I finished off my time in Serbia with a day trip to visit to Novi Sad via the Novo Hopvo Monastery. A decent place to visit but I think I’ve been spoiled with the painted monasteries in Bucovina, Romania!
Monastery near Sremski Karlovci
Frescos on the monastery walls
We then paid a visit to the cute town of Sremski Karlovci for some wine tasting – which was fun as this was a small group with me, people from Delhi, a Canadian, someone from Shanghai and two from Lisbon. We all seemed to gel together well – especially after the wine tasting (funny that?).
Stemski Karlovci and the clock tower at Novi Sad
Novi sad is quite a modern town but it has a nice open square in the old town and we all enjoyed strong coffee there! The clock tower (above) at the fortress sat Novi Sad is unusual as the big hand indicate the hour and the small hand the minutes. This was to allow the fishermen to easily see the hour from their boats. So the time you see above is 14.25 not 17.10!
The old town on Novi Sad
I once again used mydaytrip.com to be driven from Belgrade to Slovenia. This entailed crossing the breadth of Croatia (which I will come back to another time out of season) and they offered a one hour stop at Samodor – a tiny town just in Croatia near the Slovenian border. It was a lovely and quiet place for a stroll by the river and through the town after a few hours in the car. Glad I stopped there (and tried their local dessert – Kremsnita cake).
I have continued my travels around Belgrade over the past few days which of course included a food walking tour – such an excellent way of discovering a city, learning about the history and of course sampling the best of the local food as you go.
A brief visit to the former residence of Princess Ljubica. Mostly this is a furniture museum now but what makes it interesting is that it was built just as the Ottoman Empire in the region was starting to decline and Christianity was rising. As a result the design, furniture and clothes in different rooms are an eclectic mix of Biedermeier European influence and ongoing Ottoman style eg. the curved area for meeting guests and drinking tea.
Princess Lijubica’s former residence
We started the food tour at the ? Restaurant – one of the oldest in the city. The interior is pretty special and I especially liked the original oak carved tables and the typical Ottoman style “half chairs”. Of course the day starts with Turkish coffee plus a nip of plum brandy. Then the waiter mentioned that the the Burek (a filo type pastry with a local savoury cheese filling) had just come out of the oven – so of course it would have been rude not to try that. After that the ginormous Skadarskarlijska sausage – a bargain at less than two dollars and sold from the best hole in the wall in town.
The very old ? Restaurant and a fresh, hot and tasty burek for brekkie
Is there ever a bad market in any Balkan city or town? No – they always have the freshest and in season food and people still like to shop here rather than in a supermarket.
In season fruit and veg at one of the 22 Belgrade markets
More wandering around took me to past the famous Mockba Hotel and the parliament buildings. One of my guides told me that last year she was taking a group of 40 Iranians around and their translator asked that they have a ten minute stop at this hotel for pictures etc. She thought this was odd and it is not easy to stop there but she complied. Ten minutes later only 10 people had returned to the bus. The translator said they must have decided to walk to their hotel…..they never came back!
Hotel Mockba, a beaux arts building and the Parliament House in Belgrade
I also came across a little street art. There are two football teams in Belgrade – The Partisans and the Red Star. This area was a stronghold of the partisans and you can tell their street art as it is always in black and white. I didn’t get to see any of the Red Star work – they don’t operate in the same locales for obvious reasons!
Close to my hotel is the Saint Sava Church – one of the biggest orthodox churches in the Balkans. Stunning from the outside but I was disappointed to find that the interior dome was being renovated. But then someone said it was worth taking a look a the crypt which had just been completed. Well I’ve been to a few crypts in my time and they are usually dark and dirty and full of bones – and then there is this one…..wow! So glad I went down there.
Saint Sava church exterior
Wall paintings in the crypt of Saint Sava Church
Next stop was the recently renovated Museum of Serbian history which was a mixture of archaeological finds (a big Roman settlement here as it was kind of at the edge of one part of their empire) plus Serbian artists and some European art. As usual I have picked some favourites – below are all portraits of strong and interesting women!
Susie’s selection of art from the National Museum of Serbia
I also really liked the work of the Serbian artist Uros Predic. These are Fugitives from Herzegovina and Boy at his mother’s grave
And I was totally wowed by this marble sculpture of woman with a veil – how do they do that?!?!
Veiled woman – in marble
Also close to my hotel was the Nikola Tesla museum. Of course being very ignorant about all things science the only reason I know his name relates to the electric car company named after him by Mr Musk. Actually he doesn’t have anything to do with cars really. He was born in Serbia although lived much of his life in the US where he was able to try and patent his ideas. His big invention was the oscillating transformer (you will need to look that up because even after the explanation I couldn’t understand it although I think one of the benefits is the ability for a washing machine to spin as fast as it does?) and he is also now also credited with the invention of the wireless. When Marconi claimed this invention Tesla sued on the basis that this belonged to him and eventually won the case BUT that was 40 years after he died so no-one remembers him for that. It’s a cruel world!
