Monday, January 02, 2006

Weekend Hike in Rudnik

Although I could not find much information on the Internet about this small mining town (lead and iron) about 95 km south of Belgrade, I decided that the adventure would be worth it. My companion Olja, a Serbian teacher at our school, heard that Rudnik was a good place to hike. After paying around $5 for a bus ticket, we hopped aboard and headed out of the capital city. When I commented to Olja about the fact that there was no smoking on the bus, she replied that it has been that way for many years – a very good thing.

Along the way, the bus stopped at the small towns and villages to pick up or drop off passengers. There were no signs or markings indicating that it was a bus stop, but obviously the locals knew. Yugoslav-made tractors with the slow-moving sign pulled over to the side of the road as far as possible to let traffic pass. Conical haystacks dotted the countryside. Laundry was hung outside. Vineyards, apple and other fruit orchards dominated front yards. Windows planted alongside the house and flowers. In the town of Topola, the bus stopped for about 7 minutes, at which time many passengers darted off the bus to get a couple cigarettes in. About 2 ½ hours after our journey began; we were in the small town of Rudnik, dropped off right in front of our one-star hotel. Early evening, the fog had already begun rolling in. I could see an orthodox church on top of a high hill and intended on visiting it the next day on our big hike. We were given rooms on the top (4th) floor, away from the discothèque and a wedding that was to occur Saturday night. My room consisted of four single beds (each containing a simple blanket, pillow, and bedsheet) and a narrow bathroom.

After dropping off our small bags, we went for a small walk. I took a couple of pictures of the lush, deep hills, but didn’t realize that the amount of sunlight and visibility would only decrease during our weekend. A path took us into some woods, through which a small stream ran. Ferns covered the forest floor. Combined with some familiar weeds, I felt like I could have been walking through a forest in Wisconsin. We passed several people splitting wood, getting ready for winter. The sound of chainsaws echoing through the woods indicated that others were doing the same. For supper, we ate at a small restaurant near our hotel. I had pork sausage links (I was served 10) with Kyamak cheese, along with lepinja bread that was still warm.

The next morning, I looked outside my window to check out the weather. I hoped that the weather forecast was correct and we’d have a sunny day. Unfortunately, those low clouds and fog were very dense and quite stubborn. I couldn’t see the church until about 9am. After an omlet and tea (included in the hotel price of around $21 a night), we headed towards the high hill with the long hiking trails. On our way, we stopped at the small church. It was empty, except for a few reproductions of St. George (patron saint), Mary, a small wooden cross, and a plain wooden altar. Coins were piled around most of the paintings. The varying colors of the bricks indicated that the church probably had been built over time, pausing when the region’s patrons ran out of money.

A short ways into the forest, we reached a guesthouse. It catered to hikers, both for meals, a rest stop, and a place to stay. Olja explained that elementary-aged students often went on such hiking trips as a class trip. After seeing the rooms, taking a quick look at the map sign, we anxiously headed off to begin our hike, as it was now around 9:45. Located on some trees were red and white “targets” which indicated that we were on a path – which one, we didn’t know. Sometimes the painted “targets” were close together and placed in a reassuring location, while other times their presence was definitely missed. Worse yet, sometimes arrows pointed either direction in a forked path, or you had to walk on a path a ways to see if it was the right one. The growing fog didn’t help anything. Spotting a slight clearing in the trees, we paused to take in the view. Rolling and deep hills filled the landscape. Small farmhouses and farms dotted the view. Sheep grazed below.

In the damp forest, the fog became thicker, making it even more difficult to see markers. The path was also quite wet, often times partially or completely covered with puddles and/or mud. Sometimes we made the right decision on where to walk; other times we ended up with a muddy shoe. Along the edges of the paths were blackberries. When I saw some ripe ones, I paused for a snack. Following a sign that indicated that a river, the path and surrounding area became moister. Moss grew up the sides of rocks. Mushrooms of varying types were on the path and sides. A small trickle of water went down the hill and over the path. Nearly stepping on a moist black newt, I stopped abruptly. It crawled over the path and into a small hole. Within a short distance, we saw several more newts.

A few hours into our hike, Olja spotted another sign, this one indicating a shrine for the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Curious to see what it was, we decided to follow the direction of the arrow. A few times, we had to retrace our paths, as we were on paths with no targets. Hearing a chainsaw ahead, we decided to ask for our location. The man said that we were indeed on the path to the shrine, but that it still was ahead. Replying to the man’s question from where we came, he was quite surprised that we had walked all the way from Rudnik. I could tell his surprise even though the entire conversation was in Serbian. Considering that it already was around 2pm, I didn’t really care if we saw the shrine. Olja asked the best way to get back to Rudnik. He told us to take the next two rights, and to be careful not to get lost. Walking back, we came across a meadow. Olja picked some of the wildflowers/weeds while I took some photos of some various floral species. We both wondered how beautiful the view must have been – if only we could have seen farther. In some parts of the forest, it was especially dark and foggy –almost a spooky feeling. An occasional raindrop threatened, but never materialized. Happy to see familiar markings, we were glad to be on the path to Rudnik. We could hear the sounds of bells clanging, but couldn’t see the animals.

Around 5 pm, we finally reached the town of Rudnik. Hungry, we had a meal of veal soup, salad, and crepes. It felt good to take off the muddy shoes and shower. We spent the rest of the night relaxing. The low clouds had once again rolled in for the evening.

Before our bus arrived the next morning, I went for a short walk to the Sunday green market. Beautiful red peppers were stacked in many stalls. Several tractors were parked around the area, some barely larger than a garden tractor. A small cage behind one tractor held several pigs, all huddled together. The bustling indicated that this small market was an important meeting place for the local community.

Standing next to a WWI monument, we boarded the bus around 10:00am, taking the same route back to Belgrade. Although it wasn’t foggy, we were somewhat glad to see that at least it wasn’t sunny. Shoes were scrubbed and muddy clothes were washed. It was time to prepare for school.

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