Almost three weeks of barely scratching the surface of this fascinating country. With its inscrutable people and endless scenic variety I’m left wondering what other delights await me when I return here one day. However, I do feel I’ve delved just deeply enough to find something special here.
The plan had been to run a clockwise loop around the whole country as the central region between Belgrade and Niš had little to recommend itself to me. The original itinerary would have run; Belgrade, Golubac, Zajećar, Niš, Prizren, Novi Pazar, Studenica, Čačak, Užice, Novi Sad, Subotica, Belgrade. This turned out to be optimistic and I ended up seeing only part of that in mine and my girlfriend’s three week escape.
We only managed to take in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica, Čačak, Guča festival, and back to Belgrade. This is no bad thing though, despite my disappointment in having to miss Kosovo and Niš in particular we got to see what was possible in a bit more depth. Indeed I have ended up in Belgrade for twelve days rather than the originally planned six. Never enough to ‘know’ a place but much longer than any usual city break.
It’s certainly not deserving of its name ‘Beli Grad’ – White Town/Fortress, but Belgrade has a good number of very pretty buildings tucked throughout the city, you just have to keep your eyes open for them! The city’s location is pretty special as well with the Fortress overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, the north bank of the latter being dense woodland beginning the vast Pannonian plain. The Kalemegdan Fortress was a regular haunt of mine with it’s panoramic views to the north.
Despite several of Belgrade’s biggest cultural attractions being closed ‘for renovation’ for several years, read ‘because of lack of funding’ according to one Belgrader I spoke to, there is enough to see here and nearby. The Nicola Tesla Museum was a definite highlight and along with Kalemegdan Fortress as a wonderful place to relax these alone would justify a visit here. Other cultural highlights would include Tito’s Memorial Complex, and the Military Museum which has several undisguised, and in some cases justified, jabs at NATO and Europe.
Serbia’s food was one of the things I was most looking forward to and as a message to my friend testifies, it didn’t disappoint – ‘meat, meat, meat, cheese, meat, peppers, meat’, overall it was filling and good value wherever we went. The regional wine was delightful, as are the beers. Everything was cheap and plentiful. I was as happy as a dog eating its own vomit (very waggy).
Something about Serbia brings parts of Spain to my mind with the passionate people and the distinct regional differences that are all far more vivid than those found back in Britain. It truly is a fascinating country and I’m extremely glad I researched before I arrived.
By research I do not refer to my hours of hotel, transport and food research, which is if course never a waste, but rather to the cultural research. I watched a few films by Emir Kusturica, regularly listened to Boban Markovic and Goran Bregovic, and read Fathers and Sons by Slobodan Selenic to gain some insight to the national character. I figure that these guys would not be nearly so well regarded if they were no more than mere caricatures of the former Yugoslavia.
They certainly were useful. Not only does Kusturica seem to be extremely well regarded and indeed a national treasure but many Serbs urged me to watch his productions. They were delighted to hear that I already had – instant talking point. Similarly our experience of the Guca trumpet festival was vastly enriched by knowing what to expect. This never can preclude the chance to find something unexpected but when you are on such a short trip any jump start to immersion must be a good thing. I do not regret this method and am already well into planning my research for our next big trip – Japan…