I know its been a long time since I last wrote here. I have been on a little expedition in South Serbia!! I promise I will get better! 🙂 Thanks for the messages of thanks and support!
I like to do crazy things. My trip to Nis was totally random. I hit the bus station in Krusevac at 3PM on Friday, April 30th. I just walked up to the window and looked at the schedule. There was a bus leaving for Nis at 3:50PM and I chose that one! I have a lot of buddies there and thought it would be nice to surprise them. Nis is said to be the 3rd largest city in Serbia with around 250,000 people. If you ask some locals they will tell you they are larger than Novi Sad because Novi Sad includes the surrounding village populations in their numbers. This was not my first visit to Nis. I was here for one night in 2010. We pulled in late and got a hotel room but didn’t get a chance to check out the sites on that visit.
The one hour bus ride from Krusevac to Nis was great! I had my own seat, the window was clean and easy to see out of. The landscape in South Serbia is very beautiful! You see many hills, trees, crops being tended and land being plowed by hand! I noticed many old folks bending over tending their soil on their small plot of land! You don’t see many tractors but people doing it with hoes and rakes.
It was a nice sunny afternoon when I arrived into the Nis bus station. A guy sitting a few seats away came up to me when the bus pulled into the station. He had overheard me speaking English and wanted to know if I needed any help finding anything in Nis. He was half Serb/ half Aussie. He moved here with his mom about 5 years ago. It was nice to hear that Aussie accent that I grew to love while in Australia in 96 and 02! I gladly accepted his offer because I knew nothing about this town and had no idea where I would stay. His friend met him there and they walked me through the center of town stopping at a few hostels. The first two were sold out because of some cooking competition that was being held that Saturday. They continued to walk me to different hostels. They finally found one that was secluded but a few minutes from the center of Nis. I grabbed their hands and thanked them for taking the time out of their day to assist me! It is always refreshing to find good people! The great thing is… i seem to bump into good people all the time!!! 🙂 Knock on wood!!!
I went into the hostel and chatted with the young lady.The name was the ART HOSTEL. She said ” You are the first American to ever stay here!” Her father wanted me to send them a little USA flag when I get home. I have to remember that! The upstairs room was perfect. It had two beds but if you pay 1400 Dinars you got the whole room to yourself. I put my things away and went on a walk! I still had not informed my buddies that I was here! I brought my little laptop with me and set off.
The city has such a small town feel to it. You wouldn’t know it had over 200K people by looking! There isn’t a lot of traffic noise, congestion and LARGE groups of people like in similar sized cities I have been in. I stopped the first under 30 person I found. I asked him if he spoke English and how to get to the center of town. He told me that he was going that way and to follow him. He was curious about my accent. I told him I was American and he was really shocked. He had never spoken to an American before. He walked me to the walking district and we went our separate ways.
The center of Nis is AWESOME!! There are hundreds of little shops, cafes, food shops on every corner, a couple large malls, banks etc. I sat down at the first cafe that had internet and messaged my buddies on Facebook that I was in Nis! They were very surprised! Dejan, Marko and Mimi made plans to meet me at FloCafe at 8PM. The guys showed up at 8PM. I had sat there and drank a few drinks while waiting on them. They were tall and very social guys!! I had never met them in person but chatted with them on Facebook many times. It is always great to put a real face with your Facebook buddies! It seemed as if I had known them my whole life! They were very polite, well mannered, funny and personable. We discussed everything from politics to women. I got up to use the restroom and came back to find that Marko had paid my bill! I was angry because I had not expected it and it was around 900 Dinars and that is a lot for a young university student with no income! They, more or less, told me to “SHUT UP!” They were honored to do it.
We made plans for the following day! They told me of all the things to see in Nis! I never dreamed there were so many things! Marko had a date that night and we parted ways. Mimi and Dejan took me to this new football stadium that was being built. It was still under construction but kids go in there and sit in the bleachers and drink beer. We bought some pivo and chilled out in the open air! We discussed everything imaginable! We drank our fill and decided we had better be off to bed. They walked me back to my hostel. They owners left for the night and told me to go around to the side door. The hostel was empty besides me. I turned on the tv and was quickly asleep.
