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Published: August 7th 2018
After plenty of relaxing at Matkar we were ready to get on the road again and cross the border into Serbia. We had a pretty long drive but as always were taking the smaller roads and driving through villages most of the way which made it much more enjoyable. When we arrived at the border there was a huge queue and we prepared ourselves for another over the top search but amazingly we sailed through without even a sideways glance! Once we had crossed the border we headed in the rough direction of Niš and found a lovely higgledepigglede village with wooden or mud houses and lots of farms. There were some locals sitting in the shade of a tree and we began a very humorous game of shirades trying to ask them if we could stay the night. They happily agreed and showed us to a spot where we could park up. One of the locals even invited us into his house to fill up our water bottles and have a wash, he also snapped off a huge cucumber growing in his garden and gave it to us. Luckily we had just been to the supermarket and so we had some beers with us which we took to the tree and shared with them. They were all so keen to talk to us but unfortunately we could only manage small easy conversations about how old we were and where we had come from. Still, it was nice sitting with them and hanging out. We went on a walk around the tiny village and it was as if people had never seen strangers in their village before, maybe they hadn’t, but everyone had eyes on stalks watching us as we walked by! As we sat outside our car that evening we watched the villagers collecting their animals and herding them through the village to the stables. We went to bed quite early that night due to the long drive but were rudely awoken at 12:30 by some police. We came out of the van bleary eyed and guessing they would move us on. In fact they just wanted to know why we were in the village to which we replied “camping” and then what our plans were tomorrow, after that they smiled, apologised for waking us and left.
We got up early, said goodbye to the cucumber man and made our way to Niš. We parked near to the local flea market which was happening and had a gooooood browse of all the goodies. There were heaps of old electronics and clothes, piles of antiques, army stuff, food stands, shoes, kitchen items, you name it, it was here. Char found a lovely patterned shirt which cost the princely sum of £1.20 and then we moved onto explore further. As with any big city we seem to visit it was a bit, meh. There was a nice looking old fortress with posters up for a jazz festival the following week, darn, but not much else we were interested in. We went for coffee and to buy something to eat and then headed on foot out of the main centre and towards the local market for some fresh fruit and veg. It was a hive of activity in the market and lots of people had amazing food on show. We were spoilt for choice and ended up buying lots of lovely bits and bobs for dinners. We then walked back through a street of second hand shop and Jack also found a crazy shirt for £1.20! With that, it was time to leave and we motored on down more country lanes and tiny villages. Both of us felt like we didn’t want another day in the car and were eager to stop and go for a walk. We stopped at a village called Ribarê and checked the map to see how far we had got. The downside of beautiful drives are that the roads are terrible and we had made next to no progress through Serbia. We went walking and were talking about sacrificing the country lanes for some toll roads in order to make some ground. We wanted to get into the culture and meet the villagers and see rural life but apart from yesterday’s limited conversations we hadn’t found it easy. Ok, plan made, tomorrow we will take the motorways. No sooner had we made this plan and got out our uke and drawing stuff than a man appeared through the bushes. He asked us where we were from and if we would like to come and park our car for the night on his land. We followed him along a lane and through a ford up to the most beautiful farm house we had seen. There was every type of crop growing in the garden, flowers everywhere and he encouraged us to sit at the table in the garden with him. His wife appeared with a bowl of honey, two spoons and two glasses of water. What the hell are we supposed to do with this? We gestured putting the honey in the water but they said no just eat, it was delicious, made by their own bees. Pause... “Rakija?!”, how could we say no. Meodragg poured us all a glass of Rakija and after cheers (Strivelli) we both necked ours in one assuming traditions were the same as Vietnam. Meodragg and his wife stared in disbelief, “no, no! Little little”, oops, this was a sipping Rakija, and very delicious it was too. Also home made from plums. We sipped more Rakija, granny even joined us for a glass, and we chatted in the small English they could understand, he then took us around his farm encouraging us to pick anything we liked the look of as we went. He had 8 cows and a calf, 15 sheep, a family of cats and kittens, and a hug fat pig. They said they needed to milk the cows at 7pm and we agreed to help but before that we were given fresh bread, tomatoes and cheese to gorge on. The milking was pretty tricky business but we managed to get a jug each. Luckily they did have a small machine so we didn’t need to do it all by hand. We sat back out in their garden showing them photos of our travels and they showed us pictures of their daughters wedding last year. Char drew them a picture of their cows to say thank you and jack serenaded them on uke. Their village had lost power that evening and so we were able to repay them in a small way by making coffees for everyone in the van. Then before we knew what was happening a bed had been made up in the spare room and we had been given fresh towels to stay the night and shower! We had lovely hot showers and then returned into the kitchen and two more people had arrived. Meodraggs brother and son, who thankfully could speak English. We had more drinks and translated all of our confusing conversations from the day. The sons name was Alexandra and he told us that we should visit a spa in the village in the morning and then meet him and his friends in the afternoon to go to a local restaurant and go fishing. Obviously we accepted his plan, we couldn’t believe how lucky this day had turned out. Such wonderful people and what amazing hospitality, finally an authentic experience of Balkan life. All this just as we were deciding to stop going in the villages, we snuggled down in our real beds all washed from a HOT shower very happy indeed.
