Sunday, April 03, 2016

My First Evening in Novi Sad | Serbia Travel

After I finished my very late Duck Composition lunch at the Terasa in Petrovaradin Fortress which used to be a Habsburg strategic military post, I did a quick survey of the citadel, just in case I will have to go back in the evening on foot. Novi Sad’s Stari Grad (which is the core centre) is about a 15-20 minute walk from the fortress via a stairway route and over the bridge.

And oh, by the way, Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia and the capital of the province, Vojvodina.

I initially contemplated on bringing the car with me to the city centre but a little discussion with the hotel’s receptionist changed my mind. She told me that I can only pay parking via SMS. Not wanting to go into this direction, since I do not know how this SMS works on my Dutch mobile phone and just the thought of deciphering Serbian language in Cyrillic alphabet freezes my brains, I have decided to walk on foot. I reckon I will just take the cab going back if I find it daunting enough to walk over the bridge and climb the steps of the fortress later in the evening.

Liberty/Freedom Square (Trg Slobode)

I did a quick reading about Novi Sad’s history and like many other places in Central and Eastern Europe, the city went from one ruler’s hands to another with the Hungarians mainly taking the seat of power in the 11th century, and later on the Habsburg dynasty (Astrian-Hungarian empire). There was a time when the Ottomans controlled the city but it was again brought back under the control of the Habsburgs. After the First World War, the Balkans became Yugoslavia under Tito.

You know, I have never heard of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia (Kosovo), Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro during my elementary and high school years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I only know of Yugoslavia. I remember memorising all the countries and their capitals. I was good at it. But this Yugoslavia country disbanded in 1992, just after I graduated in college, however, not after an onslaught of armed conflict known as the Yugoslav Wars.

“Isn’t there a war in that country?” asked my mom, who always sound petrified every time she finds out I am travelling somewhere again. She is halfway across the globe from me, and you know, I have left home 25 years ago but she still thinks I am a vulnerable 21 year old kid.

It didn’t help when my sister joined in the conversation, “Why are you going to Serbia?” Ah, my sister completely has a different thing in mind when it comes to holidaying, and she really meant the question by the way.

So my day in Novi Sad began quite along the realm of my expectations, although I still had a heavy head from the nauseaous experience in the plane. The delightful sweeping views from my hotel room and from the fortress, over the Danube River and the cityscape really helped me relaxed a bit. Not to mention the lovely late lunch as well. So a quick check on the clock told me its time to go and inspect the city centre. I have seen a few pictures online and I am hoping I will not be disappointed.

From the fortress, I took the shortcut route which is through the stairs below the restaurant terrace near the clock tower. This stairway route exits to a street below the citadel just a stone’s throw away from the bridge connecting Petrovaradin and Novi Sad. Within a few minutes I was walking on the bridge to the direction of Stari Grad (city centre). I could feel the air getting colder around me and the skies getting bluer and darker. I love walking when I am travelling on my own. I tend to walk everywhere, letting my feet lead me to hidden squares, tiny alleys and nondescript corners. I love ogling at architecture. I love checking out what the stores have on their display window. The more local and unfamiliar they are, the better. I love observing how the locals go about their day. Sometimes I think I am a voyeur, haha (not the Peeping Tom kind!). I just want to be in the background; watching, observing, learning and taking pictures.

As I reached the centre of Novi Sad, the Liberty/Freedom Square (Trg Slobode | Трг слободе) came into view. This is the biggest square of the city, and oh wow, it sure is stunning! The pictures I have seen online did not disappoint. I could not wait to see this beautiful square again in the morning.

The square is flanked on both ends by the Neo-Renaissance City Hall and the Neo-Gothic Catholic Church of St. Mary’s. Parallel to the square are the beautiful cultural and historical buildings, one of which is the Vojvodanska Bank and beside it is being occupied by McDonalds. Across the square is the Vojvodina Hotel which used to be the most luxurious hotel in the city before. It still is a hotel today (3-stars) but the ground floor is now leased to a number of retail shops. In the middle of the Liberty/Freedom Square is a bronze statue of Svetozar Miletic, an important leader-mayor of the city during the Habsburg empire.

I stood there in the middle of the square mindless about my surroundings and just breathing into the moment. Beautiful architecture and settings make me happy. I told myself that I am not in a hurry tonight. I will let my feet carry me to whichever nook and cranny in the city they will bring me to.

Luckily, Novi Sad’s core centre is small. You’d be able to walk around all of it in an hour or two.

Popcorn stalls are very popular (street food) in Serbia.

The St. Mary's Catholic Church on Liberty Square. I went inside this church and was quite surprised to see a good number of people inside waiting for the mass service. Religion is very much alive in Serbia.

Wandering on alleys... yes, Novi Sad is quite safe. The waiter at the cafe I spoke to told me it is a small city and nothing much happens here really.

Do not be fooled. This is not a real dish but a mere picture, as advertised by a restaurant. The Japanese and Korean plastic food mock ups now have some serious competition. Read here: Lifeline of a Tourist's Belly in Japan: Plastic Food Replicas

Famous pedestrian street, Zmaj Jovina Street is full of shops, bars and cafes. Not to be missed. I hanged out here the next morning.

The Vladicin Court, the mansion of an Orthodox Bishop.

Dunavska Street, another pedestrian street connected to Zmaj Jovina Street. Dunavska exits to the Danube Park.

 St. George's Cathedral, the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Travel Period: March 2016
Destination: Novi Sad (Vojvodina), Serbia

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