Sarajevo -- It's a poignant setting . On my first day here I'm surrounded by rows of small white pillars on a steep hillside overlooking the valley in which the city nestles. Each marks the grave of one of the thousands who died in the Bosnian war. Mourners place flowers at the posts while Roma children scurry around begging.
Suddenly the Muslim call to prayer rings out from dozens of mosques in what seems like a contagious cry of mourning. I imagine people during the war racing to the hills for safety, hiding among the dense trees. Sarajevo becomes imbued with a fragile beauty.
The names Sarajevo and Bosnia conjure up many dark images. I don't know what to expect from a place that's been so recently devastated, but I'm anticipating surprises.
By early afternoon, Sarajevo's streets and stores are filled with people. The women are confident and beautiful, the men well dressed. The cafés are full of people sipping coffee with friends. Stores in the Turkish quarter are filled with silver and gold jewellery, colourful scarves and hookah pipes.
In the evening I attend a regional wine-tasting event at one of the few trendy cafés. I gravitate to the first people I hear speaking English, who happen to be two soldiers from the U.S, and Australia.
While nibbling and sipping, they give their version of the nitty-gritty of local life.
"Everything is still run by the Mafia," they tell me. "You can't run a business without paying them off."
Intrigued and appalled, I ask what the army's view of them is.
"Well, let's just say it's off the books."
They warn me not to wander off the beaten track because the ground still holds millions of land mines.
Due to the prevalence of unemployment, they tell me, most locals nurse just one drink all night at bars. We're privileged to be able to attend this tasting.
The U.S. soldier repeats something from his orientation for new recruits.
"The war was like the fight between Godzilla and Mothra," he explains. "There was no "good guy.' So who were the good guys in the war? The people. The ordinary people. And they suffered the most."
Despite the wine, it's a sobering encounter.
I visit the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Disappointingly, it's only one room of photocopied documents.
From across the road, I gawk at the bright yellow Holiday Inn. I pass the old parliament building, a tall concrete slash in the sky, empty and decrepit. Outside farmers protest against the loss of government support. The National Library, destroyed during the war, is still boarded up.
But the city is rebuilding. Bomb craters have been filled and painted red; they're ironically named "Sarajevo roses."
In the evening I attend a concert that's part of the annual International Jazz Festival, full of avant-garde performances. Ads tout the upcoming film and fashion festivals.
I meet up with some people who work for the British Council, training Bosnian army staff in subjects like English and international law. We talk about the political system final decisions must still be made by the international community.
A Bosnian friend, a medical student, is hopeful. He's proud of his identity yet optimistic about personal relationships across ethnic lines. He wants to stay and help rebuild his country.
"Being with family and friends is more important here than a life of work, work, work. It's a good life. People have to move on, get on with things. Bosnian, Croat, Serb we have lived and worked together and we can do it again."
His confidence is appealing.