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!
The 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.
Arriving 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.
Setting 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.
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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. There 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.
In 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.