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My stay in Pirot, Serbia in June 2010


After my first Facebook encounter with a Serbian I wanted to know more about the country and try to meet people in all parts of Serbia. I pulled up a map of Serbia and selected towns that I thought might be interesting. I typed the town name into the search feature on Facebook and randomly contacted a few Serbians in Pirot. We quickly struck up a friendship and they offered me a place to stay if I came to visit. After hearing about the income of a few of the families… I was shocked and wondered how they could possibly eat and pay their bills… coming from a state where the average income is $22,000USD a year to hear that some people lived on $250 or less BLEW ME AWAY!!!!! I would spend that much on a drunken, party weekend!

The day came when I was to leave Zrenjanin for Pirot.  My buddy told me he would drive me from Zrenjanin to Pirot so I didnt have to take the bus down there. I loved the idea. We picked up two of our buddies and headed off around 12pm. He had a little, red Opal that ran off of butane. We got to Belgrade and it started raining very hard. His windshield wiper on the drives side stopped working and he had to stick his arm out the window to try to correct it so we could see. He finally got it to functioning and we were on the interstate south of Belgrade. The car started acting up and he had to pull over along the interstate. Thank God his father owns a car parts place and he knows a lot about cars. He found some wire and was able to rig it to where it worked! We sat there along the interstate and smoked and had a pivo. We continued on our route. The further we got the more beautiful it became… There were many hills, streams, mountains, flowers and trees ALL OVER!!! We entered many tunnels that were cut through the mountains… 

We got to the BEAUTIFUL town of Nis and decided to crash for the night. We found a hotel that was 10,000 dinars a night for two rooms and we took it.. My friends said it was expensive but to me it was a good deal. We walked to the fortress and sat by this beautiful river that ran beside our hotel. We didn’t get to spend as much time as I liked in Nis. The next morning we were off again. The entrance into Pirot was remarkable… one of the first things I remember seeing was the Pirot Fortress that was built in  the 14th century…..It was a beautiful entrance to a BEAUTIFUL city!!! We arrived a little after noon. We parked and walked to the center of town. they had a beautiful fountain and lots of little shops, bars, and cafes. We sat down for a pivo and called my buddies from Pirot. They arrived a few minutes later and greeted my Zrenjanin buddies. I remember one of my Zrenjanin buddies saying ” I can’t even understand these guys!” ahahahha… My Pirot friends were very kind. My Zren buddies left us and they took me to their homes. Their mothers were both home along with grandparents. They were AMAZING!! They had a large meal prepared for me along with some rakija! I stayed for several days and was able to see many amazing things. Pirot is known for its Pirot handmade carpet or rugs…the symbol on the left… resembles the city crest. The rugs are of great quality and sold all through out the Balkans. We visited the tourist center in downtown Pirot and saw many amazing, old artifacts and one of the first two story homes in the Balkans that was owned by a trader.  One of my first impressions of the main street was the gaudy, pink and other brightly colored  buildings. The color was HIDEOUS and looked out of place for such beautiful architecture ! We walked the whole city and experienced many great little pubs and bars in the center! I noticed people in south Serbia were interested in getting to know strangers. They were very open, kind and curious! It seemed that every club or bar I walked into people would come up to speak to you. That is a bit of change coming from the USA. It is not that common that most strangers come up to speak to you if they don’t know you. They also have a beautiful river that runs right through the city with rows of trees running along side it. It is a very relaxing and peaceful atmosphere! Great for a picnic or a place to lay down and read a book…We spent many great days and nights walking beside this beautiful river. I remember Pirot being the first place in Serbia that i noticed their odd way of posting obituaries of the dead on every post or wall in town. They also show a picture of all the dead on their tombstone.

The mothers in Pirot treated me like a son! It amazed me! On one occasion I had went off with some guys I didn’t know. One of the mothers asked her son to go find me. He found me with some guys and called him mom. She started crying and told him to bring me home IMMEDIATELY! I went with him and he translated that she was worried because the guys I was drinking with had ties to the mafia!!! It was like I was her son or family! It amazed me that they would care that much for a stranger.

The next day we went off with this Bulgarian/Serb. He had a nice little car and wanted to take me to this Orthodox monastery that was up in the woods..We had to drive way up into the mountains on many winding , tree covered roads. We had to park a km from the monastery because it is secluded and back off the open road. You had to cross through a forest and over a little bridge with a beautiful stream. We arrived at the opening and I had a sleeveless shirt on. You are not allowed to enter without having your arms covered. There was a box of shirts beside the entrance. I slipped one on and we entered the grounds. The lawn was neatly trimmed and they had a garden with vegetables and a living quarters to the right of the monastery. We walked to the monastery and entered. It was creepy for me. It was the first one I had ever entered. It was dark, chilly and had little candles burning in a little section. I heard monks chanting and then a priest came to us and spoke. My friends told him I was American and he was very kind. He wanted to know what I knew about Orthodox religion and offered to tell me anything I wanted to know. He asked if I wanted to light a candle for anyone. The top section was to light a candle for someone living and the bottom was for the dead. I declined because I am not religious and hoped to not offend him. He was very respectful and nothing like I had pictured an Orthodox priest. My friends burned their candles and we left. Great experience.. The monastery had many old paintings on the ceiling and walls.

