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Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia

sunny 17 °C

We flew from Nuremberg, Germany to Belgrade, Serbia on Wizz Air - a discount airline based in Hungary.

The trick to flying cheaply is to have only carry-on luggage.
We paid a bit extra for large carry ons - 55 cm maximum height.
On 29 October they are increasing the luggage size so the extra charge will not be applied.
Random seat assignment still put us together with me in the middle seat and Jeff by the window. We were in row 19 near the wings. For a short flight this is tolerable, there isn't much leg room and the seats seemed a bit narrower than on Norwegian Air, we were fine.

For ten Euros our cosmopolitan landlord from Baroque Apartments picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our beautiful two bedroom suite:
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Belgrade has a storied and turbulent history. In recent memory it has the distinction of having been bombed by the Nazis, the Allies and NATO.

The bombed out building, below, was part of the Ministry of Defence, very central, about two blocks from the main train station, about five blocks from the National Theatre.
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It is warmer here, about twenty degrees C on 13 October. We took a little walk around the neighbourhood and ate dinner on a patio. Indian summer.

We got lost looking for the main square. Jeff was looking at his map and I was taking pictures. A policeman stepped out of his little guardhouse and approached Jeff. We both kind of froze.
We had attracted his attention, now what?
He wanted to help us. He pointed out the correct route. He was a handsome young man with those startling blue-grey eyes we have been admiring in Serbia, spoke good English, calm and helpful. Friendly. That is our picture of a Serb.

Our walking tour started from the statue in front of the National Museum which is currently closed for renovations.
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There is a free (you leave a tip) 2.5 hour tour of downtown that leaves from Republic Square every day at 11 am or, if you prefer, 3 pm.

We walked first through the bohemian section, Skadarlija, former haunt of artists and poets.
Today the streets are lined with cafes and bars, a really happening place later in the day. Serbia has a cafe culture and in the evenings the streets and cafes are lively with people.
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Our tour guide spoke excellent English and besides his engaging manner endeared himself to our international group of about 20 people, by serving the local plum and honey spirit, rakija. Powerful stuff, savour it.
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October 14 was another beautiful blue sky day.
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I ❤️ Serbia!! The people are friendly and many speak English. Perhaps their spoken English is better than the Czech Republic due to English language shows on tv - the subtitles are Serbian but any American or British shows are in English. Our apartment has a large flatscreen tv and has a good selection of English language programming.

Our tour takes us through downtown and up to the Fortress where we can view the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers - Belgrade has an auspicious location which contributed to its value to the Romans, Huns, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in fact to the Slavic people themselves.
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The walls of the fortress are limestone and from the distance gleam white - thus the name Beograd - white city.

We are only staying in our baroque apartment for two nights as on 17 October we are taking the bus to Novi Sad to meet up with our friend Melinda. Worse luck they do not have a vacancy for our return visit. I felt like a princess in the opulent surroundings, Chrystal chandeliers and wall sconces. and authentic ornately carved furniture from the seventeen hundreds - cherubs and leaves abound. The colours are gilt and dark Ivory, very elegant.
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We were going to take the bus from the main square to the Nicola Tesla Museum but the buses were crammed so we decided to just walk back to our apartment and chill.
Our landlord brought us fresh organic grapes from his vineyard when we checked out.
The Belgrade main train station is right next to the bus depot and looks a bit like the Norwegian Royal Palace in Oslo.
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We feel a little nervous buying the bus tickets but luckily the ticket agent speaks English and the bus is leaving in ten minutes.
We were issued tickets with assigned seats. There are about 40 bus stalls and there is only one exit to the boarding area where a guard is positioned to collect the tokens - so you get a ticket and a token - we thought the token was change and that the guard was asking for a tip!! (or a bribe, but not so my friends, be forewarned that the coin-like objects are tokens and keep them handy)
One other tricky thing about the Serbian bus - the overhead bins are very shallow and will only accommodate a day pack. There is a small fee to stow your bags in the outside compartment.
On this bus there is no WC or wifi - fairly comfortable but noisy from some kind of roof fan, but the trip in only about 75 minutes so all is good.
It takes 25 minutes to drive through Belgrade, population is close to two million.

Along our route to Novi Sad we cross the blue, blue Danube. It is a very wide and impressive river that meanders through a good part of Europe from Germany to Bulgaria and into the Black Sea in the Ukraine. We saw it in Budapest in 2012.

