If you’re a health freak, Sarajevo might not be on the list of places where you want to end up longer than for holidays. Especially in the beginning, the shock might be immense and frustration deep.
However, there are ways how to get around living a healthy life… Even in the Balkans.
Bosnian (and Balkan in general) lifestyle is known for sitting in cafes, drinking heaps of coffee, consuming several packages of cigarettes a day, and watching sports on TV or in a stadium, rather than actively participating in it.
The number of decent gyms and sports clubs in Sarajevo can be counted on the fingers of one hand and those that are good have membership fees comparable to London. Running outside is also not recommended. Apart from the fact that Sarajevo was recently given the label of the “most polluted city in Europe” and the Miljacka river that runs through the center does not exactly smell fresh, you might get chased either by teenage boys on bicycles or stray dogs. The running path is quite short anyhow and goes along the main roads, so forget about a nice run in the nature and on fresh air.
But there is a solution! If you have a car (or friends with a car), get outside of the city – hiking, track running, and mountaineering are the things to do here. And trust me, the mountains here are darn stunning…
If you arrive in the winter, you are somehow better off. Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Olympics – which you are reminded of on every step – and the city tries to build up an image of a famous winter sports destination. This winter there has even been a bonus – you don’t even have to travel anywhere – forget about Bjelasnica, Jahorina, or Igman! Every street of Sarajevo has turned into a great ski slope! There is so much snow in the very heart of the city right now that even Aspen would be jealous.
On top of that, Sarajlijas have come up with a variety of new winter sports – lavabording (sit on a basin, get attached to a car by a string and ride), saltos in the snow out of balconies, mosques, and fences, and jumping off roofs are only some examples. Obsessed with the Olympics as they are, every such new sport is immediately referred to as a new “Olympic sport”. Some of them are not bad ideas, I must admit…
What can I say? Have imagination and explore new sports!
Food, the alpha and omega of a healthy life-style, is the trickiest one. If you are unlucky to be a vegetarian, lactose- and gluten intolerant, you might want to consider moving elsewhere! I mean it. Meat, diary products, and bread are the basis of basically every meal and dish you are served. Grabbing a quick bite here means to go to a bakery and get a greasy filo pastry of various filling (such as meat, cheese, spinach, potatoes). The idea of a salad is along the lines of a “beef salad” (biftek salata) where vegetable is used as a colourful decoration only. The only vegetarian restaurant in town has recently closed down and the rest of the really (I mean it!) nice restaurants that exist are definitely not places where you can go for your daily lunch without going bankrupt in a week.
So you need to start making your own meals.
Well, that is another mission you need to undergo. Stores with healthy food do exist but they are scarce and ridiculously (seriously ridiculously) overpriced. Moreover, the offer is rather interesting. The selection of various wheat products and cereals is endless; however apart from tofu and TVP there is hardly any other alternative to meat-based main dishes and definitely no pre-prepared meals.
In the summer, you can get by living on fresh fruit and vegetables that you can get on local markets. The selection is not great but in July and August you can basically can anything you wish if you look for it. In the winter, though, you are in trouble – you basically end up buying whatever there is and whatever still has some sort of a fresh look – cabbage, for example, is one thing that you can get nearly everywhere. Canned and frozen fruit and veggie is unfortunately another must.
Alas, a radical change of diet is recommended.
All in all, you really have to try hard to be healthy here.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that living in a different culture means adjusting to it. I like teasing Bosnians for their pastries and cigarettes and they like teasing me for my morning runs and “food for birds” as they call it (simple oatmeal).
But I try – I explore new sports, slowly start using the oven for more than just an additional source of heating and after making my first eatable cabbage-based meal, I thought living healthy here is not that hard after all…