We awoke in our Serbian farmhouse wonderland around 8:30. For us this was early, not for anyone else in the house! We made our way through to the kitchen/diner and there was Granny and Meodraggs wife sitting with hot fresh coffee and a banquet of more fresh bread, butter, tomatoes and cheese for us to devour. When Meodragg came in from the farm he even poured us some more Rakija - when in Rome! We couldn’t thank them enough and as planned took Dobby back across the ford and headed to the spa. Only 15 minutes down the road we came to a plush looking place with people outside in 5e gardens with wheelchairs, old school crutches and other people all in white carrying X-rays and notes - this is a nice hospital! We eventually made our way to the spa thanks to some directions and as it was early in the morning the spa was dead, great! There was an outside pool area with jets and jacuzzi baths which we took full advantage of as well as ANOTHER hot shower. 2 in 2 days, this was indeed a rarity! After a couple of hours we made our way back to the farm and Meodragg was waiting for us to take us to have some fish. We were also made aware at this point that it was a Sunday, luckily for us it was a rest for everyone as people here are Orthodox Christians which meant he had the whole day to spend. We climbed into his car and picked up Alexandra, his girlfriend Tamara and their mate Stephan. Stephan could speak English the best and after overcoming his shyness was a god send!
We arrived at the fish restaurant and it looked awesome. There were a few different pools all with different sized brown trout. With decking next to the fish and tables and chairs. They catch and cook the fish there and then for you so it couldn’t get any fresher. The fish was delicious! As well as the Rakija (of course) and side garnish of tomatoes and onion. Jack even managed another half of the trout. The conversation flowed from basics of families and friends all the way to their experience of the war and especially Meodraggs. It was interesting to hear that in their opinion life was good under the dictatorship before the war and before Nationalism overcame everyone. It was also a bit worrying to hear that their is still a lot of unrest between nations and that they wouldn’t be surprised if another conflict was to break out. We had seen and read a lot about the Yugoslavian war but finally we could pick the brains of the people who actually lived it. Despite us insisting they even payed for our meal and drinks. This was a huge gesture as they only came to the restaurant 2 or 3 times a year and for them a lot of money.
After a great meal we all decided to have a stroll to another beautiful bar which had a river running through the middle of it and it was surrounded by forest. This time we made sure that we paid and ordered 2 beers for everyone. We stayed there for another hour or so chatting about all sorts between beer in England, religion, friends, family and of course politics. Alexandra was a keen fisherman claiming to be able to catch trout with his bare hands! Our history of fishing was nowhere near as successful so he invited us to fish with him when we got back. We strolled back to the car after the rain had stopped and when we got back to the car there were more new faces sat outside and more photo albums of there daughter to look through before heading out for a fish. This being a farm we only had to walk down the bottom of the “garden” before finding a good spot. Immediately Char caught one, then Jack afterwards! They were only small and we threw them straight back in but what we would have given to catch fish this easily in New Zealand!
After that it was beer time. We sat in their garden under a tree and supped on some more beers Meodragg had bought us. We helped out peeling the beans for our breakfast the next day (yes they had insisted we stay another night). After another great dinner we then had a showing of 2 of their daughters wedding day videos all the while drinking beer (and Rakija), laughing at everyone on the tape and talking late into the night a bit drunk to say the least! Sadly Alex, Stephan and Tamara had to go before we went to bed. What a day!
The next morning we were definitely not up when everybody else was! Around 9:30 we came into the dining room with only granny for company but another heap of food waiting. We had a generally relaxed morning. Meo was busy farming and had brief chats here and there. He took us up on the top of the hill on his farm and saw the view. We did manage to exchange addresses so we could write to him and his family when we returned to England and just before we left after another wonderful lunch he gave us heaps of stuff! Loads of tomatoes, peppers, cheese, butter, corn and a beautiful dried pork leg which tasted divine. We couldn’t thank him enough and as our translators were away we tried to portray this as best we could. Reluctantly we headed off in the direction of Kapoanic. This was recommended to us and after a bit of a drive we arrived. It was high in the mountains with the tallest peak being around 2000m. The main draw of this place was skiing in the winter. We’d seen a lot of ski resorts in the Balkans and normally they were smaller and older compared to the ones in Western Europe but this one was modern and had enough slopes to keep you interested. The restaurants, hotels and other buildings were all designed for this and definitely had the alpine finishes with wooden balconies and cladding. As it’s summer now there was no snow (shock) so we had a small stroll around the town and it’s surrounding hills before stopping for a drink over looking the centre. We headed off after a while in search for a spot which was pretty decent. Just off the road into a small wooded area where nobody could see us but for us a lovely view of the mountains and valley below - sweet as.
That night was pretty uneventful apart from Wolves! Well we thought anyway....
As we were going to bed Char heard a low woofing sound and as it was pitch black and we were well informed of the wolves in the mountains we ran into the van and locked it tight. As we were sleeping we could hear and feel something around the van. When we woke up the “wolf” had slept under our car and to our pleasant surprise a cute dog no older than 2, we thought, sat looking up at us and licking our hands trying to get into the van! We had morning coffee with him sat by us in the sunshine. As we felt guilty and he was a cutey we gave him some beans for his breaky. As we drove off for the day he even followed us a short way before deciding against it when we got onto the main road. We had a lot of driving to get through as we were now on the way to Sarajevo in Bosnia. On the way we stopped off for some WiFi as Jack wanted to see if there was any possibility of white water rafting. Unfortunately after searching and searching only reasonable place would have been too far out of our way as we’re nearly due home! We then decided to change tact and head for a place called Mokra Gora, a few kms from the border between Serbia and Bosnia. We had no idea before we arrived but there was a pretty famous train station there where centuries ago it had paved the way to Yugoslavia being more easily accessed as the tunnels were dug through mountains which was pretty impressive back in the day. We had a short stroll around before getting some supplies and finding another awesome spot just around the back of the village where there was a clear fresh running river and the perfect place to sit and have a few bevvies with our kindles.
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