05 September 2013

Novi Sad
Street Performances
Rubber Duckies

Train or Bus?  This is a dilemma in every country.  In Serbia the answer is clear.  Take the train.  It may take a bit longer, be a bit older, but is also more than half the price of a bus!

NS35town4The train station is right beside the bus station, so easy for us to find.  Getting the tickets we had to hang around for a while, then find the right train.  This is not that clearly marked, so asking a friendly copper, we got to the train.  It was pretty standard.  Corridor down one side with compartments for six people on the other.  Throwing our bags up on the storage rings (Hoping that the metal didn’t give way under the weight) we settled in for the ride.  We were not lucky enough to get window seats but that was not a problem, you couldn’t see much out of them anyway!

Setting out, we got to see the hills with red roofed villages on the sides, unharvested crops, trees. more trees and the occasional glimpse of the Danube.  It was not too bad a trip.  Occasional good views, and a lot more comfortable than the buses we have been on lately.  They don’t even charge you for your luggage!

The train filled up over time, and the corridor ended up being full of people.  This was not because there were no seats left, but you can smoke on the trains here.  Just hold your cigarette outside the window and ash inside!  At first we thought that it was just a couple of daring people, but when the conductor walked past without raising an eyebrow, we knew it must be standard.  You could close the compartment door to keep out the smoke though.

NS39town3Arriving in Novi Sad we were glad to see that the bus station was close by.  When we decide to leave it would not matter what form of transport we take, as we know where to catch it from.  We just need to find a place to sleep.
Knowing nothing about the city, other than there being a big wide street in front of us, we set out.  This is the main section of new town.  It was not that long until we found a hostel.  Checking in, we had a lovely woman that was quite accommodating and even provided us with a map of the city.  Letting us know the most important things to see.

NS38posttown2Setting out to explore the city, we went down a side street towards the centre of the old town.  Towards the end we took a street off this as we had spotted an interesting building.  This was the old Jewish Synagogue.  Closed to the public, it is still an impressive building from the outside.  If we have not mentioned it before, the Jews had a very hard time in Serbia / Yugoslavia during WWII.  They got it from three sides.  The Germans of course, the Croatians and the Bulgarian government that was put in charge of sections of he country.  The Croatians were so enthusiastic about their duties that it shocked even the Germans.  The Bulgarians were very happy that they could keep their Jewish population alive, but were also quite happy to do away with a lot of Yugoslavia’s.  During that time the Gypsies had a hard deal as well.  This is (unfortunately) pretty standard for this entire region, but what did shock us was how many Serbians ended up in the Croatian Concentration camps as well.

The grand Synagogue distracted us a bit..

The grand Synagogue distracted us a bit..

Sorry for that aside, the point was that there is a magnificent synagogue here, and we can only wonder what it looks like inside.  Walking around it, we got ourselves slightly turned around, before finding the street we though tourist information is on.  We have two addresses for tourist information.  One from a book, and another from the woman running the hostel.  We went to find ours first.  It is the long street connecting the old town centre to the bridge over the Danube to the fortress.  We walked a long way along this street.  Knowing that it was number 9, we gave up when we hit number 16, thinking that our hostess was right and it had moved from this street. Going back into town, there started being many old Austrian styled buildings.  This must be old town.  Finding the Catholic Church, with its colourfully tiled tower on the main square we could get our bearings on the map.

So how can blame us for overlooking tourist info?

So how can blame us for overlooking tourist info?

Thinking that we could wander aimlessly around town, or go and see if we could find tourist information.  We took the latter option as Tourist information has been pretty good in Serbia.  If we were still in Bulgaria we would not have bothered.  Finding the right street, we proceeded along it.  As it turns out this was the same street as the Synagogue is on.  Even more of a coincidence, the information office is right on the corner of the small street we had emerged from previously.  This was hilarious in its annoyance factor.  We had walked right past it!

