Heavy snowfall obscured my field of vision as I negotiated the Olympic bobsled track on Mt. Trebević above Sarajevo. “The turns are tight and the curves are cruel,” an ABC Sports announcer warned. The crowd cheered me on. Well, in my mind anyway.
Hiking the abandoned bobsled and luge tracks above Sarajevo in the snow is a strange experience. The remains of the winding concrete structures built for the 1984 Olympics can be crowded in the summer. In the wintertime, you will likely have the path to yourself. Let your imagination run wild.
The 1984 games were the first to be hosted by a then-communist country. With its pre-war mix of Christians and Muslims living in relative harmony, the competition in Sarajevo is remembered fondly by those who participated. While the best-known Olympic moment was the perfect score for a steamy ice-dancing routine by the UK’s Torvill and Dean, the 2-man bobsled event was a fierce rivalry between the Soviet Union and East Germany. There was a near-wipeout by the British as you’ll see on this video.
Gondola to the Top of Mt. Trebević
Don’t pay attention to old blogs that say the only way to the top, besides walking, is a private tour or a taxi. The original 1959 gondola was refurbished for the Olympics and destroyed in the 1990s war, but the modern new one opened in early 2018. Running at full capacity, it can transport 1,200 people per hour. At mid-morning on a snowy February day it took exactly two: me and my companion.
In the winter, the gondola sometimes shuts down because of the weather. We had to go the base station on three different days before we found it working. A one-way ticket for two people cost 30 BAM, or about $17 USD. The ticket office might try to sell you a 40 BAM ($23) round trip, but you are going to walk down, right?
Lost in Translation: I should point out that “gondola” can mean an Italian rowboat in Venice to most Europeans. They call it a “cable car” or a “funicular” which means something very different to Americans. Also, you’ll see references to “bobsleigh” but I’m going with the US Olympic team spelling of “bobsled” for this post. On one trail sign it was shortened to “bob.”
Follow the Bobsled Trail Signs
Once we reached the top, I was nervous about getting lost because I had read some reviews complaining that the trail wasn’t very well marked. Not to worry. Just follow the bright red signs, courtesy of a local hiking club. They point the way to the top of Mt. Trebević or down to the city below.
In clear weather, the view must be splendid. But in the winter, you’ll see why the besieged residents of Sarajevo prayed for storm clouds during the war. The enemy couldn’t see a thing!
From Bobsleds to Bullets
Looking at the crumbling stands today, you can still imagine cheering crowds as the 1984 Olympians came down the final stretch, underneath the “Sarajevo” sign. But the only sound was the crunch of our hiking shoes on the snow. The scars of war on the concrete structures have been covered by street art, although most of the graffiti looked more like pointless vandalism to me.
During the siege of Sarajevo, the Olympic venue on Mt. Trebević became an artillery position and snipers’ nest for the Serb Army. Havoc rained down on the trapped population from 1992 to 1996 in the longest modern-day military siege of a capital city. Read more about touring the war sites in this post.
There are no longer any signs warning of unmarked landmines on the mountain, but we stayed inside the cement troughs of the bobsled run and the well-marked hiking paths just to be safe. It is becoming more difficult to find buildings in the refurbished center of Sarajevo with obvious war damage. Up here, the remaining bullet holes on the shells of former farmhouses bear silent witness.
Allowing plenty of time for photography, it took about two hours to get back down to the center of the city, near the National Library. Take a moment to read the plaque commemorating the two million books that burned when the library was hit by a bomb from the mountaintop you have just visited.
Terry’s Travel Tips:
Stranger Danger: We heeded the advice from locals not to take valuables except for my camera and a small amount of cash, but it was too cold and snowy for the bad guys to be out, apparently.
Getting There: The base of the gondola is reachable on foot from the old center of Sarajevo, not far from the Sarajevo brewery. We found the posted sign about working hours to be totally inaccurate, but no one will turn you away until you reach the security guard at the top of a long stairway to the base station.
What to Wear: Sturdy, waterproof hiking shoes with treads are a must for navigating the steep curves of the bobsled run without slipping. Besides our winter parkas, we found we needed umbrellas as the snow turned to freezing rain near the bottom. A few brave souls have done it on bikes in warmer weather.
More war sites in Sarajevo: I went to Bosnia with an author researching a book on the Siege of Sarajevo. For more inside information on touring the war-related sites, check out this post. And if you’d like to read an adventure novel about fictional young adults caught up in the Balkan Wars and the Siege of Sarajevo, download “Tito’s Lost Children” to any e-reader device on Amazon.
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