Sarajevo: suiting up for the Winter Olympics
Sarajevo's name is derived from the Turkish word saraj, a residence of Turkish governors. By extension, it can mean a court in a garden, ''because Sarajevo is surrounded by beautiful green mountains,'' my guide, Zorica, explained.Skip to next paragraph
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Next February, the 6th through 20th, to be precise, those beautiful green mountains will be white with snow, and, it is hoped, marked by a very orderly parade of tour buses chugging up the hills to the 14th Winter Olympic Games.
Last spring, Zorica and I whizzed along the narrow, one-way mountain roads - all the narrower for being in the process of being widened - with uniquely Yugoslav dash and abandon. We had a look at the bobsledding run at Trebevic, in appearance something like a giant vacuum cleaner hose in pale olive beige. It snakes through the wood in three sections: easy, most difficult, just plain difficult. We peered up what to a nonskier looked like the fairly impossible vertical of Sarajevo's popular skiing mountain Jahorina (Alpine skiing, women's events). We also viewed the amazing structure of the ski jump at Ilidza and the new slopes of what in the past was an undeveloped skiing area, Mt. Bjelasnica (Alpine events for men).
Much of the work of preparing the slopes for the Olympics has been done by the volunteer Youth Working Brigades. And brigades they really are: We saw a group trotting along behind a flag, in matching green jackets.
Recently George Mrkela, director of Zoitours (the group of Yugoslav travel agents which is organizing accommodations for the Games), remarked: ''You were here last spring? You should see it now. We are much further advanced. The town is getting readier and readier.''
The 15 new hotels with their 3,000 beds are all just about finished, according to Mr. Mrkela. The Sarajevo Holiday Inn opened Oct. 6. On Nov. 29 the hotels right on Mt. Jahorina - Hotel Kosuga and Hotel Bistrica, which will be used for correspondents during the games - will be ready for business. Another, Hotel Babin Do, on Bjelasnica mountain, will open soon after. The Olympic Village is complete, and the press village virtually so.
The point of all this strenuous activity? ''To get a name, to establish a name,'' Mr. Mrkela said.
''From the point of skiing conditions, everything is in favor of Sarajevo,'' he added. ''(But) Sarajevo lacked accommodations, Sarajevo lacked experience. And now after the games Sarajevo will be ready to become established as a European winter sports resort. In your country, everybody was thinking in terms of the Alps. Now Sarajevo is ready to accept skiers in an area that doesn't belong to the Alps.''
Despite all these noble efforts, there still is not enough hotel space to accommodate the projected 30,000 visitors to the Games, and so Zoitours has contracted about 1,800 family apartments with about 10,000 beds, plus 6,000 ''family rooms,'' according to Mrkela. (Those normally occupying the beds will probably take a vacation along the Adriatic coast, he commented.) Not only were people ''financially stimulated'' to rent their apartments, he said: ''People understand the situation; they want to help the city and the organizing committee.''
In the same spirit, 1,000 buses from all over the country are coming to the aid of Sarajevo. (Tourists will get a pass for the bus.) As for the winding mountain roads: ''They will be properly cleaned, we can promise you,'' said Mrkela genially.
Mr. Mrkela says Sarajevo ''doesn't have any particular tradition in tourism. This is the beginning, putting Sarajevo on the map for travelers.''
Asked about Vucko (pronounced ''Voodge'-ka''), the wolf with jaunty scarf and too-knowing expression who is seen skating and skiing all over Sarajevo, Mrkela passed me on to Paul Lukac of the Olympic Organizing Committee. Mr. Lukac explained that there had been a big competition for the mascot, run on television and in major magazines. ''We knew that kids will like it and Americans will like it,'' he said.''We knew that no American mother would refuse to buy a wolf for her child.''
One problem visitors should not have is communicating with the local people. ''Yugoslavians are talented in many things including languages. We play it by ear and usually don't miss,'' Mr. Lukac said. At the moment there are 200 professional guides in the city, but the committee is planning to train a team of 1,200 by recruiting English-speaking students.