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Serbia’s British Friend


kev4What is one thing that can be very annoying about having so many Serbian Facebook friends? Having your inbox flooded with the same info and links on anything that is going on in Serbia. That is how I first heard of Kevin Shannon, the adventurer , who was planning to march all the way across Serbia. There were over 20-30 folks who were sending me something from the local newspapers and tv stations about him and his mission. We had connected over Facebook and he asked me to join in on part of journey. I wish I had taken the opportunity to do so not only for my health, but to experience a little bit of his adventure.

We bumped into each other again the “Exit Festival Global Adventures” tourism conference. I was there to giving a presentation on my social network and blog while he was there to present  “Walk Serbia”. I decided to quiz him with some more detailed questions about his time in Serbia.

1. Where are you from and what do you do?

So: my name is Kevin Shannon and I’m from the UK. Currently I run my own small creative design studio called Chips & Gravy studios

2. How in the world did you get the idea to “walk across Serbia”?
 

I originally visited Serbia the first time in the autumn of 2010 whilst on 10,000 km cycling expedition from the UK to the far end of Turkey and then back again. On that visit to Serbia I completely fell in love with the country and made some great friends. During the 3 to 4 months that I spent in Serbia I spend most my time in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Sabac and Nis. When I returned home I realised that I’d only seen a fraction of Serbia and although I had learnt about the country a little there was still Hell of a lot more to see. So I decided that one day I would return to Serbian  and walk the length of the country.kev2

3. What did you know about Serbia before you came here? 

Before I visited Serbia first time I didn’t really know that much about the country. I had simply drawn a line across Europe and Serbia happened to be on that path. I knew the region was obviously famous for conflicts and I had a they recollection of seeing the NATO bombings on television when I was younger, but that was really it. But as I was cycling through countries before I got to Serbia I was warned that Serbian people what do horrific things to me once I crossed the border. Of course I don’t believe this but when your cycling on your own across Europe these warnings do not fill you with confidence.


4. Prior to visiting Serbia for the first time, give me four words that you would used to describe it…
Unknown, War, Scary, New
5. How long did your walk take?
The walk is actually two walks. The first in February 2013 took me five weeks and during that time I walked from the border with Hungary down to the city of Nis. My second walk was in July 2013 and I walked from south west Serbia back to the north of the country, which also took five weeks.kev1
6. Biggest complication.
The biggest complication was issues from walking with such a heavy pack. My left knee became very sore during the first walk, and during the second walk I had horrific blisters on the sole of one of my feet.
7. Funniest situation.
I was in a small village about 75 km north of Nis, feeling very tired and the little homesick and out of nowhere a group of young kids came up to me with pieces of paper and pencils. The oldest had a hand written note in English which said that they were big fans and have been following my journey in the newspapers. Because they knew my route, they knew I would be passing through the village and so had taken it in turns to keep a eye out for me, just so they could get an autograph – they had been waiting for 3 days.kev5
8. Favorite part of your journey.
The end? No, i’m just kidding. It’s actually very hard to pick a favourite part of the journey because so much happened but if I had to say one thing it was the generous hospitality everybody that i met on the road.
9. How would you compare Serbian food to your normal cuisine back in England? 
Serbian food is very rich with strong flavours, and of course there’s a lot of meat. Which is really the case in England. I guess if I had to make a comparison I would say that Serbian food it’s very much like a traditional English roast dinner that is served in most households every Sunday – however in England you have that once a week  and in serbia you have it almost everyday
10. Did you ever feel threatened or in danger?

I never really felt threatened or in danger, even in small Kafanas in the middle of god knows where surrounded by big, burly Serbian guys. The biggest issue with regards to safety to me was the packs of wild dogs. They were always a concern when I was walking in the mountains or sleeping out at night.kev6

11. What 4 words would you use to describe Serbia after walking from top to bottom and back?

Beautiful, friendly, Great food, my second home 

 

12. Will you return to Serbia? What would you say to someone that is considering a visit to this part of the world?

Without shadow of a doubt I’ll be returning to Serbia – in fact I returned earlier this year for a conference where spoke about my was through Serbia. I already have plans to take my fiance to Serbia,  have my stag party there and maybe one day by small house somewhere where I can spend my summers (not walking)

