Wednesday, 5 November 2014

SERBIA. MY LONG UNKNOWN NEIGHBOUR



BELGRADE
If you are really really looking for hidden gems in Europe, do not miss the capital of ex-Yugoslavia. It is not as popular as Florence or Munich but it is backpacker´s paradise. The city is almost 2 million people and it growing bigger and bigger on budget travellers. I got there when EXIT festival was happening next door in Novi Sad so the city wasn´t that crowded but still...I was very impressed by the amount of hostels that I saw around the train station, literally at every corner. Bars, clubs, city tours...cheap food and drinks are some of the attractions in the city. 
In 2005 New York times published an article called "Belgrade rocks". It opened with the following:
"NIGHT falls in the capital of the former Yugoslavia, and music fills the air. Everywhere. 
Along the banks of the Danube and Sava Rivers, serpentine chains of music-blasting splavovi - floating raft clubs - snake into the inky Balkan night. Fortified by huge meat-kebab dinners and Turkish coffees from Belgrade's myriad cafes, crowds of night owls line up to partake variously of Gypsy bands, electronic mixes, rock 'n' roll and a distinctly Serbian hybrid known as Turbofolk."

I don´t think the city has changed much since then. Although some people are interested in history, culture, cuisine - the city has lots to offer to them too. Belgrade city core is not too big. Everything between Kalemegdan, Knez Mihajlova street and Kadarska street is best viewed by foot.
The box is to gather donation for the flood victims in Serbia (spring 2014). A bit too big if you ask me!




Kalemegdan. Once important military fortification, it now serves as central park of Belgrade. Accessible from the end of the Knez Mihailova street, it offers beautiful views, especially during sunset. Many boats, floating restaurants, have a look at the sights (like the Kalemegdan) and the city from a different angle, and see where Danube meets Sava...
Kalemegdan - Belgrade Fortress
The scars of the war - after the NATO bombing in 90s 
In the centre of Belgrade


My foot and the FIAT. By Zok.

I met up with Zok, a couchsurfer from Belgrade, who took me around in his cute old school Fiat. What I liked the most was this place near the shore of Sava river, where it seems all the bums of Belgrade come to have a beer and enjoy the afternoon. I really enjoyed having a beer, sitting on the grass and being away from the pretentious cafes at Knez Mihailova Street.


Later on, he took me to a place where I had my first "Pljeskavica" in Serbia. Of course I had a few "Bureks with yogurt"...
They insisted I take a photo of them :)

                   
The National Assembly of Serbia
VALJEVO
On my way to Uzice, I made a stop at the small town of Valjevo, in the heart of Serbia. Very small and very pretty too, known and important for Serbian history. I walked around, had some burek with meat in the park by the river, spoke for a bit to a restaurant owner, waited for a while until the rain stops and started hitchhiking. Didn´t take long until I got the first ride...That was the first of many to come. More that two months around the Balkans, I never took a bus again...That was my way to get know as many as possible people and learn more about the country and what their life was before, during, and after the war until now. So many story, so much loss. Speaking the local language was a plus of course :). 
A huge church in such a small village
 
There were flowers everywhere, even on the street lamps



UZICE
Didn´t take me long to get to Uzice, I think about 5 rides and I got to meet my host Vesna who is a legend on Couchsurfing, I´ve never met anyone who hosted so many people before. Thanks to her I got to see another side of Uzice I would never have discovered myself, met her friends, tried very local dish, walked through the bush and in the rain...She also helped me plan my trip since she has been all over the Balkans and we travel similar way. Talking about our Couchsurfing experience around the world, we realized that both of us surfed the same couch in Santa Cruz, Bolivia...how cool is that?!?
Zastava... I think. Serbian classic
Vesna encouraged me to hitchhike all the way to the end and the few doubts and fears I had before, were completely gone. She was also laughing all the time at my silly questions about the war and ex-Yugoslavia but that´s how I learned...asking and making an idiot out of myself...One thing I learnt travelling the Balkans was that asking the same question, you might get 3 (or sometimes even more) different answers, depending on the ethnics, nationality and nationalism of the person who you ask. The hospitality and willingness to help always stay the same :))).

The river in Uzice
Komplet lepinja. Grease from a roasted lamb on bread with egg and kajmak. Doesn´t sound good but it was so tasty. With yogurt of course 
Until 1992, a giant statue of Tito presided the square, but they removed it along with the city's old name, Titovo Uzice. 
 
The typical death notices in the Balkans.                                   Fast food in Cyrillic     


From the fortress
A medieval fortress perches on a rock in the west of the city, above the river. Nowadays the fortress remains unexploited by Serbian tourist industry (like Uzice). It consists on the ruins of the old castle, with steep stone walls and terraces like an Inca ruin. It's not in the better conditions, cause have some graffitis and vegetation grows wildly and it doesn't allow you to visit the totality of the castle. But anyway, is free and is worth to visit it specially for the good view you have of the city and the surroundings.
Zlatibor
The beauty of the mountain in the central part of Serbia because of its climate, has been a destination for many people of wealth and leisure since the middle of 17th century.It has attracted those looking for health and the soothing peacefulness of the hills of Zlatibor. It is one of the largest ski, sport and holiday resorts in Serbia. Vesna took me to the less touristic hiking routes and because of the rain it wasn´t that crowded indeed :)!
Otvara apetit...opens the appetite






Changing rides...on the way to Mokra Gora

Mokra Gora
Around one hour from Uzice by bus, Mokra Gora is definitely a place to see. First for the Sargan Eight Railway, a lovely little train that goes through the gorgeous mountains of Western Serbia. Second for the ethno-village Dyrvengrad of Serbian film-maker Emir Kusturica, just 10mn walking above the train station. The streets in the village bear the names of various individuals, like Nikola Tesla, Ingmar Bergman, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and more.



  
Couldn´t join the ride through the mountains but I heard it is very scenic and beautiful 

DRVENGRAD - Kosturica´s wooden town, built for his film "Life is a miracle"




Everything is made out of wood


The village even has a prison
After leaving Mokra Gora, I was almost at the border with Balkan country number 3 - Bosnia.

Random facts: Serbia is the world’s largest producer of raspberries.

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