We met the next morning around 11AM. They decided the first thing to do was show me the fortress. It is located beside this little river. It is so beautiful! The look of the old stone fortress is awe inspiring! It is hard to describe the sensations I get by looking at all that history!
They took me to a little memorial outside of the fortress. It was a little gazebo with three stone tablets in it. They were inscribed with the names of all the Nis citizens that were killed in the NATO bombing raids in 1999. It is very sad to see the effects of your countries military decisions. We made a quick video and then walked into the fortress.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XQUq7cVskI
There are 4 or 5 cafes and a dance club inside the fortress. One of them is located inside the old Turkish bathhouse. We walked along this little walkway towards the center of the fortress. The surroundings are amazing. There are little benches along the path with many people sitting there enjoying the day. There is a lot of grass that is neatly trimmed, flowers and bushes. We came upon this old Turkish mosque that has been turned into an art exhibit hall. The great thing about the Serbs is they didn’t destroy the Turkish churches and historic sites like the Turks did to the Serbs.
The guys were telling me that Nis was the birthplace of Roman emperor Constantine! I had no idea!! There are some very old ruins from Roman times and then we found this old cemetery!!! WOW!! I was in awe!!! There were about 15 or 20 old tombstones that were in great shape! You could make out the Latin inscriptions and carvings of animals and faces. I never dreamed this stuff was still around! We made another video and by this time it was spitting rain! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEPRlge5EeA
They took me to the edge of the fortress that overlooked the river. There is an outdoor theater with around 150 chairs that they showed me. It is used in the summer for outdoor plays and such. BEAUTIFUL!! There are some places you can large portions of the city. We were standing on the edge of the fortress looking down into the river and we saw a wagon of gypsies ride past with their horses. My friends always find my fascination with Gypsies.. odd!!! hahaha.
The concentration camp was next on our agenda. It was located not far from my friends home. We got there in the afternoon and we were the only ones there. It was 150 dinars to enter and my friends didnt want to enter because they had been there a few times. The guide spoke perfect English and entered with me. The whole surrounding camp gives off this depressing, scary feeling. When you enter the 3 story housing complex it is even worse. The camp is called “RED CROSS or FEB 12” That was the date it was liberated from the Germans. The guide walked me through every room. One room was the main residence and sleeping quarters. He said it housed around 100 inmates in this room and they slept on straw. Ughhh.. The next floor was devoted to the women and children that were killed in the camp. One in particular broke my heart. It was a pregnant mother that entered the camp. She gave birth to her child in the camp and afterwards they shot her in the head and killed the baby. The Nazis didn’t discriminate in this camp. They killed women, men, children, Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies all equally.They said the camp was responsible for over 12,000 deaths. One other room was filled with many pictures from the local school children in Nis. They were told to paint a picture about how they saw life in a camp. Very sad images! The top floor was for “special prisinors”. The ones the Nazis really despised. They had a number of small cells that had the floor completely covered in barbed wire and the prisoners were forced to sleep on it. This room gave me goosebumps. It was dark, lined with small cell doors, gray dreary walls and it was chilly. I imagined all the sick and dastardly deeds that were committed in there. That camp was one the most memorable things I have experienced. I think everyone should go to a camp like that to see what mankind is capable of!
We had walked many kilometers and were tired and hungry! I started to develop a TERRIBLE case of heartburn! We arrived at the home of Mimi and his family! They live in a large apartment complex. He introduced me to his mother and father! They were some of the nicest people in Serbia! It is rare to find a parent that speaks English but his mother is a pro!!! She said she hadn’t spoken English in 10 or 15 years but was able to communicate with me! She was so eager to feed us and make us happy! My heartburn was really out of control. I was trying to remember what I had ate prior to our days adventure. The only thing I could remember was a raznic. It is a sandwich with chicken bits that are wrapped in bacon. I put lots of onion on it and think that was the cause! His mom made a huge meal and I ate as much as possible! It was delicious but i was limited!!! I decided I better go back to my hostel and lay down. The guys walked me home and I laid down for the night!!! It had been a great, exciting and memorable 1st day in Nis!!!
More to come……..