I spent 19 days in Serbia and spent an average of $38 per day. I visited 6 different places – Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Tara National Park, Nis, and Vrsac. There wasn’t too much that I missed out on that I would have liked to see, but I’d love to return to Tara to camp and see more of the sights there. The highlights were the food (although I got sick of meat after just a few days!), the language, the people, and the history.
The best way to get to Romania from Belgrade is to take a bus to Vrsac on the Serbian side of the border and then a train to Timisoara in Romania. Since I had to stop in Vrsac anyway, I decided to take advantage of my new tent and do some camping there before crossing the border. The small, extremely green mountain range just outside the city is perfect for a day or two of trekking, well-marked and easily accessible. Camping is allowed in most of the area.
The city of Niš in Serbia is full of tremendous historical sites spanning hundreds of years. The city is the proud birthplace of Roman emperor Constantine I and tourists can visit the 4th century site of Mediana, where the remains of the palace and some churches have been found. Although not extraordinarily impressive on its own, when coupled with a visit to the National Museum in town a visitor can get an impression of what life was like for the Romans.
National Park Tara is a nearly 50,000 acre mountainous hiking and camping spot near the Bosnian border. I spent two days staying at Hotel Omorika (about 17 euro for a single room a night and includes breakfast and dinner) at the edge of the park and went on a few lovely hikes. I saw a fire salamander, great views of the gorges in the area, and loads of gorgeous flowers.
It turns out that the bus system in Serbia is not as extensive as I had hoped, and accurate information about schedules and destinations is extremely difficult to obtain. As a result, I found myself in the small resort town of Zlatibor en route to Tara National Park because that was the most convenient place I could get to from Belgrade. I took advantage of my day there by hiking and seeing some of the local sights. Although the mountains don’t quite rival the Andes, they were certainly a pleasant respite from the massive cities I’d been in for the previous few weeks.
An easy half hour bus ride from Novi Sad, Sremski Karlovci is a lovely little town which offers access to national park Fruska Gora. The park is supposedly an expansive hiking spot, but in the boiling August heat physical exertion was a bit out of the question. Instead, a NYC friend and I hired a private taxi driver to take us on a tour of the monasteries in the area. The very helpful tourist office in town helped us to arrange it.
I have to admit that I am not a huge architecture buff and I normally don’t go out of my way to learn a terrible lot about the buildings or what period or style they were built in. I certainly never remember an architect’s name. But when I got to Szeged in Hungary, then Subotica in Serbia, and I kept hearing about Art Nouveau, I knew I had to learn a bit about it. Luckily, the tourist information offices in both Szeged and Subotica have published self-guided walking tours that are informative and easy to follow.
In a nutshell, Art Nouveau flourished in this area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Szeged was stricken by a massive flood in 1879 and Emperor Francis Joseph promised to rebuild it “more beautiful than it was before”. The resulting efforts took a cue from European architects and artists who believed that industrial development was negatively impacting beauty. Therefore, they tried to instill art and tradition into everyday life. This philosophy spilled into Subotica, which at the time was actually part of the same country at Szeged. Hungarians eventually established their own Art Nouveau movement – the Secessionist Period.