When? September 2015 Don’t Baulk at the Balkans. First leg. Overland to Macedonia.
Who? Group Tour
This is a tour of old Yugoslavia – now a wholes series of countries and I’m visiting five of them in one hit on a group ‘adventure’ tour. We’re going to cover quite a lot of the Balkans and Balkans, it turns out, means ‘hilly’. It’s a reasonably civilised affair, though the guide for the most part acts as if he is still under communist directive and we are shepherded and controlled from pillar to post. He’s also over-keen on extremely long monologues.
We meet in Belgrade. It would be a good place for a stag weekend. It’s very much a pavement society and bars, nightclubs and cafes run the length of the main drag, Knez Mihajlova. Most of the women have a lot of make-up, died hair and boob jobs. The shops that are interspersed between the bars are not enticing. The buildings are a juxtaposed mixture of old and new, as much has been bombed out. The most interesting part of town is down towards the confluence of Danube and Sava. Here there’s a park and the Fortress of Kalemegdan the symbol of Belgrade, with ramparts and good views up the river. It’s an odd mix. There’s some The artillery structures dating from the 18th century, a medieval fortification – an acropolis with original or partly reconstructed ramparts, gateways, towers, the excavated ruins of a 15th century castle, some Turkish monuments, an elegant 18th century Baroque Clock Tower and a Roman Well.
Across the other side some older timbered buildings remain. There’s’ also the Rose Church of Our Lady, along with a panoramic view of the Lower fortress and its monuments – the Nebojsa Tower, the Baroque Gate of Karl VI and the remains of the medieval metropolitan palace.
Dinner is at the very touristy Skadarlija, with ‘typical food and music’. No street dancing tonight unfortunately. Most of the food is undistinguished, chips, kebabs, tomatoey things. There are a few menu items worth nothing however – catfish goulash anyone? There’s quite an assortment at breakfast too, including cheesecake and pizza. The best offering by a mile is the ice cream. There are tempting stalls all along Knez Mihajlova. So it’s ice cream for lunch every day.
On our way south to Nis, around the station area we glimpse the cramped tents of the refugees being held here on their way overland from Greece. There are more churches and fortresses (at Krusevac and Topolasits in the hilly Šumadija region) and plenty of road side shops selling Serbian raspberries or rakija (plum brandy). There’s also a very long diversion to Đavolja Varoš (meaning “Devil’s Town”). A peculiar rock formation, a mini Goreme, it features 202 exotic earth pyramids or “towers”. Most of the towers have semi-obscene “caps” or “heads” of andesite, to protect them from further erosion.