Sunday, July 21, 2013

SERBIA: Parting Thoughts

To kick off this last post on Serbia, I will begin with a few of my favorite images from Novi Sad and Belgrade:

We saw only a two or three McDonald's the entire trip, and this may have been the only KFC, and we didn't actually see it, but we assume it was 250 m ahead as promised:

We passed the 35-story Genex Tower, also known as the Western City Gate, several times during our time in Belgrade. It was built in 1977 in the "Brutalist" style and has to be one of the most unique skyscrapers we have seen. That crazy rotunda between the two buildings is a revolving restaurant. We didn't know about this building when we were doing our planning, or perhaps we would have planned to eat a meal there. Now that would have been a unique experience.

Left: If you have to hold up a balcony, be sure to use a pillow to avoid migraines.
Right: Yet another street closed off for strolling. Why oh why don't we do this in the U.S.?

Creative graffiti:
I really like this street art showing the two-headed eagle puppet master holding puppet strings that are being cut. The two-headed eagle is a symbol of Russia, but it is also often used as a symbol for the Orthodox church. Could that be a book of scripture in the puppeteer's hand? I interpret this as the Serbian people declaring their independence from the control of the Orthodox church. Mr. Anonymous who likes to comment on my Serbia posts, do you have any insights into this?
Another somewhat puzzling message: Your blood = Our honour, Serbia. Whose blood?
Ah, things I can understand: a bank of pay phones,
a beautiful linden tree--just like the one Mom planted in our front yard, and a nice store window full of Hobbits and Hello Kitty:

Our last main stop in Belgrade was Kalemegdan Fortress, built in 535 A.D. at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.
I can imagine knights riding their horses through these gates and across the drawbridge:

School kids are the same everywhere. Give them a cannon, and they'll climb all over it:

Upon entering the fortress itself, I felt a sudden urge to recite poetry about the passing of time, maybe Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach."
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dramatic settings call for dramatic poetry, don't you think? Especially in view of this display of modern weaponry within the fortress.

We crammed an awful lot into our twelve hours with our guide. By the end of this day, we were completely worn out and our guide had earned every penny we paid her.

That didn't stop us from getting up early the next morning to set out for our next destination: Macedonia.

Thanks to our non-working GPS, it took us a full hour to find the right highway leading out of Belgrade. This is what I wrote in my journal: "There are absolutely NO signs--not overhead, not on the corners, not on the buildings, so written directions using street names are pointless. It takes us an hour to leave the city and an hour to find our hotel in the new city every single time we change hotels."

Yeah, pretty frustrating.

Because we were spending so much time on the periphery of Belgrade where there are lots of billboards, I got on a billboard picture-taking kick:

I love this Serbian verison of Gordon Ramsey's TV cooking show Hell's Kitchen:
Aha, one of the three McDonald's we saw during our two-week trip, but notice how far away from the city it is. We ended up driving past it, and it was in the middle of nowhere. Not McD's typical modus operandi.
At least we were pros at the toll stops by this time:
I also knew exactly what to buy when we stopped for gas:
These small chocolate bars cost about ten cents each, gelato at the gas station was about fifty cents, and the Kit Kat above was about twenty-five cents.
We had 200 miles to drive, so I needed lots of nourishment. I don't remember how much this Schweppe's Bitter Lemon cost, but there are some times when cost is irrelevant:

In addition to these "refueling" stops, we made one "tourist" stop on our way out of Serbia. Bob has had a passion for Constantine lately, and when he learned that Constantine (272-337 A.D.) was born in Nis, Serbia, which was not really out of our way, well...

At the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, Nis was actually a very significant city in its day. Five or six years ago, archaeologists discovered a villa Constantine built in Nis when he was the emperor, and it was that site Bob wanted to see. The only problem was that the dig wasn't exactly on the freeway, and we had no real idea how to get to where it was. With a population of 187,000, Nis is the third largest city in Serbia after Belgrade and Novi Sad, so it was just a tad on the difficult side to find our way around, and we weren't having much luck finding English speakers to help us.  Finally, an incredibly nice man at a gas station motioned for us to follow his truck.  He drove us through the difficult parts, and then pointed in the direction we needed to go. We never would have found it without him.
Unfortunately, when we got there, we found an active scientific excavation that had not yet become a tourist site. At the gate there was a sign that advised us that any visitors had to have permission to enter, which advice I was more than willing to follow.

Bob, however, likes the philosophy that it is easier to get forgiveness than permission, and so he just stepped through the gate. What's a girl to do besides follow her husband? We didn't go very far into the area, just far enough for a good picture or two. The workers didn't seem to stress over us being there, so I guess it was okay. There wasn't a whole lot to see, but it made Bob happy to be there:
We managed to find our way out of Nis without too much problem, and headed once more for the Serbian-Macedonian border. En route, there were lots of things to see outside the window, such as newly harvested fields dotted with bales of hay:
. . . and what looks like an open pit mine up on the hillside:
By the time we got to the border, we felt sad to be leaving. There was certainly more to see in Serbia than we had time for. As noted in my earlier post, I had been nervous about traveling to Serbia, but overall we found a beautiful country with lots of fascinating places and friendly, helpful, interesting people. I hope that Serbia's tourism industry grows and starts to attract more Americans, as has been the case in the western Balkan countries like Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia. I think we Americans could benefit from the broader perspective traveling in Serbia brings.

Next: Skopje: Disneyland meets Athens


  1. Trying to find our way on to the freeway out of Belgrade was horribly frustrating, made much more difficult by construction. We eventually made it on going the wrong direction and then were able to turn around.

    A very nice man that took time to show us the direction to Constantine's villa in Nis. To visit the archaeological site, you have to arrange ahead of time with the museum.

  2. Lots of great pictures--but seriously! Kit Kats over gelato???

    Weren't you a little bit nervous about following a stranger to Nis?

  3. I remember trying to get to a hotel in Canada in unfamiliar territory, but they spoke English. I can't imagine trying it in a country without English. Glad you guys made it back home.

    Your billboards were fun to see--love the JOY! billboard, and yes, traveling is an enriching experience, and it's fun for me to be an armchair traveler, going along with you.

  4. Hi, great website, I love it :)

    You say "I really like this street art showing the two-headed eagle puppet master holding puppet strings that are being cut. The two-headed eagle is a symbol of Russia, but it is also often used as a symbol for the Orthodox church. "

    Actually the two-headed eagle symbol is known as the "Double-headed Eagle" or Dicephalus and is a symbol of the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox church. Many countries of this heritage carry it in their flags, and even "pretender" Emperors like the Austrian one who wanted a piece of that pie ;)

    1. Thank you! That makes sense. So snipping the strings that control the puppets is declaring freedom from both Orthodox and Catholic control, declaring one's independence from tyrannical religion?