Monday, August 8, 2011


We finished out visit in Pozeravac inc. a trip along the Danube to Golubac fortress and the Danube gorges at Derdap NP. Now in Belgrade to finish out the trip. Hot here so we are strolling around the picturesesque suburb of Zemun along the Sava river. Hope for internet cafe later for proper post!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Milosevic Grave

Just a quick post - my brother-in-law's in-laws* live DIRECTLY across the street from the compound of the Milosevic clan. In fact, Slobodan is buried right across the street from where I type this post. I could throw a stone and hit the gate. Pretty crazy. There is nothing marking the home or the grave for outsiders at all at least.

*My wife's brother's wife's parents, which make them nothing to me other than good hosts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Novi Sad

Vojvodina is a semi-autonomous region in northern Serbia, known for its ethnic diversity (Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, Vlachs, Roma and of course Serbs populate the region). The capital is Novi Sad, is set on the Danube, overlooked by a stone fort on the opposite shore of the river. Vojvodina is rather flat, and the town is full of cyclists and bike paths, and on my impression was notable for its cleanliness and the obvious attention of politicians to urban landscaping, such as flower beds in public spaces, a well-kept public beach and an under-construction parallel series of pedestrian, cycling and jogging trails along the river. It also has great architecture and of course a large, pedestrian only area in the center of town full of shops, bars and cafes to entertain the locals and visitors. It is also only lightly touristed, which is hard to understand but helps keep the place very pleasant, even in July.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, Serbia right now (even moreso than Bosnia or Croatia) is bursting with wildly-inexpensive, largely organic, insanely delicious fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, peaches, apples, plums, pears and apricots. Definitely a highlight of the trip thus far.

One last point of interest in Vojvodina is the relics of the now-essentially-gone Jewish community (Albert Einstein used to live here; his first wife was from Novi Sad, although she was not Jewish.) Fortunately, Novi Sad has turned the tremendous old synagogue into a performing arts center, so at least this landmark remains in use and relevant.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ostrog in Perspective

I uploaded a photo earlier from Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro, and did a quick summary, but I wanted to spend a full post on this very special spot.

After leaving the shores of Lake Skadar on an early morning bus, we ended up in Podgorica (the capital of Crna Gora was formerly honored with the title of ˝Titograd˝ before the destruction of Yugoslavia). From there we grabbed a bus to the turnoff, and a completely insane Montenegrin man shared the taxi ride up with us. He sat in the front seat, and asked to play the driver's CDs. Upon finding one he liked, he asked if he could borrow it. The taxi driver asked how he would get in back. He did not know. He then insisted that we stop en route for a coffee and a cigarette. The driver reluctantly agreed. So the rider asked the driver if he had a cigarette to give him. When we stopped for coffee, he invited us to sit with him, where he went on and on about how much he liked Mike Tyson, and thought that Puerto Rico was the the most beautiful city in the United States (the city of Puerto Rico is near New Jersey, no?). He also might be the only person in the Balkans who loves George W. Bush. (I was oblivious to all this of course, thank goodness for my wife the translator.)

Anyway, despite the madman, Ostrog is an amazing sight. If you stare closely at the photo at right (if you click on it, it will open more large in its own window), you can see a small white spot in the center of the photo. I hope that gives the reader an impression of the remoteness of the place. The interior of the rooms are mostly caves on three sides, enclosed by the outer wall that is visible from the outside. It is largely a spot for the pious, although I found it strange that several of the pilgrims came in uncovered shoulders and shorts, despite signs asking otherwise.

On the ride down, much to our tax driver's relief, the Mrs. and I descended without the madman. When we passed him walking down the road, we slumped in our seats as our driver shifted gears to quickly pass him. And, as mentioned, the car made it down but was put our of commission by our trip.

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Side note: Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide company in the world, and sometimes sadly/absurdly referred to as ¨the bible¨ by travelers, shamefully fails to explain how to visit Ostrog independently. Shame on you, LP. Anyway, if you have stumbled upon this blog post curious, here is Ostrog by public transport: Go to the bus station in Podgorica, buy a ticket on a Nikšić-bound bus to the spot on the side of the highway where the turnoff is to Ostrog (if they do not speak English, you should still be able to communicate this, and despite what you may have heard the bus stations have departure and arrival information in Latin characters.) The ticket will say Bogetici but there is no town there, just a tiny gravel car park with a few taxis. Keep an eye on the signs on the side of the road and remind the bus attendant where you are going. We paid 12 euro for the car to go up, and the same price to go back but considering the condition of the road, a fair price. Not cheap obviously though so hitchhiking or a group tour may be more economical if you do not have a group. You should be able to pay the driver for the round trip at the end of the ride. This same thing can be done from Nikšić if you are coming from Žabljak or other points north.

Šaran Eight/Take a Break/You Can Reach Your Destination

Constructing a railway from the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, to the Bosnian city of Sarajevo was an important way to link together the young Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, the mountainous terrain between these two cities created an engineering challenge for the government. Through a series of tunnels and switchbacks, a narrow-gauge railway was constructed climbing hundreds of meters to solve this challenge.

In 1974, the then unprofitable line ran its last train, until locals on the Serbian side decided to revive the line in the late 1990s (amidst the chaos of the Miloševič years). Today, a charming tourist train, called the Šargan Eight and rebuilt to early 20th century standards, runs this portion of the historic track, with plans to extend it all the way back into Bosnia. It is a great way to enjoy the green mountains of Serbia's Zlatibor region.

(But it's still a ways away...)
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Nearby is an artist colony/˝etno-village˝ that also has some nice views of the area, which made for a nice walk up a mountain while we waited for the train to depart. We were also filmed by several Japanese guys with fancy camera equipment at one of those touristy photo-op placards where you put your head inside. Perhaps we are big in Japan.

Another Communist-Era Hotel

This one is the Hotel Zlatibor in Užice (OO-zheet-seh). Notable for its views, it's greyness, it's scary, dark lobby, it's terrifying, tiny elevator, and the flickering horror-movie lights in the hallways. It towers over the town's *empty main square. The Hotel Vrbak it is not.

Friendly enough staff though, and the room was weird but well enough kept. Strange thing for a guy from a country a bit obsessed with safety is that on the 13th floor, there were no screens of anything else to keep one from jumping/falling out a window.

We were only spending the night in Užice as a jumping off point for the Šargan Eight railway in nearby Mokra Gora, so it did serve its purpose. I should have a post soon on the railway.

Nice view, though, as I mentioned.

*In Yugoslav times, the town was known as Titova Užice, and the main square contained a statue commemorating the Partizan victory over Fascism. In fact, in 1941, Tito's partizans drove the Nazis out of Užice for several months while residents lived in the ill-fated Užice Republic until the Germans again regained control. Unfortunately, while the square is still named for the heroic Partizans, the statute of Tito has been removed with nothing left to replace it to honor this historic and heroic event.