 

kev7

 13. You have decided to publish a book about this exciting adventure, right? Tell me a little about the project.

OK, So the project was quite simply to walk through Serbia to try and discover the real Serbia. In my original trip to the country i felt i’d only scratched the surface and was intrigued to see more of the country so i set up Walk Serbia. When you look around the internet looking for more info on Serbia you’re met with a lot negativity (except for a few sites included yours) and i decided that i wanted to create a document of my personal journey to not so much counteract the negativity but give a truthful view of a country. Now, don’t get me wrong, i expected it to be a positive trip due to prior experiences but i was open to negativity also – i essentially wanted to create a truthful account of spending 10 weeks tramping around the country. And this is, i hope, what i’ve done.
I’m still in the process of writing the book – i’ve rewritten some chapters 4 times – but i decided that i would set a date (in my head) for it’s release. So now i’ve set up a website – walkserbia.com – which will be the hub for all things to do with the book including, the opportunity to buy the book, perhaps some videos from the road, exclusive photos and information on speaking engagements and a potential book tour. For the moment i’ve thrown up a very simple landing page which has a small blurb about the book and an area to signup to the newsletter which will give you exclusive updates, a free chapter here or there and an exclusive discount on the final book. I set up the newsletter for the reasons i just mentioned, but something amazing happened when i did – i realised just how much interest there was in reading the book; not just from Serbia but from all over the world. Serb’s from Australia, the USA and Canada and even South Africa have sent me messages to tell me they would like to buy copies for friends, families and co-workers which is exciting…and daunting.
My plan for releasing the book was to self-publish and through friends in Serbia distribute the book there and of course here in the UK. But, with the response i’ve had so far i’m not looking at other options. I’m thinking about getting the book translated into Serbian, i’m going to start looking for distributors in the US and Australia AND if the list keeps growing i could have a great opportunity to promote the book to publishers around the world  which will then (if i’ve done my job right) help to give the world a better understanding of Serbia.
Just like the journeys themselves felt like a community – i had people tweeting, facebooking and emailing to help influence what i should visit and where during the walk – the book is starting to feel the same.

 

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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in What others think

 

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Crazy Times in Sabac, Serbia


I have been battling a sickness since my times in Kragujevac, Serbia. I have some nasty yellow liquid coming up from the deep depths of my lungs. UGH!! I am a stubborn guy and hate to breakdown and go the doctor. 🙂

My buddy, Milos, is dating a lady in Sabac, Serbia. He asked me on Saturday night if I would be interested in going with him on Sunday morning. I hadn’t been out of Sremska Mitrovica for a few weeks and told him I would love to.

Milos and I wake up around 9AM. He had just finished swapping engines in an old car for some guy. He got his money and we were off. I looked pretty rough, but didn’t feel like shaving. I had made a Facebook post the night before about my upcoming trip into Sabac. It is always hard to spend time with everyone that I want to see. I looked rough and didn’t want to be seen by a million people. 😉 There were two brothers that were from Brisbane, Australia that contacted me. I agreed to have a drink or two with them when I arrived.

We leave Milos’s house at 11AM. Sabac is only 35KM from Sremska Mitrovica, but it is a nightmare to get there. There is no direct bus or train into Sabac. You have to travel 20+km to Ruma and then take another bus or train to Sabac!

beautiful picture of downtown Ruma, Serbia

beautiful picture of downtown Ruma, Serbia

We want to take the train because it is cheaper, but it doesn’t leave for a few hours. We head to the bus station. It is right across the street from the train station. The bus to Ruma is just pulling out when we arrive. We flag it down and they allow us on. It takes about 20 minutes to get into Ruma. This bus is on its way to Novi Sad so it doesn’t drop us at the main station. We are dropped at the center of Ruma. It isn’t a large town , but DAMN is it long! It takes us about 25 minutes to walk from the center of town to the bus/train station. It is on the outskirts of town and looks like a ghost town. I would hate to walk here at night! There are NO trafficas , stores , bars or anything at the station. We ask the lady at the train station when the next train to Sabac is. She tells us that it had just pulled out! 😦 We go to the bus station and the bus won’t be there for one hour. Milos and I both love our pivo. We walk about 5 blocks down the street to this little shop that has beers! We settle on 4 Lowenbrau beers because they are cheaper than Jelen. They cost 73 Dinars a piece. It is pretty sad that you can buy imported beer cheaper than domestic. We head back to the bus station to wait on the bus.

these are one of the not so nice parts of Serbia. :)

these are one of the not so nice parts of Serbia. 🙂

It always shocks me how you can just sit around in public with a beer. I always feel a bit like a homeless guy for doing it, but I kinda look homeless with my unshaved face, t-shirt, shorts and my Illinois pullover tied around my waste.;) I have to use the rest room and head down the stairs to find it. The letters had fell off both doors. I peak in both bathrooms to try to figure out which one is mens. I notice some urinals and assume I found the right one. 🙂 I walk in and almost knocked over by a horrid smell. The stalls in this bathroom have no toilets, but a hole in the floor! 😦 I hate these disgusting things. I hurry about my business and run back out the door. There are two blonde twin girls standing by our bench. OMG!! I think I am in love! They were amazing. This older guy walks over and asks in a very heavy accent ” Ver are U from?” I tell him I am from Chicago and he tells me that he heard there are hundreds of thousands of Serbs over there. 🙂

