Serbia, the country with an incredibly complex past. And #51 for me!

Europe » Serbia » North » Novi Sad
April 19th 2015
Published: April 21st 2015
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I'm so enjoying this holiday; not only is Hippie a wonderful traveling companion, but it's been educational and relaxing and just plain fun. I really wanted to experience a river cruise to better sell it moving forward, and being able to explore destinations I've not yet traveled to made this itinerary that more appealing to me. I also enjoyed exploring Hungary even more; my father is Hungarian and I feel that my roots are here; despite being born and raised Canadian. Being in Hungary reminds me of my grandmother, and her cooking, the decorations in her house and just the sights and smells; I'm sure it's more of an emotional response but it just makes me happy (if that makes sense.) We have now crossed over into Serbia, a country that I have much to learn about; but have been very interested in since working with Wolf, my boss at Trafalgar.

We had opted to do the optional excursion this day; so we were off the boat shortly after breakfast in Novi Sad. For those that didn’t join us (49 of us did on 2 coaches so very relaxing and spacious) they cruised on down the river, had a specialist talk about the Balkans and met up with us in Belgrade to do the city tour, again showing that Avalon gives options that works for everyone.

It ended up being a full day from 8:30 until almost 5pm, and was worth every minute. Our local guide was incredible, and literally a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge. I joked with Hippe that we learned the entire history of Serbia (being part of Yugoslavia, the multiple changing of hands, communism, invasions etc) in 7 hours and I can barely remember any of it! They did admit that they sucked at fighting back to their oppressors as they were occupied several times, and are hoping for peace now. Some people want to be part of the EU, some do not, but you can see mistrust on many people’s faces here, just wary, like they’ve been through a lot (which of course they have). Lonely Planet says “Serbia is a small but hugely misunderstood country…. it is also a fractious nation with many unresolved historical issues.”

We started off with a coach orientation tour, including driving by the “Gibraltar on the Danube” a 40 m high volcanic slab known as the Petrovaradin Citadel, built from 1692 to 1780 by slaves, of which many died due to the unsafe working conditions. Saw bridges, old and new, beautiful beaches (for being inside of a city), lots of green space, yet another city square. That’s one thing about North America (or at least Canada) that I wish we did. Many European and Latin American cities have a main square where often there is a church, local parliament and other important buildings are, and everyone uses it as a meeting point, a centre base. Often they are very beautiful, with benches, green space, fountains and nice architecture. I wish that we did that; we make some attempts but IMHO it’s weak in comparison.

We toured through Novi Sad; saw the Orthodox Cathedral, main square, other buildings then went to a charming town called Sremski Karlovci (Say that with marbles in your mouth and wine in your belly) where everything was small, cute, and just charming! One very interesting fact is for a while Serbia had 5 official languages; Serbian/Hungarian/Russian/Slovacian/Romanian (and we complain about 2!) We then went to a family run vineyard just outside of it; where we met this most adorable cat who was sitting on the (low) fence and greeting everyone as we walked in. I went up to her and she head butted me, so we did that back and forth for 6-7 times before I got called to go do the tour! She meowed and purred and obviously loved the attention!

This family (like many in the area) have been doing bee farming/production and was one of the main 'inventors' of successful bee keeping and honey production in the area. There was a small museum in their house on this - with some original bee farms/hives, electromagnetic way to get the poison from their stingers to be used for medicinal purposes (I had to google that and apparently it is a good anti-inflammatory and joint pain) and saw the development of the business.

Then the best part: we went upstairs (after petting the cat again!) and had wine tasting. I have noticed that each country we've been to does produce wine; truthfully I've found most of them too sweet for me, however this one gave us 3 red, 3 whites, and 2 desert wines plus 3 different honey tastings. Well perhaps it was the 5th and 6th glasses, but I thought they were marvelous so I went to the conveniently located 'gift shop' (closet) on the way out to see how expensive they were. I then had a most painful experience watching the owner try to communicate with individuals who simply didn't understand much of anything. $4 Euros for the wine. Um, how much is the wine? $4 euros. Well what is that in American dollars? What kind of change will you give me? Sorry how much is the wine again? What's this (holding up a candle made from beeswax) and can I eat it? (sigh). SO I helped as best I could to expedite it, and when he got to me I spit off my order in like 4 seconds; he grinned and gave it to me and away I went. 2 bottles of wine (Cab Sav '09 and Merlot '08 plus sesame honey {sorry Selena}, and enough change to tip our local guide - all for $20Euro. SCORE

We were then taken for lunch at a fancy hotel; they were not forewarned we were both vegan so that was a bit entertaining. But I will say they tried very hard to accommodate and we left happy. Afterwards we continued on to Belgrade where we had our included city tour - it's a big city that shows its devastation of the NATO bombings; we drove past the old military headquarters and both buildings were bombed horrifically; but they city has not taken them down yet as a reminder, which didn't make complete sense to me. But it's an incredibly hilly city; (would give San Francisco a run for it's money) and I was actually quite glad we were on the coach as even the up and down on that was impressive. Lots of beautiful buildings, and trying to understand the history of Serbia is mind boggling. Our guide as I mentioned was incredible; but my brain was beyond full with dates and invasions, and wars and everything else, not to say I didn't enjoy it fully; but sadly I can't recount a lot right now. (in other words if you want history try google ;-) !) Lots of beautiful buildings (I know I said that already but it's worth repeating) and many museums. Was so interesting seeing a combination of ornate buildings, bombed out buildings, communism styled living quarters and modern day high rises; very eclectic and a bit of an oxymoron as well.

We got back to the ship just in-time for a surprise; a string quartet was performing for us! They were absolutely wonderful; a cello, 2 violins and one viola. They played Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahams and even a couple jazz pieces at the end that just had us grinning from ear to ear. So wonderful; Hippie bought one of their CD's he was so tickled with it - I loved every minute, such a wonderful thing for Avalon to add to the adventure!

Needless to say by the time dinner was over I was done. We came back to our room around 9:30 and next thing we were watching a movie on TV. Which for me is simply so strange as I never watch TV or movies on vacation; but honestly it was the perfect ending to a wonderful day and slipped off into blissful sleep afterwards! MORE PHOTOS BELOW......

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