conclusions on the subject. I think that generally dark tourism is misunderstood. It is viewed as being consumed by a small portion of travellers, when in reality we are all involved in some way. I think it can be very educational. The Yugoslav wars happened during the first years of my life so I had next to no knowledge of that part of history. However, after visiting Bosnia I have become a lot more clued up on what happened; including the extraordinary stories of the people of Sarajevo and how they coped with the war. Dark tourism also shows that we can’t forget that these events happened, although that would be easier, it isn’t the right thing to do. Only by learning from the past can we stop these events happening again in the future.
Most of my research came from; http://www.dark-tourism.com/ so if you are interested in the subject then feel free to learn more!
Sarajevo had already won me over with its hospitality, beauty and cosmopolitanism. I didn’t think it had any surprises left for me to discover. This is until I stumbled across Zlatna Ribica. A cosy coffee house/bar situated a couple of streets away from central Sarajevo. Its eccentricity and utter charm will make you want to spend the whole day there – continuously sipping coffees, beers or wines to your heart’s content while the world continues outside.
Stepping through the doors I felt as if I had stepped back in time at least 50 years to some quaint Parisian café. The decorum screams vintage, with posters and trinkets dating back to sometime before this one. The place really gives me a feel for antique Bosnia. It is quiet. Only a few patrons sip from their cups in the corner so it is easy for me to find a seat. I occupy the one next to the goldfish, happily swimming in its bowl. The waitress does not need to hand me a menu because they hang above my head, on telephone chords. My menu takes the form of a children’s book about animals. You see milk isn’t thirsty kitty’s favourite drink, it is actually lemonade for 4KM. Different menus were written on playing cards and tarot decks and other quirky miscellany.
At this point I didn’t even care of the coffee was bad (it was not by the way). It was just nice to escape into this little world for an hour. I wish I could take the place back home with me. It is this charm of Bosnia that I want to remember from my travels. Despite the countries struggles it still has a beautiful integrity and culture that I think should be shared with more people.
(A fictional travel piece based off a non-fiction place. A real place you would say. A place that actually exists. Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Gallery.)
“If you are looking for Hell, then ask the artist where it is. If you can’t find the artist, then you are already in Hell”
– Avigdor Pawnser
It is your last day in the country. You have visited every museum, café and restaurant. You are now stumbling around the old city looking to find something to do. To kill those final few minutes.
You cross the square, mothers shout at crying children while the father looks onwards at nothing in particular. Students are comparing notebooks. Ideas and drafts that will probably not equate to anything. An old woman sits by the fountain scratching the few whiskers on her chin. She sits alone. You are also alone. A light rain starts to pour from the sky and you take refuge in a nearby building. It is not an inviting building by any means. Plaster peels off the walls and one of the windows has been bordered up. The sign tells you that it is an Art Exhibit. You pay the small commission to allow your admittance.
The walls are decorated with cardboard, not tiles. The number of art pieces is lacking compared to the other exhibits you walked around with your lover in olden, happier days. You walk past the murals of Yugoslavic sieges and Eastern European famine. Guns, then hungry children, then mortar explosions, then prisoner of war poetry, consecutively. Sculptured skulls lay scattered across the floor. A man hangs from the ceiling by this throat, clutching a baby doll. Edgy. Artistic. You think to yourself. The gallery attendants leave for coffee so you saunter upstairs to the rest of the exhibit. There are hundreds of empty seats. You are not knowledgeable when it comes to the Contemporary art scene so you are unsure whether you can sit or not. You are so very tired. You sit on one of the seats since the gallery attendants have gone for coffee. It is quiet now and you are the only one here. In the corner a television only plays static. You swear that for a moment, brief, that a face appeared on that screen. You watch for a few minutes until your eyes hurt, desperately trying to catch another glimpse. Static. That’s all. Your mind must have been playing tricks on you.
You go to the gift shop. A book catches your eye and you flick through the pages. It is a book. It is a book about you. Your birth. A nurse is about to spank you while a doctor holds your mother. There is a photo of you crying on your first day of school. The other children were mean to you. There is a photo of you on the plane here, two empty seats either side of you. You are reading that novel. You should make more time for reading. The last page shows an empty hospital bed. There are no flowers or ‘get well soon’ cards. The sheets look stained and dirty. You put the book down and step back into the square. The one with the fountain. The old woman is still there. You are unsure how long you were looking at the art. You are still so tired. You would like to fall asleep and awake when everything is ok again. It is not long until your plane leaves. You should get to the airport early and check in your luggage. You brought no luggage. You walk up to the fountain and stare at the cool, inviting water. You want to drink the water but the old woman shakes her head. You did not find yourself here. So you must go to the next place. Maybe there. Maybe
“Where is the good life for all of us? You ask yourself”
“Child”. Says the woman
“Such a thing does not exist”.
A small collection of short bitesized poems from Malta. Quickly scribbled in my notebook while I mooched around in the sun. While I nonchalantly watched people going about their business as the day slowly slunk along.
come to my garden, where
the sea glistens above,
the sky clear below
mixing a pallet of blue before my eyes
let us dance in my garden
to the song of red and purple flowers
while the tourists look onwards.