The scenery varies from the Balkan plains to forests:
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We met Melinda, a Hungarian from Subotica Serbia in 2012. She was our CouchSurfing hostess for one night. I am old enough to have been her teen aged mother.
Funny how you can meet someone, a complete stranger, and forge a friendship. That happened to us. Now five years later we meet again.
Old friends with a high degree of comfort with each other. She and her personable husband - first time meeting him - met our bus in Novi Sad - he greeted us warmly - 'I am happy to see you too!' Old friends.
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Below is an example of the mixed bag of architecture - a brutalist style building from the communist years - designed for function not for beauty - plunked in among soaring church spires on one side (not shown) and much more elaborate buildings across the street.
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We spent the day together, ate lunch, a wonderful venison stew, enjoyed typical Serbian cakes with lemonade - much of the baking has a Turkish flavour from the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule. Baklava and custard cake.
As evening neared we walked through the Danube Park, and spotted a familiar statue: we had seen him in Belgrade also, the poet and painter Dura Jakšić.
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The park was cool and tranquil.
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Our second day in Novi Sad was spent walking to the fortress and just generally looking around.

The bridges are all new. All of the bridges in Novi Sad were bombed by NATO during the nineties war.
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We could have had dinner at our accommodation but instead went into the neighbourhood.
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We ate at the same restaurant as yesterday - the food was good and plentiful and the prices more than reasonable - about twelve dollars covered a filling meal for two. This restaurant was 'authentic' no English menus, offerings change daily and are written on a brown paper bag. Wish I had taken a picture.

As the sun set in Novi Sad we walked to the main square.
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Sidewalk cafes bustled with people.
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We returned to our cozy apartment about 9 pm, we had enjoyed a pleasant evening.
After booking a one bedroom suite in Belgrade for the next two nights - 74 dollars total and an easy walk from both the bus station and the Nikola Tesla Museum, we went downstairs to the restaurant - I ordered a rakija, served in a special long necked glass. 'Where can I buy a glass like this?' I asked the affable bartender. He gave me the glass. I ❤️ these people!

Fortified by the strong spirit I went ahead and booked cheap seats to the opera - we will see Carmen at the National Theatre in Belgrade on our last night in Serbia. Six rows from the stage, there were only four seats left, we are lucky! Two tickets for 25 dollars Canadian. I am stoked!!
Our suite here in Novi Sad is above a restaurant - a large, very clean and well kept studio apartment with a fireplace and hardwood floors.
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It is well located, just a few blocks from the main square, and really quiet after 11. The church bells ring every hour but other than that, no noise. For forty dollars per night breakfast is included - eggs, bread, cheese, red peppers, mouth watering tomatoes, home made peach and plum jams, good strong Turkish ☕️ - way too much food, fresh and tasty.

In 1993 Serbians were the world's poorest billionaires.

Serbia held the record for hyper inflation at that time. Prices doubled every few days and a one billion dollar dinar note might purchase a loaf of bread. In two weeks time, a slice of bread.
In January 1994 inflation was out of control in Serbia. Prices doubled every 34 hours.
In world history Serbia from 1993 to 1995 is in the top five contenders for hyper inflation. Zimbabwe blew their record out of the water in 2009.

We took the bus back to Belgrade on a beautiful blue sky October day.

After walking to our apartment we went to the Nikola Tesla museum. I am a fan of Tesla, a very bright guy.
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We moved Apartments the next day and walked to the Bohemian section for a leisurely lunch. Jeff had the most amazing roast beef - melt in your mouth, extremely flavourful, wonderful.
Our server was fabulous.
This was the best and most pleasant meal you could imagine. A gorgeous day, a beautiful patio, flowers blooming all around and impeccable service - with tip the whole shebang for two people was under twenty dollars and my glass of wine cost more than an entree!! (my mistake as I could have happily had sparkling water or a beer, but extremely pleasant).
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It was a highlight to attend the opera, Carmen, at the National Theatre.
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We had good seats, main level, close to the stage, we were lucky to get seats!

Bright, lively, colourful, Carmen is a super choice for ordinary people. The story is set in Seville and we have seen the tobacco factory where Carmen fictitiously worked.