My last night in Pirot I had to DEMAND to stay in a hotel. I wanted a little time alone and to relax. I met so many great people in town that a few of them heard where I was staying. They called the hotel at 2AM and wanted me to come to their house to drink some pivo and rakia. I accepted and went to their house. We had a great time! We listened to music, drank pivo, talked and got to know each other very well.. The sun started coming up and since I was to leave Pirot at 2PM that day my friends wanted to take me to this lake that was very close to Pirot. It was Lake Zavojsko.

We left his house around 5am … just as the sun started to rise. We had a lot of pivo and a bottle of rakija. Only one of the kids had a car so we walked to his house to get it. It wasnt far from theirs. We got to his car and I had never seen such an old car that would run. It was a Lada.. They are a Russian made car that are not much to look at but are very durable. It was a baby blue color and he told us we would have to push it to start it.. it had rained the previous evening and the roads in Pirot were not the best. There were many holes and lots of water in the streets. We all get behind it and push . It finally starts and we all get in… We had all had a lot of pivo and probably shouldnt have been driving but that is life. The trip to the lake took about 20 or 30 minutes. We passed some beautiful scenery and many curvy, windy roads with pine trees dominating the landscape. This car had to be pushed to start but once it was going it got up to some high speeds or so it seemed. My friend was driving like a madman. I was a little drunk but still nervous at the rate of speed he took the curves. We somehow made it. Once we stopped and got out I was instantly in love!!! It was a HUGE lake with hills and trees on all sides of it. We watched some old fisherman for a bit, drank more pivo and walked down the back of this hill.. There was a waterfall going over some rocks and my friends told me to drink it. I said “HELL No!” They all drank from it like it was nothing and said it was some of the cleanest water in the Balkans. It was one place I MUST return for a camping trip. It is someplace anyone could have a great time. It will lower your blood pressure by at least 20 points!!!

To sum it up…. Pirot was one AMAZING little town that had some of the most friendly, funloving people I had ever encountered. It doesn’t get a lot of tourist activity but it should!!!!!! It is cheap, fun and filled with AWESOME Serbs that love to share what they have!!!!

 

 

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Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Through my eyes

 

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Tip # 7…. You MUST experience a Slava!!!!


 

Prior to visiting Serbia….. if anyone would have asked me what the word SLAVA meant… i would have said ” a slavic woman”. I would have been totally wrong. Serbia is country where 85-90% of the population is Orthodox Christian. They have some very unique traditions and beautiful churches and monasteries spread all over this beautiful country.

Slava or Krsna slava is the celebration of the home patron saint. It is one of the  greatest characteristics of the national and religious lives of the Serbian people. It is an exclusively Serbian custom and is one of the most important days of the year for most Serbian families. Slava is actually the celebration of the spiritual birthday of the Serbian people. It is based on the day their ancestors first accepted Christianity. Their saint is a “protector of their home”. They pass the saint down from father to son. There are many, many saints but some of the most common are “nikoljdan” or Saint Nicholas, “jovanjdan” or Saint John, “djurdjevdan” or Saint George, and St Sava … the slava of Serbian Schools…etc…. there are hundreds of them…..

A Slava celebration is most similar to our Thanksgiving day feast. They do have some differing customs depending on the household. Some of the requirements of a slava are :

  1. picture or icon of the patron saint
  2. lighted candle or “slavska svijeca”-reminds them that Christ is the “light of the world”
  3. wheat or “zito” usually grown in a small bowl- represents the death and resurrection of Christ.
  4. slava bread or cake or “svlaski hlejb ili svlaski kolac”- represents Christ as the bread of life.
  5. red wine- represents Christs blood

There are different customs depending on the household. Some celebrate with apples floating in wine or rakia and they try to catch them with their mouths. Also the slava bread is broken and each guest is given a piece. Most slavas are a three day event. The majority of Slavas are held during the winter months. There is a saying “where the Serb is, Slava is also”

The first Slava I attended was an amazing and an experience i will never forget.  The customary greeting when entering the home is ” cestitamo  vam Krsnu Slavu” or “greetings on your patron saints day”…I noticed a bowl of wheat growing on the table and many, many different kinds of food strung about the table. Sarma is one of my favorites. It is soured cabbage rolled up around meat, rice and other ingredients. It is also customary to bring a gift…. exp bottle of wine or flowers.. Don’t eat prior to attending the slava because you will be expected to try everything and that is A LOT!!! We also had live music at my friends home. It is a very unique, special and memorable celebration that you can always treasure! IT IS A MUST WHEN VISITING SERBIA!!!!!!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Uncategorized, When in Serbia

 

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