The flat, black landscape of Hungary blared at me in vibrant stillness as Jitka slept, and I stood next to the open window accompanied by Lawrence's RA podcast (one of my deep house faves whose company on my travels last summer inspired nenahýbejte se z oken
), as our decaying rychlík glided around the neverending plains, with the lights of Budapest still glaring at me 100 kilometers distant, and the faraway streetlights from the parallel motorway just seeming to stay as still as the many visible stars, like a backdrop to a SNES game. Momentarily we seemed to be stopping as the sooty Rothko painting was marred by a house or factory, a level crossing, a buzzing network of sidings and having cleared these, we sped up again, hurtling towards the Serbian border at the usual speed which made sleep relatively impossible.
I lived out the zombie train experience until our first stop, when I joined Jitka in our luckily empty compartment to lie on the second row of seats. Flickering shut-eye was all I managed until the second stop. The third stop was the border station Kelebia, where we were both aroused sharply to seated position by the Hungarian police. Half an hour
Cathedral at dusk
while recharging our dying strains of energy
later came the Serbian police at Subotica, signalling that we had left the EU. The process was, as ever, longer than it should've been. Jitka fell back to sleep while I listlessly watched the culprit, a Brazilian national without a visa, being led off the train by police as we pulled away into the depths of former Yugoslavia.
I woke again to find the sun rising over a colossal industrial unit in a town called Vrbas. We sat with our heads lolling from side to side and unable to say much for the remaining hour or so, after which we and a few Exit festival earlybirds filed off the train at Novi Sad, fresh and ready to be inspired
perhaps, but first of all, ready for a coffee and some insect repellent. We found a 24 hour pharmacy near the station, and got into a slavic mish-mash conversation with the rather crazy old shopkeeper, who when finding out we'd come from Czech Republic, told us to "be careful" as "some Czech tourists were killed in a car crash in Subotica last week".
We hadn't realised we were coming to Novi Sad a few days before Exit festival was
due to start (the fortress where it's held would become open to campers the next evening), and after we had found a decently priced hostel bed, which we feared the festival would make difficult, we saw this as a good thing - it meant the city was full of people and full of energy.
We first crossed over to the other side of the Danube to see the Petrovaradin fortress, as it was being all buffed up for the festival, scattered with staging staff and equipment. We enjoyed a drink and a ridiculously sized plate of fried cheese and chips (which was supposedly a "starter" and thus cost roughly £5) in an outdoor restaurant on the terrace, and then walked around the fortress enjoying the view from all around. Serbia is a fair bit hillier than Hungary, and the Danube here is enormous, making its faraway reaches in Vienna and Bratislava seem like an elongated puddle.
We wanted to try and stay out until the evening, but we were simply too tired after the zombie train the evening before, and needed a siesta. Our hostel was undergoing an inner refurbishment (down to replastering the walls) so every time
The communal areas of our hostel building all looked like this
we entered and left we felt somewhat intrusive. We left again in the evening to go and explore "štrand", a huge beach on the river lined with beer gardens and music, and what seemed to be a basketball tournament. A few beers in the sun was ideal since we were really both too tired to do anything too active. As for Serbian beer, we enjoyed the rather cutely named "Nikšičko" best. The ubiquitous "Jelen" I only reccommend if you're very thirsty or for breakfast. This place is definitely worth a visit in summer, especially if you want to walk around shirtless or in looser clothes, which is supposed to be generally considered indecent around Serbian cities, even in extreme heat.
We had really underestimated how much we would spend in Novi Sad however, despite getting a good price at the hostel, and we were pretty low on funds. So, we went to the city park to enjoy our last 2 bottles of Soproni (away from the eyes of policemen, as drinking in public is illegal here) and then walked through the buzzing night streets of the centre back to the hostel. With only roughly 1500 dinar left between us, tomorrow in Belgrade promises to be a bit of a challenge. But considering it is the capital and that there was a fair bit for two tired, slow people to do in a smaller city, it shouldn't be a problem.
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