Lots of bad tagging around

Lots of bad tagging around

Stopping in, we got some information on the town and what to see and do around.  Although they were pretty good, it is still a major gripe that I have with nearly all tourist information places.  We knew there was some sort of festival going on.  We had seen the billboards around the place advertising it.  On the main square there had even been a timetable listing the events for the next three days (in Cyrillic).  This was not even mentioned to us until we asked about it.  Slightly annoying and the only place that has bucked this trend in recent history is the one with the Horse festival (Pozarevac)

Beautiful old town

Beautiful old town

So, tourist information visited.  Check.  Information on Novi Sad, Check.  Lets walk.  The old town is a collection of buildings built at the turn of the 20th century.  A lot of these have already been renovated and look very impressive.  The colour schemes are interesting in places, but all in all they have done a great job.  There are plenty of small squares around and a lot of walking streets.  These are now predominantly taken up by cafe bars that have seating outside in a terrace culture.

Leopard-man from Australia

Leopard-man from Australia

As we said before, there is a festival going on at the moment.  It is a street performance festival.  Although the opening ceremony is a bit later, some of the performers were already putting on shows.  We got to see an Australian performer doing his tricks.  If anyone has seen the people at Circular Quay perform, you would know the routine.  A bit of juggling, then getting up on a chair suspended three meters in the air on a pole held by a couple of guys.  Handstand up there, and juggle a couple for fire clubs.  It is impressive none the less.  Then there were a German couple that do Acrobatics and Diablo.  We kept getting people pushing in front of us for this one, and my best view was through someone else’s camera, so we skipped most of that show, and went to find the start of the parade.

German gymnastics

German gymnastics

The parade is the grand opening of the festival.  On the main square where the parade finishes is the stage.  On the stage is a gigantic rubber duck.  We have no idea on what this is for, but it must have something to do with the festival.  Going to find our vantage point for the parade, we settled in to wait.  Stuff started happening, a band arrived and gave a few tunes as they warmed up, then a pope walked past.  Well he had an imitation popes hat.  His clothes were more like a clowns outfit, and his shoes belonged in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  People started filling the street.  Most going towards where the parade would start from, but more and more were joining us on the side of the road on the already closed off street.  Another Rubber Duckie was inflated just below the bridge.  Then with mass fanfare the parade started.  It took a little while to get to us, and when it did, we found the Pope in front of the band, with people holding up the rubber duckie.  That was it.  NS40postparade1There were no other floats, no street performers walking on stilts or juggling, no moving statues.  Not even a performing flea circus.  This was very disappointing for us.  So we had to make do with rubber duckie jokes.  There is a large fortress here, and although we have not seen it yet, we know it was never captured by an enemy, so we started making jokes about how the garrison was saved by flocks of ducks.  Or even the mayor getting visions of the future from the eyes of his bright yellow rubber duckie in the bath.  All jokes aside, we could not help but laugh when the duck started deflating.  It must have been an old one as there was plenty of gaffer tape stuck over it, and it was bursting at the seams.  Well, it did burst, and the head deflated.  It took some time, but a portable compressor was hooked up to it to re-inflate the duck.  Then they set off again.  With the generator being carried along side.  Occasionally stopping to provide a better seal.

NS41postparade2In this fashion it took about 45 minutes to travel 1km.  At the main square the duck re united with the other duck.  It turns out that this has all been orchestrated by the Spanish performer here.  The guy in the Pope outfit.  Getting the run down on how the baby rubber duck has been reunited with mum.  A kiss then off to church for the baby.  Pretty sad in my opinion.  The pope was also suffering from some major inferiority complexes, as the sound was set way too loud.  It was deafening.  Even with your ears plugged you could hear him as clear as day.  Without your ears blocked the sound invaded your brain and turned it into mush.  When he started going on about important people thinking that they made important decisions, but the world belonging to innocents and children, he lost us completely.  It was time to head back to the hostel.  With his voice ringing in our ears for the next couple of blocks.  We would have been half way back to the hostel, and still able to hear him clearly!

Still, there are more shows to see tomorrow.

