Serbia 2018

Balkans Day 19 – Novi Sad

29th September 2018

Novi Sad
Novi Sad

We have a long drive today; 4 hours and 240 miles across the Serbian border to Novi Sad, a city on the banks of the River Danube. I start the day with a shower. The shower gel is mint and nettle, so I am clean but smell like an enormous throat lozenge. Next, breakfast; we are served pancakes and home made plum jam which causes great excitement after 3 weeks of bread, cheese and ham. Then we set off for Serbia in a cloud of minty freshness.

Most of what I know about Serbia comes from news reports on wars with its neighbours. This image was not helped when, in Ljubljana, a group of Serbs handed us a leaflet saying “Welcome to Serbia,” which seemed like rather an aggressive thing to do in the capital of Slovenia. The same thing happened again in Zagreb, in Croatia. In addition, we have Kosovan stamps in our passports and I have read that this can cause issues when trying to enter Serbia.

Driving across the Balkans is expensive; most of the motorways have tolls and then there’s parking. By now, every cubbyhole in the car is filled with cash of varying currencies. We stop for petrol and the old man has to accelerate hard to rejoin the motorway. This leaves him wearing the Albanian Leke which shoot out of their cubbyhole and fly across the car. The drive to Novi Sad is very dull, just one long, straight stretch of motorway. Last night’s host has warned us that the most exciting thing we’re likely to encounter is a lorry driver who’s fallen asleep at the wheel.

Welcome to Serbia
Welcome to Serbia

We reach the border, the final toll is 128 Kuna, which is unfortunate as we only have 100 left. But the man in the booth agrees to take a combination of Kuna and Euros (taking a decent commission for himself). The border crossing only takes 20 minutes and we pass without problem. Most of the delay is due to an enormous Serbian military convoy.

Yugo
Yugo

Once in Serbia, the road deteriorates significantly. We bounce along the final 30 miles into Novi Sad through huge plumes of smoke where farmers are burning stubble in the surrounding fields.

Petrovaradin Fortress
Petrovaradin Fortress

First stop is on the outskirts of town, on a rock overhanging the Danube, at the Petrovaradin Fortress. There’s not much fortress left, but a walk round the walls provides great views across the Danube.

View from Petrovaradin Fortress

Time to check into our hotel; Garni Boutique Arta. It has mixed reviews, so either the good reviews are fake or some people are just too picky. We have lowered our expectations accordingly, but it’s actually not too bad. The bedroom and the bathroom are enormous. There is building work going on, but the builders are finished by 5 so disruption is minimal.

Just tea to worry about now. We find a supermarket and the old man attempts to get enough money from the ATM for our 4 days in Serbia. He calculates the exchange rate wrong so we end up with about £20 worth of currency and the machine won’t let him have a second chance. In the supermarket I make a major discovery – cherry Jaffa cakes. After a dinner consisting primarily of Jaffa cakes and cider, Serbia is starting to warm on me.

Cheers from Serbia

We round our evening off with a walk along the Danube (in theory). In reality, we end up sandwiched between a military base and an industrial wasteland inhabited by packs of feral dogs. Sometimes I think I live in a parallel universe to the writers of Lonely Planet. Never mind, tomorrow morning we depart for Belgrade…

Trying to find the Danube

Balkans Day 20 – Belgrade

30th September 2018

Belgrade
Belgrade

Today we are going to the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Things I know about Belgrade; (1) it was the capital of Yugoslavia, (2) Tito is buried here – you can visit his mausoleum at the Museum of Yugoslavia and (3) you can visit Nikola Tesla’s remains in a golden casket in the Tesla Museum.

Garni Boutique Arta meaty breakfast
Garni Boutique Arta meaty breakfast

First, breakfast. In Serbia, everyone smokes. All the time. Breakfast is no exception; it’s like being stuck in the 1980s. I half expect Michael J Fox to turn up in a DeLorean. We are offered the hotel’s signature breakfast – the waitress says it’s a bit of everything. She means meat. Lots and lots of meat – sausage, bacon, salami, two types of ham.

Belgrade Graffiti
Belgrade Graffiti

Filled to the top with pig products, and smelling of a combination of stale cigarettes and strawberry shower gel, we set off for Belgrade. Thirty miles outside town, we pass a landfill where they are burning the rubbish. The smoke is horrendous. We drive for mile after mile in a thick smog which stinks or burnt plastic. Finally the smog lifts as we reach the city.

Museum of Yugoslavia
Museum of Yugoslavia

Our first stop is the Museum of Yugoslavia. It seems very quiet when we arrive. That’s because the main museum is shut. They’re happy to charge the full entrance fee to visit the House of Flowers (Tito’s Mausoleum) and the Old Museum (storage area full of random tat).

Tito's Mausoleum
Tito’s Mausoleum

We visit the House of Flowers with Tito’s mausoleum, a who’s who guide to his funeral attendees (Prince Phillip sat next to Margaret Thatcher), a model of Tito’s Blue Train, plus batons from his birthday celebration relays.

Tito's baton collection
Tito’s baton collection

The old museum contains all sorts of stuff in no chronological or any other logical order; mementos from Tito’s life, gifts given to Tito, more relay batons….

Tito's Doll Collection
Tito’s Doll Collection

We attempt to drive on to our hotel. It’s absolute chaos; we have arrived in the middle of the Belgrade Marathon. A combination of multiple road closures and a hideous one way system mean we are unable to reach our hotel, despite trying for an hour. We get close a couple of times, but just can’t quite manage it.

