Why I Wrote This Guide
Last September I spent three weeks in Serbia. It was a trip I’d looked forward to very much; I’ve wanted to go to Yugoslavia since I was 11, when a a classmate of mine had visited, and it sounded wonderful. Later on I also became interested in Serbia’s culture and history, which are fascinating and made me more determined to go. I was going to visit my long-time Internet pal Vlad in Belgrade. I’d a long list of places I would like to visit (too much to see in three weeks, naturally), but finding recent practical information on the country in advance was hard. That’s why I decided to write this guide.
It was also a trip I will never forget. The first evening already I remarked to my Canadian travel buddy John that I was having the time of my life. He said this just proved how much we’d been lied to by the media. We were sitting in a small pub in Novi Sad, watching Yugoslavia beat Switzerland 2-1 at football and drinking the excellent Yugoslav beer. John, with a few words of Serbian and a few more words of Slovak (luckily there are many similarities between the Slavic languages), had just managed to change the subject of a conversation with the man sitting at the next table from politics to football (“Milosevic? You mean Savo, right?”). Before that we’d experienced some Serbian hospitality at our hotel (a restaurant that rented out some rooms upstairs), where we’d been told to treat the place like our home and everyone had been super-friendly to us.
You’d think at least someone would hold it against us that our countries bombed them, but I’ve not encountered any hostility at all. And I have seen a lot of senseless destruction. Buildings that had no military purpose whatsoever, bridges, oil refineries, and so on. When I saw my first bombed bridge, on my second day in Novi Sad, I felt deeply ashamed. Vojvodina, Yugoslavia’s wealthiest province, had zero military interest, and Novi Sad is as far from Pristina as Thessalonica, yet it has been bombed more than any other region. Of course I knew about these things, but it’s still a shock to see it with your own eyes, and to hear the stories from real people.
After Novi Sad our next destination was Belgrade. We had horrible rain for most of the week we were there, and John even got a cold; but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it’s an amazing city. Once located at the border between the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires, it combines Central European with more Oriental influences, and adds a style and spirit of its own. I can only put it one way: Belgrade is cool.
And the coolest thing we got to witness was the street party when Yugoslavia won the European basketball championships. Vlad took us to a sports bar to watch the game on a big screen. Now I must admit I know piss-all about basketball, but the game (against Turkey) was quite exciting anyway. It was close most of the time, but in the end Yugoslavia won. When we got outside afterwards, the streets were filled with people celebrating. There were honking cars and firecrackers and flags everywhere, and people singing songs along the lines of “Fuck the Turks!” – naturally the fact that they beat their old enemy made everyone even more ecstatic. Being in Belgrade it was like something we’d seen on TV, only this time everyone was just happy.
Two days later I moved on to Smederevo on my own, and the day after that to Nis.
Now, I made the mistake of moving from Smederevo to Nis by train, having missed the morning bus. Due to engine problems and missed connections, it was past midnight when I finally got there. Luckily I met a guy, Bane, who lived there on the train, and he offered me a free place to stay.
Now, I know it may not be very wise to go home with guys I’ve only just met, but I trusted my instinct and everything turned out great. Not only did I get a free place to stay, but also a free guide and interpreter; his mother even did my laundry. Much smaller than Belgrade, Nis is still an interesting city, especially because you get to see many remains of the Turkish dominance, the most gruesome of which is the famous Skull Tower.
My next stop was the Djerdap National Park, an area in the northeast of Serbia with stunning nature and loads of archaeological and historical remains, most importantly the prehistoric site of Lepenski Vir. I stayed in the village of Tekija for 2 nights and then took a bus to Lepenski Vir. The bus driver dropped me off as close as could be on the main road (not that there was a bus stop there or anything).
When I went to the museum someone had to come and open it up for me. I guess they don’t get many visitors, which is a shame. When I’d seen everything I asked him when the next bus to Belgrade would pass by, and then he got one of his colleagues, who kind of reminded me of an older version of Indiana Jones, to drive me there.
I spent a few more days in Belgrade to finish my trip, and was very sorry when I had to leave. But I know I’ll go back some day, and I hope some of you will want to go there too after reading this. If you do, I hope my practical guide and overview of places to visit will come in handy.