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04 September 2013

Walk to House of Roses & History of Yugoslavia Museum
Sava Cathedral
Nikola Tesla Museum
Cathedral of St Mark

A full day today, we want to do at least three things today!  I know, we are pushing it, we consider ourselves lucky if we can do even one thing in a day.

The first objective is to visit Tito and learn a little about his life, and Yugoslavia at the same time.  Apparently there is a museum complex at his mausoleum that we can do this from.  It is a little way out of the centre of town, and a nice walk along busy roads.  Belgrade is a city.  It feels like a city, acts like a city, has the traffic of a city, and unfortunately, smells like a city in places.BB34postart

The walk took us past the railway station along the river, so we checked out train times for tomorrow, an added bonus. Then overpasses and underpasses before taking us to some quiet parks.  It was good to see that these are being utilised by the inhabitants, and are quite popular, especially as there is not much around this area.  Our map is pretty small, and the large icons of places to see are not always in exactly the right place, so we missed our target.  A nice Serb saw us trying to work out the map, and asked if she could help.  I love the people here, I have not written in everyone that has helped us, as there are so many!  Unlike Bulgaria, people are always willing to help.  So, we had missed the mausoleum by about 100m.  Not too bad.

BB32postfountainGoing up to it, we were struck again that there are a lot of fountains in the city, similar to Bulgaria as well,but these are all working.  Not only the ones that have had millions of Euros pumped into them by the EU – Wait a second, Serbia can have all its fountains running, and get NO money from the EU.  They are not even allowed to join (This is a sore point at the moment, but probably a good thing considering the last five or six years).
The only let down with the fountain was that the slate pathways around it are disintegrating quickly.  Behind this is the Museum of Yugoslavian History.  This is probably the one major museum we are looking forward to.  We went in, got our tickets, and had the layout of the buildings explained to us.  There are three. This New Museum with an exhibition on the top floor, the Mausoleum itself, and the old museum.  BB37postgiftStarting here, we went up and were greeted with the Royal presents that have been given to Tito.  A lot of these are the medals you get for joining the Royal Orders of countries, and Holland was proudly represented along with many others.  In the same room are the presents, these range from the whimpsical to the ancient.  The craftsmanship in all of them apparent.  Replicas of things from Ur in Iran to a carved stone from Angkor Thom in Cambodia.  There must have been a special relationship with Haile Selassie from Ethiopia as there are a lot of items from different visits.
This is apparently only a small part of the collection, so when we tried to go into other rooms on the floor, we were surprised that there was nothing there.  It is only the one room of about 5, and even then, not that full.  There is nothing yet on the life of Tito, or the country, so we headed down and went to the next section.

BB40posttitoHis mausoleum is pretty plain.  Anna made the joke that the outside could have been an old folks home.  This is appropriate, as it was the house built for him in his 70’s.  His tomb is in a central courtyard and very simple.  We were half expecting ornate displays of wealth or devotion, but it is very simple with a few plants and flowers around it.  Considering the devotion that people still have for him here, we thought there would be wreaths or similar placed around in his memory.  Nothing.  There was a side room though.  Going into this we could see all the relay batons collected over the years.  This is pretty special, as every year on the 25th of May there is a large relay race.  This is his birthday, and was always well attended.  The first relay had over 9,000 runners over a distance of 12,000km!  It only grew from there.  Organised as a youth event it took on a life of its own.
As a side story for the freedoms people had here:  Someone objected to running with a baton, so they got peoples signatures on old meat packing paper.  After collecting thousands of signatures, they bound it all together with a blue cover, so the first race was 6 batons and a little blue book!

BBvertpano1BBvertpano4BBvertpano7BBvertpano10Bvertpano13Bvertpano14BBvertpano12 Although there are some fantastic batons in all different shapes and sizes, all we had learnt was his birthday.  We still need to know more about this man and his country, so we headed over to the third building.

