Sarajevo: A Meeting of Coffee Cultures

The history of Bosnia is very much intertwined with the history of coffee. The Bosnians were by no means pioneers in the coffee movement, however, their geographic location placed them at an ideal crossroads to incorporate coffee consumption as a meaningful daily activity. My first impressions of Bosnia came when we crossed the border from Croatia to meet up with our Bosnian tour guide, Faruk. Faruk insisted the most important thing we do before exploring his country was to get to know each other over a cup of coffee. imagesWe marveled as he managed to make an espresso last over an hour. While slowly sipping, he explained the importance of coffee, and the role it has accorded in most Bosnians lives.

Once outside Africa, coffee beans were utilized and quickly spread throughout the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Shortly after, when the Austrians defeated the Turks in the Battle of Vienna, it was discovered that the Turks leftover spoils were in fact coffee beans. The Austrian officer who received the spoils used them in Vienna’s first coffee house. He helped make the coffee more palatable by adding sugar and milk to the acidic coffee.imgres Bosnia, whose history is uniquely indebted to both countries, has assumed their own identity that is a delicate balance of East and West. Strolling through the old town, you walk across a compass with two directions: East and West. The compass symbolizes the country’s tug-of-war between the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarians, and how despite the pull of both empires, Bosnia managed to emerge as their own unique entity.

Our first cup of coffee drew to a close, and Faruk used the dwindling time to discuss – what else – Starbucks. He remained baffled by the company’s success. Why would someone enjoy being corralled into a line only to be served a large, syrupy coffee only to leave 10 minutes later with very limited interaction? Coffee, he said is meant to be shared, and is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Coffee is a special opportunity to cherish time with one another, and you never know if you’ll see someone again.. It’s a common quip that in Bosnia happiness is not measured by the amount of wealth you have, but by the number of close friends you have. Coffee is merely an excuse to enrich these relationships. img_2294-0

Beware of the Motos!

The first thing I can tell you about Vietnam is to beware of the motos! I found myself trying to escape the throng of motos by ducking out in cafés for some Vietnamese coffee, and it wasn’t long before I was buzzing like the motos (it will give you quite the caffeine kick). Try and head to the Old Quarter for a drink (bia hoi is popular with the locals) at sunset so you can take in the French influence, and also if you get up high enough, it’s fun to watch the madness of the motos below. The water puppet show is a must-see while you’re in Hanoi- it’s good and cheap entertainment, and it provides you with some insight into the history of Vietnam. For food, we ate at the same restaurant in Hanoi and Saigon -Quan An Ngon. I prefer the Saigon location (it’s right across the street from the Reunification Palace in a beautiful building). The food is delicious, and it’s a nice introduction to Vietnamese cuisine. I’m not sure how many days you have in Hanoi, but if you have the time, don’t miss Halong Bay!

DSCN0925 DSCN1246I had two very different experiences at Halong Bay: my first was on a 3-day booze cruise with my hostel (Hanoi backpackers- great place, would highly recommend), and the second was a 4-day, luxury boat with my family. Both were wonderful, and if either of those options don’t appeal, there’s a range of options for whatever mood suits you. My favorite memory from Vietnam was waking up to the beauty of Halong Bay, while doing tai chi with my family on the boat deck.


Coming from Hanoi, I was struck by the modernity, and size of Ho Chi Minh. It’s home to nearly 10 million people, and the streets are far more spacious than those of Hanoi. In Saigon there are a lot of culturally enriching day trips. I went on the Mekong boat trip, and also the cu chi tunnel trip, with a stop at Cao Dai temple. The Cao Dai temple is in the middle of nowhere, but was unlike any religious building I’ve ever visited, and well worth the time it took to get there (if you do go, try and coordinate your arrival with the times of their ceremony). If you stay in the backpacker area of town, make sure you make some pit stops en route to the reunification palace at the Ben Thanh night market for souvenirs, or if you’re hungry there are some good pho places (I think I usually went to pho 2000).DSCN1299 notredamesaigon


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