Below is the statue of Prince Michael who liberated Serbia from the Ottoman Turks in 1867:
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We spent 4.5 days (in total) in Belgrade and we loved it!!

We love Serbia and the Serbian people we met were terrific.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:59 Archived in Serbia Tagged opera serbia balkans carmen belgrade cevapi tesla rakija skadarlija Comments (0)

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovinia

semi-overcast

The war is over but never forgotten, bullet holes on buildings are testimonials, the Dayton Accord is a bitter remedy - welcome to Bosnia.

The Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern history, occurred between April 6, 1992 and February 29, 1996.

We took a mini bus, a twenty passenger van, from Belgrade to Sarajevo. Travel time was about six hours, there were two rest stops along the way. A lot of the trip was through mountains, or rather, twisting roads around mountains, climbing upwards.
The distance between these two points is about 300 km but the going is slow along stomach turning narrow mountain roads.

Since the bus originated in Serbia we were taken to the Serbian 'side' of the city. Hey, where are we? Ten Euros for a taxi from the autonomous Serb Republic to the Bosnia side. We had no idea Sarajevo is a 'divided' city.

I had never heard of Republika Srpska, east Sarajevo.

Our one bedroom apartment is near the Latin Bridge, across the river and uphill from the old town.
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We have a little terrace and the bathroom has a washer and dryer. A dryer!! This is a first!! They have natural gas. Wow. 54 Euros for three nights!! But there is no water - at all, between 11 pm and 6 am!! This has been going on for awhile - months.

The Latin Bridge over the shallow Miljacka River connects us to the old town and main sights of the city centre.

Cevapi - Bosnian meatballs, are the national dish. In fact cevapi is something of a national dish in Serbia as well and are served throughout the Balkans.
Like burek, (pastry filled with meat and/or cheese) these sausage-like meatballs are descendants of Turkish food, Kofta, from the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule.

We have eaten versions of cevapi and Burek all over the Balkans and in Turkey. Here cevapi is served in a pita-like pocket with a large side of onions and a hot pepper:
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The old town is a big bazaar, numerous shops selling hammered copper and all manner of souvenirs - a warren of narrow streets lined with cafes and shops.
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Older men play giant chess in a Square near the old town every day:
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The Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque is on our side of the river, close to the brewery.
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There are names of the dead engraved on the bricks of this building:
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Sarajevo is a hilly city:
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We were too late for the free walking tour on our first morning in Sarajevo. We wandered around the old town and decided to go into a museum.
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The fact that the Srebrenica Museum had been in the running for best museum in Europe in 2016 was a factor when we decided to take a look. The photos, audio and documentaries in the fairly small space pack a powerful punch.
Little did I expect to leave two and one half hours later with eyes almost swollen shut with tears.
At first as I looked at the photos I was thinking, wow, I am glad I'm not Dutch. The atrocities at Srebrenica happened during their watch, after all.
By the time I finished viewing the three documentaries it was personal. It became, for awhile, all about me.
I was transported back 23 years to a time blurry in my memory. 1994.

Subdued. Bowed but not beaten. A bit of the Sarajevo melancholy had seeped into our bones.
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We met up with the free walking tour the next day. It starts at 10 am from the National Theatre.
Although the siege of Sarajevo lasted almost four years, the Theatre never closed. People scurried to performances and maintained a semblance of normalcy.

The square where the theatre is located has been named Susan Sontag Square - Susan Sontag, the American writer, directed 'Waiting for Godot' at this theatre in 1993. The play was advertised by word of mouth, the performance lit by candlelight.

She is held in high esteem by Bosnians who consider themselves, like Godot, waiting endlessly during the long siege for the west to intervene.

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Across the street from the Venetian architecture along the river is the colourful building above, designed for Sarajevo's Winter Olympics in 1984. Then it was Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. In 1988 Calgary hosted the games of winter. Four years later Sarajevo was under siege.

The First World War started in Sarajevo. A Bosnian-Serb freedom fighter assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June, 1914.

Assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist.

Princip, the guy who successfully assassinated the Archduke and then killed the pregnant Duchess, Sophie, fired the shots from the side of the pink building across the street from the Latin Bridge.
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The Bridge used to be called Princip Bridge and Princip was a national hero for awhile, but not at the moment.