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The Old Museum.  Our hopes are here for the history of Yugoslavia and Tito, but no, once again we have been thwarted.  This is an ethnographic museum now.  Interesting in its own way, with clothing from different regions, shoes, socks, belts all the way down to water bottles.  Then there are the displays of Swords, Rifles and Pistols from the old flintlock era.  Some of these are amazing in their decorations.  Still not what we wanted.  Old spears and shields from Ethiopia, with a couple of photos of Tito dressed up in the part came next, then we were out.  Nothing.  BB33postmuseumNo life history, no information on the country or anything.  With the museum fully explored, we went back to the offices and asked why the History Museum of Yugoslavia has no Yugoslavian history!  Apparently they don’t have the funding.  Four months ago they had a temporary exhibition on it, but that is no longer here.  Personally I thought temporary exhibitions were more expensive to maintain than permanent ones, but I must be wrong.  If we come back on Saturday though, there would be someone here that would be happy to talk to us about it….

With that, we headed out.  It is unfortunate, and we are now worried that our only source of information on the country is going to be Wikipeadia.  Maybe if they turn off the fountain, they can get money for the exhibitions?

BB38postsavaSava Temple is the next on our list, and it is back towards the centre.  Built on a hill and the second biggest Orthodox temple in the world, we should be able to use it as a landmark to find it.  With all the tall buildings around that was impossible, but we did find a school, another couple of temples, a sports stadium, and the suburbs.  It was an interesting walk that slowly wound us towards our destination.
Sava Temple has only just had its outside completed, and is massive.  A small park area surrounds it, and a few vendors outside, along with the beggars, touts and people just hanging around.

Going in, we can see why they think it is still going to take 20 years to finish, as there is no paintings done yet.  There is even no plaster over the concrete domes and walls.  Most of the marble work is in place, and the ornate carved plaster is currently going up.  BB35postsavainsideThis is building at a gigantic scale.  Inside there was a large van to transport materials, and it is dwarfed by the scale.  The good thing about this is that it lets you see the construction techniques involved in the domes and walls.  Massive amounts of concrete have been used, along with the steel supports and other stonework.  Not a brick is in sight.

BB41tesla1We were doing well so far.  We have even managed to visit two of the planned places today, and now off to the Nikola Tesla Museum…
It was open.  A good start.  Going in and getting our tickets we started with the informative side of the museum first.  Saving the machines and inventions for last.  This was a bit disappointing.  It was all about his death in NewYork, and the start of the museum.  Gaining the Administrative rights to his works and shipping it here.  A strange place for his museum though, as he never lived in Belgrade, and although born in Croatia, spent most of his time in America after being educated in Hungary and Switzerland.  That done, we moved onto the inventions.  It is supposed to be an interactive museum, but everything is labelled “Don’t touch” BB39posttesla2While we were in one room, a movie started up, so we sat to watch it.  In Serbian with no English subtitles.  We had fun making up stories using the few words we recognised in the movie, then the guided tour started.  This was also in Serbian, until everyone else said they understood English, and she switched (There was us, another American couple, some Germans, a Serbian living in Australia and her Serbian Serbian friend).  This was a lot better.  We got to see some of the machines running, including Induction motors and wireless electricity production.  Then finally his remote controlled boat.  This is an amazing invention created before Marconi invented the radio!  (a few patent issues there, with Marconi losing his patent in 1944.  A nice date considering Italy’s relations with the USA at the time)

BB36posttownOur last place to see was St Mark’s Temple.  The weird story about this is that it was built to replace a temple that was bombed in WWII.  My only issue with this story is that it was bombed at the same time! It was being constructed well before the other one was destroyed.  Still, it is a beautiful building and a very different style to the Sava.
The large parks around here, being closer to the centre are in full swing.  Kids and people everywhere enjoying the sunshine at the end of summer.  A lively and happening place in the city.

Again, we have walked a lot, seen a little and had a good day in Belgrade.  I don’t think I could live here, but it is a fantastic city with a mix of old and new, busy and quiet.  Well worth a visit.

