Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trip to Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia (June 2016)

Belgrade:     Our trip to Belgrade, Serbia was another complex process. We had to travel out of Bosnia to Croatia and enter Serbia from Croatia after traveling for a few hours. This divergent travel was due to better road conditions in Croatia than traveling in Bosnia to Serbia. It took us quite a while to leave Croatia and enter Serbia.

Serbia is the largest nation within the former Yugoslavia Federation with a land of 88,000 sq. km including Kosovo that is currently in civil war with Serbia for independence. United Nations recognized Kosovo as an independent nation, but many countries still do not recognize Kosovo. Serbia considers Kosovo one of its provinces. Excluding Kosovo, Serbia's land size is 77,000 sq. km, three times the size of Rwanda with a population of 7 million.

Serbia was trying to maintain the former Yugoslavia Federation, thus getting into war with any nations that were seeking independence. They continued using the country name of Yugoslavia until only 20 years ago when Yugoslavia finally broke up under the UN supervision.

Serbia's capital is Belgrade that is situated at a strategically important place where the River Sava merges into River Danube. Belgrade in English is Beo Grad in Serbian language. It means "white city." When Serbs sailing along the Danube reached the current Beograd and saw the fortress built by the Romans, they shouted "Beo Grad!" or "White City!" This exclamation was because of the white lime stone that was used to build the fortress, now called Kalemegdan Fortress. Its overpowering establishment must have been quite impressive to all conquerors: Romans, Byzantine, Ottoman, Habsburg Empires and even Soviets all used it as their fortress.

Belgrade is quite a modern city. It is known to be the center for night life in the region. So there is a saying that Belgrade is expanding although Serbia may be shrinking. We visited the Statue of Victor located at the corner of the fortress, We explored the Republic Square, Knez Mihailova (Mihailova Street), Statue of Prince Mihailova and a couple of palaces currently in use. Also we saw the oldest bistro in Belgrade (almost 200 years old), called "?"

The story goes like this. This bistro was a traditional tavern like a bar. It is located right across the street from the Saborna Orthodox Cathedral. The bistro owner wanted to change the name to "Kod Saborne Crkve" or "By the Saborna Church." Obviously, the church authorities vehemently protested against it. The bistro owner decided to put "?" as the temporary name in 1892, but the unique name has remained in use even to date.

Our local tour guide was Jerico, a student of history and geography. So far, he has been the best tour guide I have ever met. Not only he knew a lot but also he explained clearly and well. Obviously he knew all the components of effective communication: contents and delivery. Moreover, he knew how to impress his clients: us. He brought a bottle of Rakia, fruit brandy very popular in the Balkans, reportedly produced by his grandpa and distributed it to us all. In a rainy day, it was very useful. Also, he distributed one postcard to us all. Impressive. Additionally, he knew how to keep his dignity. He told us to leave our tip, if we wanted to, in his backpack, rather than handing it over to him. How clever he was! We all were motivated to give him a generous tip.

He had another companion: a dog. He was a street dog, but followed Jerico wherever we went. Obviously the dog know how to take advantage of the power of a big group as we marched along. He barked and chased away all other dogs that could be a threat to his territory. But he was friendly to female dogs. Huh... He was amusing. - Jeffrey

Novi Sad:   Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia. We visited Petrovaradin Fortress located on the right bank of the Danube River. We walked up to the fortress and sat down for a cup of coffee after enjoying the panoramic view of the city.

But, we ended up with a little happening because the cafe man came all the way down to the bus because we paid only for one cup of coffee. Embarrassing, but it happened. No one's fault, but a little careful attention could have prevented it from happening. Oh well... - Jeffrey

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