Table For One.
look at that man in the corner
alone. that’s fucking weird
one pair of cutlery
one beer glass
they must be the loneliest person in the world….
because you realise you feel the same
as she holds your hand
next to candlelight.
Woman Doing Beach Exercises.
move as the wave moves
lunge forward, jump backward
sweating through gym gear
rest in a rock pool
you are one with the ocean now child.
clinging to the
under your armpits
no dogs on the beach
that child stepped in shit
no dogs on the beach
…and you will get through this.
You will get through this because you are a city of creativity, of effervescence and love. A city of acceptance. You are a diverse community that includes people from all walks of life. It’s this mix of individuals who come together in this beautiful city that makes you feel a part of something special. I never felt out of place as I walked beside the water or through the streets. I never felt isolated while drinking in a pub or having a fika with friends. I felt more and more a part of Stockholm every day I lived there. This was through the experiences I had and the memories of those experiences that I still carry around. It was through the relationships I made with the city and the friends I love – both Swedish and other Internationals alike.
This is why my heart hurts so much reading about the events that happened yesterday. That someone wanted to try and taint and break up this community that I have a special place for and this city that I care about. My heart hurts for the victims and their families. It hits so close to home because in another time or another place, it could have been someone that I really cared about, or even me. That could have been injured or worse. Of course, we can’t live our lives thinking about events in that way. Who knows why things happen the way they do… but maybe we can help stop tragedies like this again by our reactions.
So, we will grieve like we did in London and Nice and Berlin and countless other places across the world. We will grieve when it happens again, but I have noticed that we are learning to respond to these attacks differently. With resilience and solidarity, instead of judgement. We will not let attacks like these define our cities or a group of people. Instead we need to stand against hate. Attacks like these push people together, rather than forcing them apart. Stockholm, you are a city of love, peace, acceptance and creativity. That is what defines you. Stockholm, you will get through this and continue to be the thriving city and community where I left my heart. While I am not with you I think of you always and treasure the memories you gave me
So today marks one year since I set up my website (which just reminded me i’ll be getting billed soon.. great!) It has been dedicated to all my travel and travel related writing. What is most surprising to me is how I’ve managed to stick with it for this long. Usually I start projects but then give up after a short while. I’m so bad for getting bored and moving onto something new, which makes me proud of myself for continuing with this!
Don’t get me wrong there are times where I do feel like putting it on the shelf. For example, I can spend a lot of time on a post for it to only reach 5 views. That can be very disheartening and makes me question why I’m even bothering to put the effort in. However, when I look at my stats page and see the views rise and rise. When I see people from all over the world reading my work it really motivates me to continue. There are people from the USA to Sweden to Kenya to Ecuador to Japan to even Kyrgyzstan. My ultimate goal is to receive at least one view from every country in the world! (55/196 to go)
I’m very lucky to have been able to travel quite frequently during this year. I suppose you must travel to run a travel blog. My inspiration has not run out yet and I’ve still got a few destinations planned this year. This makes me excited about the future content. I feel that my writing has improved a lot over the past year. I’m writing in a style and about things I’m a lot more comfortable with.
Finally, a big thank you to the people that actually read my stuff, you keep me going! Hopefully I’m still doing this on the websites 2nd birthday!
A couple of weeks ago I explored the island-country of Malta! Although I was greeted with great weather, monuments and a plethora of culture and history. It made me come to terms with the psyche of being a solo traveller.
This was the first time that I had been away alone. Stockholm doesn’t count because I don’t think that was the same. I was living with other people in the same situation as me so you never felt lonely for long. This trip was different though… I made it to Malta on Friday. It was a long day of travel; early morning, flight delayed, public transport not turning up and other nuisances like that. However, I let it all wash over me because I had crossed another country off my list. Bonus – it was also warm. I forgot what that feels like! As I said this is my first time travelling solo despite being a well-travelled person. I’ve always had a companion with me but this time I didn’t and it was tough. When I walked along the seafront I could appreciate its beauty but I had no one to share it with. When I walked past a pastry shop, the treats inside looked delicious but I had no one to tell.
I would be lying if I said it didn’t get me down. Then I ask myself questions like “well why did you even go in the first place?” Honestly I didn’t think it would affect me as much as it did. On the morning of my flight I just wanted to go back home. I was anxious and upset about travelling for the first time in ages. On my first night I decided to try and explore as much as I could and I found an Argentinian restaurant close to my hostel. I did hover around for a good ten minutes before going inside, scared of saying the dreaded words “table for one please!” eventually I did it and the meal was amazing. Would I have wanted to share that experience with someone? Yes and no. Yes because company is nice and no because I realised its ok to spend time alone. People thought I was absolutely nuts for going to Malta by myself. Many can’t do something like that. I’ve always been independent and more at ease with situations like that. I just love to travel, of course, in a sense it is an escapism. But I suppose we’re all escaping from something each in our own way.
This is just a little intro into the solo traveller. I would like to explore this further as I go on more trips this year. It will be interesting to compare future experiences to this one.