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03 September 2013

Belgrade

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02 September 2013

Leaving Pozarevac
Arriving in Smederevo
To Belgrade

We had an OK breakfast.  There was a bit of confusion about this, as the girl at reception last night went on about it a little bit.  This morning some sliced Devon and processed cheese turned up.  Not what we were expecting.  Getting a translator we found we could get a warm breakfast, so I got the bacon and eggs, and Anna an omelette.  When it came out, we both got fried eggs.  I got cold bacon and Anna got the same Devon as before!  I did get the better eggs though.  Then up for a cold shower before we left.  It is nowhere near as good as the place before, but it is also a lot cheaper.S34postfeature
Going to the bus station we tried to get a ticket to Smederevo.  A town 20km down the road.  I was surprised when this went complicated.  The lady did not speak English, which is no problem, but when we were told that the bus was at 9 am and the only bus, we tried to get tickets to Belgrade.  Then it went a bit weird.  She refused to sell us tickets and disappeared.  Coming back a couple of times to tell us to wait, we were wondering what was going on, and if the Serbian hospitality and friendliness had evaporated.  It hadn’t.  She had gone to get someone that spoke English.  He asked where we wanted to go, and we explained the situation to him.  He agreed that we could not get to Smederevo by bus, but as it happens, there is this thing called a “train.”  Now, if we still wanted to go to Smederevo we could go to a “Train Station” where “trains” come and go.  This “train station” is only a few hundred metres from here, and if we wanted to, we could walk there and get a “train” to Smederevo.  This was great.

S36posttrainWandering over there, we were in luck and there was a train in half an hour.  We just couldn’t get a ticket.  There was no one there to sell us one.  Someone did turn up and we got our tickets.  Trains are cheap here, it was only 208 Dinar for the both of us.  Getting on the single old carriage we set out.
The train was not that bad.  Old, but not that uncomfortable.  The 20km only took us an hour or so to arrive in Smederevo.  We had come here for a specific reason.  There is a fortress.  It is in the shape of a triangle.  Weird, right?S44overview

S42postchurchS37postcastle2The train pulled up and a nice guy helped us out with out bags, then disappeared before we could say thank you.  Turning around, you get a fantastic view of the castle walls.  We just needed to stash our bags somewhere.  Finding the bus station, there was a nice person here at the information desk that was willing to keep them, and we could go for a walk around.  We were close to the centre of town, so we checked out the church dedicated to St George.  A very nice building, with some beautiful paintings inside, then back to the fortress.

S35postpigeonsS32postcastle7There is not much left here.  The outer walls and parts of the towers, with nothing inside.  There is a good reason for this.  It was one of the better preserved fortresses in Serbia, but during WWII they had a slight accident.  There was a lot of ammunition and explosives stored in the fortress.  Somehow it went BOOM.  In a very big way.  It flattened most of the city and killed over 2500 people!  That is why the walls are on a bit of an angle.

At the confluence of the Danube and the Jezava river is the main keep.  It was built with the intention of making it the country’s capital and the permanent residence of Despot Đurađ Branković, to replace Belgrade which, after the death of Despot Stefan in 1427 had been returned to the Hungarians. Great effort was invested in its construction and it represents the last great achievement of Serbian military architecture. The Ottomans captured it later and did a lot of construction work during the 1480’s.S43postpano
S40postcastle5S41postcastle6When it was built, they used any bit of material laying about, including old tombstones.  Therefor some of the local people believed the castle to be cursed. Walking around you can sometimes see stones with inscriptions in the walls.
At the moment there is a stage and chairs there, with the best reconstructed towers, but other than this, there is not much left, although you get good views out over the river and park that was the greater fortress.

S39postcastle4S38postcastle3A bit of a break sitting on the banks of the Danube before heading back and getting our bus to Belgrade.  The price was a bit of a shock, as it is less than 50km away and still cost us 1000 dinar and another 100 for our bags.  It was a comfy bus, and the trip was pretty good.
On arrival in Belgrade, we started looking for a hostel, and there are plenty around the bus station, we found one that has a double room, then went for a quick look around town.  The town itself is stunning, with fantastic old buildings and a lively atmosphere, so we should have some fun here for a few days.

