Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Spontaneous Excursion to Novi Sad, Serbia - 2004

I've learned that spontaneous trips can be a delightful way to spend a
weekend. Earlier in the morning, the director's wife (she teaches 2nd grade)
called and asked if I wanted to join them for a ride out to Novi Sad, a town
about 2 hours north of Belgrade. As I have been spending most of my time
here with school-related tasks/functions, it sounded like a great diversion,
as well as an opportunity to see another part of Serbia.

As we traveled out of Belgrade, the terrain changed drastically - from the
very hilly city to the flat plains dominating the countryside. On the
outskirts of Belgrade we saw a large number of homes that had their
structural bricks completely exposed. Jerry (school director) explained
that any home that is not stuccoed is considered incomplete, and therefore
is not taxed. In Mali, a similar rule was in effect for homes which had
their rebars exposed above the first floor.
Framing both sides of the road were large flat fields of corn, sunflowers,
watermelons, and other crops. Roadside stands displaying fresh produce such
as peppers and watermelons clustered along this main route between the two
towns. I always found it interesting that several vendors selling the exact
same things would set up their wares so close to each other. Along the first
stretch, one lane went north and the southbound traffic had 1 1/2 lanes. The
middle lane became a passing lane for either direction - an often precarious
situation. Thankfully, newly-completed construction with a divided highway
enabled us to travel much more quickly along the second stretch of the trip.

About two hours later, we reached Novi Sad (population 270,000), a modern
city situated at a strategic bend of the Danube. Prominent high on a hill
overlooking the river was a powerful fortress, developed in the 18th century
to hold the area for the Hapsburgs. Although grass covered the tops of the
walls, it was obvious that the perimeter of the fortress was quite
extensive. With a bit more time, you could tour through the dark tunnels
snaking across the area. Cannons and other war artillery stood near some of
the structure's moats. As we reached the top, we parked near the museum. In
front of the museum was an archaeological excavation in progress. Perhaps
some of the findings would make its way into the museum's collection.
Perched high on the hill, we had a great view of the city. Traditional
terra-cotta tile roofs contrasted with the newer sections of the city. Beams
from former bridges emerged from the river, remnants from the bombing there
during WWII. New lower bridges were subsequently constructed next to it. In
the distance was another bridge, in the process of being rebuilt after being
bombed in the late 1990's. Moving around the top of the fortress, we went
past a number of large buildings. Art galleries occupied some of the small
rooms, but it was obvious that with some renovation, the place would have
great potential.

Now back down the hill, we crossed a bridge and headed into the main part of
Novi Sad. With the removal of some graffiti and some restorative attention,
the entrance would have been quite charming. Lucky to find a parking spot
right away, we headed towards the pedestrian street. Bright flowers of
contrasting colors beamed in front of the outdoor cafes. Ahead of us were
some newly restored buildings in various colors, having all the charm of
other European cities. Along both sides of the cobblestone street were small
boutiques, restaurants, and caf├ęs. In these streets you could find
everything from handmade leather goods to Reebok sneakers to a whole store
dedicated to Barbie. While eating lunch at a quiet seafood restaurant, a
small band marched by. Full from the lunch, we weren't tempted by the stands
of ice cream. Evidence of more restoration was underway in one section of
the street. With more funds, cities such as this and Belgrade could be quite
charming. Strolling back to the car, we headed back home by mid-afternoon.

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