We finally get on the bus and head off towards Sabac. We take the back seats and discuss everything from Bosnians, Croatians, to the profitability of opening a bar in a small village. We drive through a village called Hrtkovci. It is a majority Croatian village that is a few km from Sabac. Northern Serbia is diverse. It is really cool to drive through villages that are known as Croatian, Hungarian, Slovakian, etc.

beautiful downtown section of Sabac, Serbia

beautiful downtown section of Sabac, Serbia

We cross the river Sava and can see the outline of the buildings in Sabac. The first thing you see are these large ugly apartment buildings that were probably built during the Tito reign. They are block style and very ugly! We pull into the station and my friend informs me that we have about a 20 minute walk to the center of the city. We walk down the side streets and I notice many empty businesses and bars. It looks like a place you could get a heck of a deal on a rental. I will never get used to the amount of clothing and shoe stores in Serbia! You don’t see this many in Chicago! 🙂 hahaha…

We get to the downtown walking district! It is GORGEOUS!!! I was not expecting to see the sites that I did. There is a very large glass hotel that is being remodeled and many old, gorgeous buildings! It is a Sunday afternoon and many people are just lazily walking about or sitting in an outdoor cafe! There are a few monuments, cobblestone paths, etc. He tells me he has to go. We agree to meet up at 5:30PM in front of this large bank. I am now alone. I love to just wander around without anyone. It makes it more enjoyable and exciting to wander around in a strange place where you understand very little. 🙂 I find a nice cafe that has wifi and sit down for a drink. I pull out my laptop when my buddy sends me a text and wants to meet up.

old fortress in Sabac

old fortress in Sabac

Dragisa is from Brisbane, Australia. He has been living in Sabac for about 6 months. He came to Sabac specifically for the music school. It is said to be one of the best in the country! He has been taking private lessons from a very talented music professor. He doesn’t know too many people in the community since he has not been in public classes. His brother, Lazar, came to visit him a few weeks prior. They are really enjoying their time in Sabac. They want to take me on a little tour of the city. We walk over to the ancient ruins of the fortress. I was a little disgusted by the graffiti that some dumb asses plastered on many parts of the fortress. Why in the hell would you do that?? We check out all the little nooks and crannies of the fortress. I always get a bit of a creepy feeling in these old things. You can’t even fathom the amount of history that is under your feet.

We decide it is time to eat. They want to take me to their favorite restaurant in town. It is closed by the time we get there. We pop into a little bar to ask them for a good restaurant. He tells us to try this kafana at the end of town. It is a beautiful place! It is all decked out in old wood and traditional type pictures of the city. I decide to eat the cevapi. I have not had one in ages and always love them. This place is a little more expensive than most. You can usually find a cevapi for about 150 Dinars , but in here it was 650. You do get some fries and salad with it and they will bring you a bit bowl of different breads. My buddy, Milos, joins us around 6PM. We sit down and discuss everything from music to the cost of cigarettes in Australia! Did you know they can cost as much as $17 a pack?? 😮 We finish up and the two brothers tell me that they are paying the bill! DAMN!!! It must be the Serbian in them! 🙂

My buddy, Dragisa, with the accordion and his brother, Lazar, standing up.

My buddy, Dragisa, with the accordion and his brother, Lazar, standing up.

They want to show me how good Dragisa is at playing the accordion. They know a very nice cab driver that drives us to this apartment. It is located in one of the  biggest buildings in Sabacs. It is right in the center of the city and he only pays 120 E for a two bedroom with a large kitchen!! WOW!! I love it! We sit down in his bedroom and he pulls out his accordion. WOW!!!! This kid has some mad skills!!!!! I am always amazed at how important the accordion is in Serbian music. It has so many buttons on it!! How can people play it? He plays us a few different songs. This kid is going to be famous someday! Too bad his name is almost impossible to pronounce.. ahahahah.. 
We decide we better be heading back to Ruma or we will miss the last bus out of the city! We get to the bus station around 8:20PM. The bus is a little bit late. We get on to find NO SEATS available! Ughhhh!!! If there is one thing I hate, it is standing on a packed bus. I make it through the 25 min bus ride without having a nervous breakdown. 🙂 We get to the station in Ruma to find that the bus for Sremska Mitrovica is gone! -_- The train is also gone. WTF? My friend from the Ruma Tourist Organization is my only hope! We call him and he is in Novi Sad! My cash on hand is very limited on this night. My debit card doesn’t work in Serbia and I have to wait till Monday to pick up my money that my mother is sending me through Western Union. My friend has plenty , but he is a tight Serbian. 😉 He says that we can walk the 25 km to Sremska Mitrovica. He has done it a few times. We had talked about it on the bus and it sounded ok until we actually have to do it! My Illinois jacket had disappeared too! I am standing in this little t-shirt and shorts on a pretty frigid evening. We walk to the center of Ruma praying for a miracle! The miracle never comes! We start our 25 km journey!