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01 September 2013

Pozarevac

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30 August 2013

Museum
Romuliana / Gamizgrad

Emperor Gaius Valerius Galerius Maximianus head made from the finest imported Egyptian stone

Emperor Gaius Valerius Galerius Maximianus head made from the finest imported Egyptian stone

Last night we had asked at the hotel how to get out to the ancient Roman site that is near here.  We found that it is about 10km away, but the bus might be quite complicated, and we should take a taxi.
Thinking that we would still try for the bus, we went and asked at the museum.  If anyone knows how to get there, they should.
On entering, we did not get the reaction that we had expected.  On explaining that we wanted to go to Gamzigrad before seeing the museum, we were told we could take a taxi.  Not the answer we were hoping for, but so be it.  Then she mentioned that she would ask the director of the Museum if he could take us!  It’s a long shot but we saw no harm in her asking.Rpostmosiacmuseum

RpostjeweleryRpostmodelWhile we were waiting, we ended up getting a guided tour of the museum.  This in itself was a bit of fun, as they went and got a translator for us!  I hope that he had as much fun as we did.  The museum is set up really well.  The bottom floor has a few of the mosaics that have been excavated from the site, and they are exquisite.  Along with well sculptured statues and busts.  A sign of the importance of Romuliana is that stone unique to Egypt was brought here and sculpted into Emporer Galerius.  He was the one that had Romuliana built as a holiday home and palace for his mother Romula.  Also giving the city her name.  He was also born here, so for this Emporer it is a very special place.

RpostclothingmuseumGoing up the stairs there are some magnificent sculptural artworks.  These are new and made in the style of Steam Punk.  Very different to the 1700 year old exhibits.  Then there are sections on the Neolithic era all the way up to the 1959’s and 60’s.  Although fairly small, the museum is very well laid out, and there is a lot of detail without flooding you with information that you will forget in 24 hours.  Although I am sure I will forget a lot of it!

RpostbehhouseThe Director had agreed to take us out to the archaeological site, but would not be ready for a little while, so suggested that we check out the Beh’s house. This is the only remaining Turkish house in Zajecar.  When the Turks withdrew most of the buildings and things they left behind had been destroyed, but one man sold his house to a Serb before leaving.  RpoststoveDue to this, when they were destroying everything, this building was spared as it was no longer Turkish.  Luckily for us, as we were now able to look around.  Down stairs is used as an art space with paintings from a young artist.  Not my style personally, but I am always glad to see new people getting exposure.
Upstairs is set up with different rooms throughout the ages.  Starting with the Turks and ending again in the 50’s and 60’s.  Great examples of furniture and styles.  If I could get those old wood stoves home I would love one.Rpostpanowoodwork

Now it was time to head out to Romuliana.
Built around 300 by a Roman Emporer famous for having an Edict of Tolerance before Constantine I, but dying before it could be implemented. Rpostromu2Rpostromu1Rpostromu5 The site is very large at about 4.5 ha, with massive surrounding walls with towers every few metres.  An inner defensive wall, with the East West road splitting the public section and the royal section.  Both have extensive bath complexes, but the public side seems to be mainly for people to give their devotions at the large temple of Jupiter, or work in the granary behind it.Rpostromu3
RpostmosaicRpostromu4The other side is where the two palaces are.  One for Galerius, and another for his mother.  Very sweet of him.  Most of the excavation work has been recovered to protect it, and all of the mosaics bar one or two have been covered with sand.  This is a bit disappointing, as it is the main reason for us wanting to go there, but we got to see a couple of them in the museum and another good one here in situ.  Even without the mosaics the site is worth looking at.  Then there are the two mounds on the hill.  These were for the Deification of the Emperor.  This was the first and last time it happened.
After a brief run-down on the site, we got to wander around, and were lucky enough to get a lift back to town afterwards.
My thanks go out to the Director of the Zajecar Museum for a lift and a great conversation.  Especially clearing up a few points on UNESCO that have been bugging us for a while.  Also to everyone else today.Rpostpano1
Again, we have been floored by the hospitality shown to us in Serbia, and if this trend continues, I may not be able to leave….

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