Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mt. Avala

Mt. Avala

After an entire week of rain, Saturday finally brought good weather. Olja (a Serbian teacher at school) and I decided to go to Mt. Avala, located about 18 km south of Belgrade. Our meeting point was the Mc Donald’s in Slavija Circle. The juxtaposition of the Austro-Hungarian-style building with the ubiquitous chain restaurant logo always amuses me. Olja explained that we would have to take the local buses, as the special service bus to Avala only runs during the summer – which ended the day before. As the destination was outside the main Belgrade bus zone, we had to pay slightly more for the ticket – 61 cents. Once outside of the Belgrade city, high-rise apartment buildings were replaced with extended family homes, many of which were in various stages of completion. A few tractors hauling small wagonloads of grasses and weeds slowed the pace a bit.

Just a short distance away from Belgrade, it was easy to see why Mt. Avala (only 6 meters above the minimum requirements for a mountain) was a popular summer day trip for citizens of the capital city. Our bus stop was at the base of the mountain. Although a paved road for vehicles existed, everyone was hiking up the paved walk, shaded by the forest trees. Benches were regularly situated along the zigzag path, enabling people to relax and enjoy the deciduous and coniferous forest landscape.

At the top of the mountain was the Unknown Soldier Monument, sculpted of black marble by Ivan Mestrovic from 1934-38. Stairs, also of black marble, led majestically up to the enclosed monument. Inside on the floor were the dates relating to the First World War. From here, we had a great panoramic view of the lush agricultural region of Sumadija. At one time, Olja explained, the entire region was heavily forested. Guarding both entrances to the monument were eight massive caryatides (female-shaped supporting pillars like those found in classical Greek temples). Each represented a region of then-Yugoslavia, including Kosovo and Vojvodina.

Pesky wasps forced us to eat our picnic lunch rather quickly, at which time we began the easier descent. Partly because of our too-short stay at the summit, we stopped for a drink in the large outdoor café at the 1938 Avala hotel. I found the sphinxes lining the parking lot entrance rather amusing, contrasting with the other architectural styles of the building. On our way down, we took a slight detour to see where the state-owned RTS television station tower and once was, turned into rubble in the 1999 NATO air campaign. Just inside the forest was an old lady selling small bundles of thyme and other herbs. Feeling a bit sorry for the lady, Olja bought a bundle for 10 cents. Perfect timing, the bus arrived just as we got there.

Slightly in from the road, Olja pointed out a Memorial Garden that paid tribute to the 80,000 Yugoslavs executed by the Nazis during World War II. Romas and people supporting the Partizans were frequently targeted by the Germans and sent to concentration camps.

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