The city of Ruma isn’t that big until you are forced to walk it! It takes us a good 30 minutes to walk to the edge of town. My phone is already dead and I only have my IPOD left. I reach a wifi signal in front of a house. He tries to contact some of his friends to see if anyone can pick us up. No luck! The battery is about gone. We depart the lighted streets of Ruma into the deep, dark unknown!

hitchhiking in Serbia? will I live??

hitchhiking in Serbia? will I live??

We stop in the last lighted spot on the road from Ruma to Sremska Mitrovica. My friend and I decide to try hitching! It is illegal in the USA to hitchhike. I start getting visions of all of these horror movies where a guy picks up some hitchhikers, slits their throats, rapes them, and throws them in a ditch!!! 😮 The first 5 or 6 cars go by without stopping. We head out on the road! I am just muttering to myself how insane this is and how Milos is a jerk! Why didn’t he realize this was going to happen? 🙂 The land is very flat in Vojvodina so we can see lights way off in the distance. They look like little stars. He tells me ” That is where we are going!” OMG!!! Are you kidding me?? Mars looks closer than Sremska Mitrovica!!!! I am furious, cold, and coughing again!! He is rambling on about how he walked this path on a different occasion! IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER??? ahhahaha…

We get into the next city on our journey to “the end of the Earth!” It is a little village called Voganj. We attempted to stop many of the cars that blew by us with no luck. We are now in town so there is no chance of getting a ride. This may be a village , but it is SOOOO LONG!! It takes us a good 30 minutes to get to the exit of this town. The whole way we are getting barked at by a billion dogs! Many Serbian homes have this big, uninviting gate and when you walk past there are dogs going nuts! I don’t like them anyway and hate to be barked at!

We start on our last leg of the journey! The next town is Sremska Mitrovica! It looks just as far as it did earlier! I am starting to be a bit friendlier than I was. Maybe it is just the fact that I going into shock from the cold! We keep trying to stop every car that goes by! I start holding my hands in the praying position when the cars go by! We walk another 45 min or so when a guy finally stops!!! OMG!!! Is this for real??? My buddy walks up and says something to him! I say ” THANK YOU VERY MUCH!” He is a bit taken aback! He tells Milos that he is only going about 4 km down the road to this little village of Erem , but we can ride that far! It is nice to get out of the cold! It seems like we just start going when we have to get out again! This little trip gave us a boost of confidence. There is another car coming and we wave our arms and they stop too!!! WOW!!! It is a young kid and his girlfriend! They are from the small village of Sasinci! He is in an Alfa Romeo. My buddy is a Alfa nut and swears they stopped because they are Alfa drivers. The guy and his lady are shocked to find out that I am an American!! hahahahahahaha… They take us to the edge of Sremska Mitrovica and drop us off! I shake their hands and thank them over and over again!!! What a nice bunch of people we stumbled upon!!! I never thought I would be so happy to be in Sremska Mitrovica.

We were supposed to be home at 8 or 9 for a cook out at Milos’s house! I hated the fact that we missed it! His father went out of his way to purchase some meat, etc and cook for us! We finally walk into the house at a few minutes past 12! The food is still there and we munch it down and head to bed! I take my socks off and notice I have a blister on 4 of my toes! We had been walking for around 3 hours!

What an experience!!!! We had walked about 3 hours in the dark Serbian night and I still had all of my body parts!!!! I didn’t freeze, I didn’t get robbed or raped by some psychotic, deranged Serbian! What is the media talking about when they characterize Serbians as mean, self centered, hateful people??? The media has tried destroying the Serbian name, but it hasn’t worked!!!  Serbs once again came through!!!! 🙂 I need to find this guy that picked us up!!! If you are reading this, HOLLER!!!!!!

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Through my eyes

 

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