Serbia - The Potato Chick

Zlatibor, Serbia

In a sentence...absolutely beautiful.

Food we loved...home cooked meals in our tiny studio apartment.

Faced with a few additional days in Serbia we turned to the magic of Google for an answer.

It was through a blog just like mine that Nick stumbled across the “Sargan Eight” and a plan began to take shape. The Sargan Eight is a narrow gauge heritage railway which runs from the tiny village of Mokra Gora to Sargan Vitasi station. The 15 kilometre railway passes through 22 tunnels, over five bridges, and increases altitude by 300 metres. All while passing through gorgeous mountainous countryside.

We decided to base ourselves in the ski resort of Zlatibor. Even as we travelled from Belgrade through fog and drizzle we knew we had made the right decision as the countryside the bus passed through was just stunning.

The weather on the day of our train trip was perfect and we soaked up the sunshine and the crisp mountain air, as well as the picture-perfect views.  The train stopped at various vantage points for photos and/or ice creams. I happily shared my ice cream with the two cuties below.

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The best thing about Sargan Eight was spending an hilarious afternoon with Vladmir who drove us to and from the railway. He spoke less than ten words of English (“Nick”, “Kate”, “OK”, “beautiful” and “super!”) but was determined to ensure that we saw all that this fantastic region has to offer. This meant that our trip home from the railway took over twice as long as we stopped at sites of varying degrees of interest including a church, a trout farm and Drevengrad. Drevengrad is a traditional village built by Serbian film director Emir Kusturica for his film Life is a Miracle. Never heard of him? Or the movie? Neither had we.

All in all, the Sargan Eight was a fantastic experience and we were so glad we had the chance to see how beautiful Serbia is. Apologies to Bosnia for the high expectations it now faces...

Next stop...Visegrad, Bosnia & Hercegovina.

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Posted 14 September 2014

Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia

In a sentence...a very thought-provoking visit to an interesting city.

Food we loved...felafel pita sandwich.

I’ll admit I had a slight moment of panic upon arriving in Belgrade when the first sign I saw in the arrivals hall was for someone meeting MILOSEVIC. I calmly reminded myself that Yugoslavia’s infamous Serb dictator had been dead for over 8 years and we left the airport.

After over a month sweltering in Turkey it was a shock to be greeted with cold weather and rain for the first two days of our stay. Luckily we were staying at Arkabarka floating hostel which has a beautiful light-filled common room overlooking the river. We could see bits and pieces through the fog.

We spent a day visiting Novi Sad, a cute city about 80kms from Belgrade most famous for being the location of the EXIT Festival. The festival started in 2000 as a student protest against the government. Today, it is a very popular summer music festival. We wandered around the brightly coloured buildings of the city centre and trekked out to the fort. Whilst at the fort we visited one of the best museums we’ve been to so far. It basically housed an eclectic range of “historical” objects from the 1950s onwards including cars, dental equipment and a fully stocked supermarket. It was very odd and completely unrelated to the fort which was perhaps why we loved it.

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Back in Belgrade we walked along the river to the area of Zemun. Whilst Belgrade is a fairly gritty and grey city, Zemun is filled with cobble stoned streets and tiled roof tops. Overlooking this area however, are a large number of Communist-style concrete monstrosities built in the 1970s.

The best thing we did in Belgrade was two free walking tours which gave us a brief introduction to Serbia’s recent history which, in a nutshell, is as follows:

  • a period of over 400 years where Serbia was ruled by the Ottoman Turks;
  • a short period where it was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire;
  • a short period where it was a kingdom ruled by various feuding Royals with tendencies to send anyone who got in their way “on a long vacation”;
  • following World War Two, Serbia was liberated from the rule of the Nazi Germans by the Communist Tito. Yugoslavia (a union of Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) was formed;
  • Tito ruled Yugoslavia until his death in 1980 ;
  • after 1980, power was spread between the leaders of each republic;
  • Milosevic (the leader of the republic of Serbia at the time) rose to power in 1989. He rallied Serbs against the other ethnic groups in the region;
  • wars erupted, with the most severe conflicts taking place in Croatia and Bosnia, where ethnic Serb populations opposed independence from Yugoslavia (what went down during this period will be covered in a bit more detail in my Bosnia posts);
  • in September 2000 Milosevic was accused of electoral fraud and ultimately stood down;
  • over time, each republic separated itself from Yugoslavia with the last being Montenegro in 2006 (by this stage, it was known as “Serbia and Montenegro” instead of Yugoslavia);
  • Milosevic died in 2006 while being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Our guide did not shy away from or try to excuse Serb atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The most disturbing story was in relation to the bombed out building below. The building housed Serbia’s TV network and was bombed by NATO in an attempt to force the Serbs to retreat from Kosovo. NATO apparently faxed Milosevic’s government to inform them of the targets in Belgrade and exactly when they would be targeted so that all Serbs could be evacuated. However, 19 people died in this building, most of them under the age of 30. It seems that only the VIPs got the message about the evacuation. Milosevic needed some innocent victims to help his case when criticising NATO and rallying support for himself.

We finished off our time in Belgrade with a dinner in the lively Bohemian quarter. We spent the entire dinner discussing aspects of Serbia’s history that we want to learn more about. I’ve got the feeling our time in Serbia and Bosnia is going to be a very educational part of our trip...

Next stop...Zlatibor, Serbia.

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Posted 13 September 2014