There is a sign, well below eye level, on the side of the pink building. I would not have noticed it, did not notice it, until the tour guide pointed it out.

You have to bend down to read the inscription, 'From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavril Princip assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia'

There used to be footprints in the sidewalk to show exactly where Princip stood. The sign used to be higher, at eye level.
A young lad of 18 started a war that resulted in the death of more than ten million soldiers.
There were six would-be assassins in the crowd that day, four of this group received the death penalty. Princip was too young for the death sentence, but he died in jail from tuberculosis in 1918.

The Franciscan Monastary and the Church of St Anthony are across the street from the brewery. They hold an ecumenical service on Friday afternoons.
Although damaged during the war repairs to the century old buildings are complete. The monks preserved many important historical documents.
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The statue above, reminiscent of Michelangelo's Pieta, is in the courtyard of St Anthony’s Catholic Church where real candles burn.

Light a candle for Sarajevo, I want to say, let go, let go.

The brewery dates back to 1864, to Ottoman times. The beer is made from spring water. Yes, many of the Muslims in Sarajevo drink beer.
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During the siege of Sarajevo people got their drinking water here - there were other sources - but this one was pretty safe. 'Only' six people were gunned down by Serbian snipers at this location.

Sarajevo is in a kind of Valley, the shallow river bisects the city core, the Bosniaks lived mostly in the valley, the Serbs were all around, higher up, in the hills.

City Hall - rebuilt and reopened in 2014 - two million books and document were destroyed during the siege.

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We stayed three nights at the apartment near the brewery and then moved to another suite across the river and uphill, for our final night.

Ah Magic Gueshouse was cozy and a bargain at 13.50 Euros!
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On a hill above the old town - a memorial - a cemetary - a wall of the names of the dead - Kovaci:
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As we wandered downhill from the cemetery I passed a man sitting on the wall. 'Sorry' he said, I am not sure why.
Random 'I'm sorries ' are a very Canadian thing.
'What part of Bosnia are you from?' I asked. 'Ireland' he responded dryly and I continued on my way, picking my footsteps carefully on the sloping, cobbled street.
There was a bit of a traffic jam at the curve in the road, a car had stalled, so there was honking, of course. I was directing Jeff to help push to get the car out of the way when the Irishman ambled up.
We now spent 2.5 hours with this guy, mostly at the side of the road, talking. I think we came together, us three, as we were all eager to chat with another native English speaker.
His name was Martin and he said he was in Sarajevo writing a novel about heartbreak. The perfect place to get in a melancholy mood - where heartbreak is, as he said, palpable. It hangs in the dust in the air.
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Sarajevo, population 400,000, capital city of Bosnia Herzegovina is worth a visit. Diverse, east meets west vibe, lots of history, scenic - affordable....depressing.
Unemployment is over forty percent.
The government must include Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian leaders - three leaders who must all agree before a decision can
be made - Serbian is Orthodox, Croatian is Catholic and Bosnian is Muslim.
No wonder some citizens when polled identified ethnically as Jedi or metal head - they were all southern Slavs once, now their ethnicity is their religion!!

I guess I am surprised about the bitterness towards the west in general and the UN in particular. The UN did not protect Srebrenica, the UN did not stop the siege of Sarajevo for 1,425 days, the UN did not send in drinking water which caused the murder by snipers of innocent civilians going with their jugs to get water, the UN sent old food, rice with dead worms, spam (canned food - a kind of meat in jelly), world war 2 rations - old, crappy leftovers were dumped on starving people.
They had no running water, no electricity, no phones, they were packed like rats in their basements for almost four years, thousands were killed and the UN and the west allowed this to happen.

I had no idea the UN mission had failed so miserably!!
I wondered if all of the aid money that flowed toward the country actually reached the citizens. What happened to the good food?

We did not see the ICAR canned beef monument, a 'tribute' to the humanitarian aid, dedicated to the international community by the grateful people of Sarajevo in 2006.

While the blame is handed out the Serbs, (and the Dutch) together with the west and the UN figure prominently.

40,000 Canadian peacekeepers spent time in Bosnia between 1991 and 2010. All of their efforts had less impact on the population than Susan Sontag.
Sarajevo is 8,506 km from Calgary.
We are a long, long way from home.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:50 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged mountains museums history budget balkans yugoslavia sarajevo affordable brewery cevapi Comments (0)

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