Kalemegdan Citadel

We give up and instead go to Kalemegdan Citadel; a fortress on a hillside overlooking the city and the Danube. It has an impressive array of weapons across the ages.

Kalemegdan Citadel
Kalemegdan Citadel

Cultural interlude complete, we have another bash. After almost another hour on working our way through every permutation of the one way system not blocked by the marathon, we finally reach the hotel. I ask where we can park, and get directed to the garage entrance, which is round the corner, ironically in a road we have driven down 3 times trying to reach the hotel.

Belgrade
Belgrade

The LifeDesign hotel is a strange place; think boutique hotel that someone lost interest in half way through construction. Some of it’s very nice but there are broken plugs, the shower has half fallen out of the wall and the bathroom door doesn’t shut.

Belgrade
Belgrade

We head out one more time for a walk to get some fresh air, calm our nerves, have some dinner and maybe a beer or two…

Belgrade Graffiti
Belgrade Graffiti

Balkans Day 21 – Belgrade

1st October 2018

St Mark's Church
St Mark’s Church

Today, a full day of sightseeing in Belgrade. It’s not the most successful day. First, breakfast; a minefield of a buffet – bowls of nuts, cake with nuts, bread with nuts, pancakes with Nutella, there are nuts in the cereal, nuts in the salad, even nuts randomly strewn over the cheese and ham. Breakfast consists of sausage and eggs.

Central Station
Central Station

Then we go sightseeing. Not to the National Museum – that’s closed on Mondays. Or the Tesla Museum – closed on Mondays. Or the Royal Compound – closed Monday to Friday. We attempt to visit the Blue Train. This is available for hire, but allegedly open to the public otherwise. We go to the central station where tickets are allegedly purchased. It has closed down. We try tourist information – it’s shut. We find another tourist information office. She directs us back to the first office. We say it’s shut. She says it’s news to her. After making some phone enquiries, she explains that there is a new station and the blue train will eventually be housed here. But it’s not ready yet.

Central Station
Central Station

So we head for Sveti Sava cathedral instead – the 2nd biggest Orthodox Church in the world. We arrive to find it’s surrounded by scaffolding and is, in fact, shut.

Sveti Sava Cathedral
Sveti Sava Cathedral

After walking right round the building we finally find an entrance. They have managed to keep the gift shop open, and the crypt. The crypt is spectacular; the walls and ceilings are covered with gold and brightly coloured paintings.

Sveti Sava Cathedral Crypt
Sveti Sava Cathedral Crypt

We head across the river to the Contemporary Art Museum, walking through an area described as a park. It’s actually a strip of dead grass filled with broken glass and dog poo next to a row of night club barges. I’m so busy trying to avoid the glass and poo, I almost tread on a snake.

Snake in the park
Snake in the park

We are in luck at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Sort of. It has five floors and two are open. When I say two, this includes the ground floor which houses a library (shut) and a café (shut).

Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Contemporary Art

We round off our day of sightseeing fails with a walk to a viewpoint where the rivers Sava and Danube converge. There’s a submarine moored there and two men with guns enforcing a very strict no photography policy.

Contemporary Art Museum
Contemporary Art Museum

In the evening we walk through the pedestrian centre of town, stopping for a view of the sun setting over the Danube. Then dinner; traditional Serbian Cevapcici – sausages served in a flat bread served with onion, cabbage, sour cream, mustard and chilli sauce from To Je To.

Cevapcici at To Je To
Cevapcici at To Je To

On the way home, we stop for supplies in my favourite place in Belgrade (partly because it’s always open); Idea London. It’s a London themed supermarket, complete with red phone box, tube maps and a shelf stacker dressed like a dragoon guard.

Ideal London shelf stacker
Ideal London shelf stacker

Balkans Day 22 – Niš

2nd October 2018

Niš
Niš

It’s our last day before dropping the hire car back in Skopje. We are breaking the journey in Niš, mainly because it’s half way between Belgrade and Skopje.

Belgrade Graffiti
Belgrade Graffiti

Niš has 3 very diverse tourist attractions; the 4th century Roman palace of Constantine the Great, an 18th century Turkish fortress and a 20th century Nazi Concentration Camp.

Niš
Niš

It’s pouring with rain and takes almost an hour to fight our way out of Belgrade through the rush hour traffic, despite the old man going native and driving through red lights, in bus lanes, over pedestrian crossings etc. Eventually the rain clears and by the time we reach Niš it’s 20 degrees and sunny. After Novi Sad and Belgrade, we aren’t expecting to like Niš, but it’s actually quite nice.

Niš Fortress
Niš Fortress

We walk through the pedestrian precinct to the fortress which houses the City Park; a mixture of the things you’d expect to find in park, but every now and then, the remains of a Roman bath house or an Ottoman mosque. We stumble upon the Nišville Museum which contains quirky mementos of the annual jazz festival.

Nišville
Nišville

Next, the Red Cross Concentration Camp. The Niš Camp was like other Nazi Concentration camps in most ways. Two slight differences; firstly it was the only camp where prisoners attempted a mass breakout.

Red Cross Concentration Camp
Red Cross Concentration Camp

Secondly, the local partisans fought hard against the Nazis, who implement a quota that for every German killed, one hundred locals would die (with 50 executed for every German injured). Thus, the Camp served as a holding area for victims to fulfil this quota. These men, women and children were then taken to nearby Bubanj Hill and slaughtered in their thousands.

Red Cross Concentration Camp
Red Cross Concentration Camp

We complete our afternoon in Niš with our last Serbian meal – peppers stuffed with cheese, and of course, sausage at Kafana Galija.

Dinner at Kafana Galija
Dinner at Kafana Galija

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s