I did get a kick to see how involved he was with the Niagara hydro electric plant design (he worked for both Westinghouse and Edison) – as I have spent a fair bit of time in Buffalo in my time:)
Nikola Tesla Museum
Another unexpected place of interest was the interior of the National Bank of Serbia. I had not realised the degree of hyperinflation in Serbia between November 1993 and and January 1994. In November 1993 1 million dinar equaled 1 Deutschmark by January 1994 that 1 DM equaled 5 Trillion dinar! My guide remembered her mother carrying money around in a suitcase when she went out to buy bread. Apparently all this was caused by a corrupt banking system ……
The Serbian bank then decided to issue the best note of all – in my opinion…..I just wish they would produce more of them – many many more…..
And now for another part of the Balkans and its very complicated history. First time in Serbia and using Belgrade as my base. This is a much larger city than the last two capitals I have been in and it is also a large construction site in many places. It is not the most beautiful place I have seen but it is interesting in its way.
Slavija Square, Knez Mihailova pedestrianised street, construction in Republic Square, Salina area
When I planned this trip I thought I would fly from place to place but turns out there are few direct flights from capital city to capital city so I found the website mydaytrip.com which effectively drives you door to door in comfort and with stops along the way if you want to do that. So enroute from Skopje to Belgrade I opted to make a 90 minute stop in the town of Nis for a quck walk around its fortress and park – great way to stretch my legs and see some Byzantine architecture – yes those Ottomans were here too.
Nis Fortress and Park
On Day one I walked through the excellent pedestrianized shopping street (Knez Mihailova) to get to the place where everyone goes to here which is Kalemegdan Fortress – occupied by the romans and possibly before then and also the Ottomans and the Christians and so on. The large statue is known locally as Victor (he is meant to represent victory over the Ottomans and he has a commanding view towards new Belgrade at the point at which the Rivers Sava and Danube meet with their two distinct colours). He is also stark naked which shocked the locals at the time and this is why he is here rather than in town as they thought people wouldn’t notice that – but of course they do and they all come to see. I did try to get a shot from the front too but the sun was in my eyes…..
Kalemegdan Fort, the confluence of the Danube and Sava and the statue of “Victor”
I also went to some of the underground sites in this area. The Well – which was never actually a well but the Romans dug it very deep hoping to find water. They tried hard but they didn’t find any natural water (the water you see is only surface water from rain coming through the cracks in the rocks above) and there are lots of gory tales of people being lowered down there and left to starve to death and then to eat each other. Also more recently in this century a young girl was thrown down there by her boyfriend. All a bit creepy. The corridor is Tito’s bunker also built under a hill in the park that has a tiny entrance so would have been easy to disguise – no-one is sure he ever went there but his soldiers lived there for a long time keeping it going just in case. They only discovered it in the last 20 years.
The underground Roman “Well” and Tito’s Bunker
While I am on the topic of Tito I might mention more about him. Both in Macedonia and here people who are older – say over 60 look back very fondly on his time as President of the Yugoslavian federation which included what is now 6 countries (Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (although not recognised as a country by the Serbians); Macedonia and Slovenia). The name Yugoslavia means “Southern Slavic” so didn’t refer to any one country over another. Why did they like him? They will say everyone had a job; they had a passport that gave them access to more countries in the world without a visa than any other; although notionally communist he was not aligned to Stalin and managed to keep one foot in the East and the West; mixed marriage across the states was encouraged to unite the federation; there was no religion and no wars (possibly due to no religion?). He was made lifelong president and when he died in 1980 everything fell apart – the effects of which are still being felt today, with bombing of Serbia by the UN as recently as 1999.
Tito was also a larger than life character. He had at least “three loves of his life” – two of whom bore him children and many female “acquaintances”- ; he watched John Wayne movies every day; he loved to wear fur coats and walk his German shepherd dogs. Got Richard Burton to make a film about his life so that he would be in the area often – and the reason he did that is that he wanted to spend time with Elizabeth Taylor because she was the most beautiful woman in the world. They remained friends for many years and many husbands. He was also friendly with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He loved Western culture and my guide remembered seeing Ray Charles in concert -brought over by Tito. Equally she remembered as a young child being in one of those thousand of 9 year old kids dancing for 90 minutes dressed all in blue and waving a ribbon (a la North Korea style) for his birthday. I think he liked the best of all worlds.
I liked this apocryphal story about him. At a T junction one day, his driver asked whether he should turn left or right. Tito is said to have replied “indicate left but turn right”. Says it all really.
After all this I visited the very contemporary Zepter Museum in a lovely old 1920s building. Mostly I liked the building better than the art but these caught my attention – especially the cheeky menorah (you have to zoom to see what I mean).