Sunday, 9 February 2014

At the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo

On staying in the same hotel as Torvill and Dean etc
In the distance, Sarajevo looked like Mostar, but on a bigger scale – a tightly packed city, encircled by mountains, easy to besiege. When the men with hammers gave the all-clear, the train slowly rumbled between tower blocks and came to a halt in another large but empty station. About two dozen passengers got off and walked through the ambitious foyer to the street. Not far away, the ochre cube of the Holiday Inn nosed above the concrete horizon. Built for the Winter Olympics in 1984, it achieved notoriety during the civil war as the only hotel to stay open throughout the four-year siege. Journalists set up satellite phones and fax machines in their rooms and reported on the exchanges of rifle fire and mortar shells between the Bosnians in the city and the Bosnian Serbs on the surrounding hills. The road dubbed Sniper Alley ran directly in front of the Holiday Inn; the only way in and out of the building had been through a service door at the back.
‘You’re not even going to think about staying anywhere else, are you?’ said Sarra as we stood in the station forecourt.
            ‘It’s handy for the train.’
            ‘Except that you want to go there so you can say you’ve stayed in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, just like Jeremy Bowen and Martin Bell.’
            ‘It was too close to the frontline for Martin Bell. He had his own apartment.’

            ‘Trust you to know that.’
That night, the three of us sat in the foyer of the Holiday Inn. The only other customer at the raised circular bar was a receptionist who’d just come off shift. Nobody said much. The barman printed off his till receipts and sat at a table, typing figures into a laptop. It didn’t take him long. While Sam sucked up the last of his Coca Cola through a straw, the receptionist got up, walked over to the fountain and turned it off. Backlit by the streetlamps outside, she returned across the polished floor, the purple and beige atrium towering above her. She looked up just once, registered the five Olympic rings high on the wall, then put on her coat. The barman caught her eye. They’d both worked there for years. They smiled at each other, said goodnight. As we got up to go, the barman came to collect our glasses.
            ‘It hasn’t always been this quiet,’ he said.

Tom Phillips 

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