"A Serbian Adventure" David_Browne's Profile


I'm not one for beach holidays, sitting around getting sunburnt. I much prefer discovering new places and when an opportunity came up to visit Serbia a few months after it was bombed by NATO forces, I jumped at the chance.
Novi Sad is a city about 50km north of Belgrade and was not so involved in the conflict as areas further south. But it had bridges over the River Danube and they were blown up in 1999.
A concrete suspension bridge that used to carry the main road to Belgrade is being repaired now. The road way sections have been cleared from the river and shipping can get through.
There are big changes now in Serbia. The motorway between Novi Sad and Belgrade is being repaired and upgraded as part of a transport development called Corridor 10, which will bring traffic from northern and western Europe all the way along the Balkan peninsula to Athens and the 2004 Olympic Games.
Novi Sad's star attraction is a fortress perched on a rock overlooking a bend in the river. It's not just a historical monument, it's a social and recreational centre with bars, a restaurant and hotel, and most of all a colony of artists and craft workshops in the old military barracks. There's also a museum of Serbian military history and a labyrinth of caves and tunnels dug into the rock, though they haven't yet been developed as a tourist attratction. The partisan leader Josef Tito was once imprisonned in the dungeons. The Austrians called it the Gibraltar of the Danube, though its real name is Petrovaradin.
In July the fortress is transformed into the biggest modern music festival in south-east Europe, but possibly the world. Exit 2003 is bigger than Glastonbury, with seven stages for live bands and DJs in various parts of the fortress estate.
Novi Sad was known as the cultural centre of Serbia, which is why the Serbian National Theatre is here rather than in Belgrade. It's a long-established theatre company, though the building is quite modern.
A short drive away from the city centre, past the fortress, brings you into the Fruska Gora national park, an area of woodland on an elongated mountain that was once an island in the Panonian Sea ten or 15 million years ago.
One of the most remarkable things about Fruska Gora is that a number of Serbian Orthodox monasteries are still active in some of the most remote places. Some date back to the 12th century and communities of monks have kept the monaseries alive all that time. They welcome visitors and love to tell the story of Serbian history. Each monastery is a gem of art and architecutre. At Kovilji just off the motorway near Novi Sad, the monks make a potent liqueur called rakija, from apricots and plums, and they continue the custom of painting icons in a special workshop that isn't open to the public though you can get to see their delicate artistry if you are fortunate enough to be invited to spend a few days as a guest of the monks and join in their daily routines. A monastic retreat is a great way to find peace and tranquility away from the stresses of ordinary life or the strain of travelling. And nothing connects a visitor to the history of Serbia quite like the monasteries.

  • Intro Updated Apr 18, 2003
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David Browne
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