I had been hinting around that I wanted to go to Hawaii for my 50th birthday for a few years now. By hinting around, I mean I told Howard to take me to Hawaii for my 50th. Well, my birthday came and went last spring and I still haven’t seen Hawaii, but that’s okay. I’m living in Europe now and I certainly can’t complain about that. (Also, how did I get to be so old!?!)
Last week, to celebrate my 51st birthday, we took a side trip to Novi Sad, Serbia, about an hour drive from Belgrade. Novi Sad is the second largest city in Serbia and lies along the Danube River. We went there to check out the city, but also to relax at the hotel.
Now that we’re in mainland Europe, we have been planing to travel by train and not worry about our overweight luggage or getting to the next city in a hurry. Maybe we’ll even splurge on a first class overnight train sometime. We’ll have our own little room where we can sleep, and access to a bar and restaurant car for refreshments. We’re not ready for that yet though, It’s good because the trains here in Serbia are about on par with the Caltrain or BART back home in San Francisco. Twice we walked down to the train station to get information, and hopefully tickets for our trip to Novi Sad and our next stop in Croatia the following week. Twice we walked home with different bits of information, but no tickets. Apparently you buy train tickets here just before the train is about to leave. We tried to do that the day we were heading to Novi Sad. We were sold bus tickets instead.
There was something about the train not running to Novi Sad, I don’t really know, but we got on a bus and arrived in Novi Sad two and a half hours later. The bus was slow, and the trip would have taken even longer had the driver not stopped on the highway and put the bus in reverse when he missed our exit. Bus rides are always an adventure…
It was a beautiful warm spring day when we arrived in Novi Sad. We were hot and tired after our 3 km walk to the Prezident Hotel though. We relaxed in the hotel spa for a while. They have a nice indoor pool that must have had some sort of mineral/bromine mix in the water. It made floating effortless and we bobbed around like ocean buoys for a while. We also took advantage of the sauna, hot tub and I treated myself to a much needed massage for my birthday. We even spent a good 10 minutes in the weight room!
Being a bit outside of the city center gave us the opportunity to explore some of the suburban areas of Novi Sad. Tall, communist era housing blocks are still used today, but often the ground floors, that were set up for shops and other facilities, are abandoned. The wide green spaces between the block houses are a nice touch and I could see how this type of planned community could have been appealing. There was a small kiosk by the sidewalk in one of these neighborhoods where a little old lady was selling fried food and drinks. She didn’t speak any English but we were able to buy a couple beverages. She seemed delighted that two Americans were at her kiosk. It probably doesn’t happen every day, if ever.
Serbian people are not outwardly the most friendly, but I’ve found the less English they speak, the easier it is to get them to smile. I’ve given up trying to speak any of the Serbian words I know. I guess I don’t pronounce them correctly and it ends up confusing everyone.
After two relaxing nights at the hotel, we took a cab downtown to get our bus tickets back to Belgrade. We ended up with train tickets. While waiting for the train to arrive I asked a women if we were on the right platform. We were, but then someone said a whole lot of things in Serbian over the loudspeaker. The woman came over to me to let me know we needed to change platforms. Instead of going downstairs through the passage way below the tracks everyone, young and old alike, with and without various amounts of luggage, just climbed off the concrete platform, crossed the tracks, and climbed up onto the correct platform. I said to Howard, “don’t you get in trouble for doing that in the US?”
Everyone wanting to go to Belgrade was waiting on the correct platform for the already late train when a group of police in riot gear came out of the terminal. The same woman came over to me and said it’s because of the football game and unnecessary. Necessary or not, the police backed everyone up and escorted a group of guys to the second train car. At first I thought it was the soccer team, but if the team was that popular to warrant riot cops, they probably wouldn’t have to ride the commuter train to a game. Some how Howard and I ended up at the end of the line to board the train and just when we thought we were going to have to stand all the way to Belgrade, the police led a handful of us to sit with them in the first car.
And then the singing began. We listened to “Olay, olay olay olay….” all the way home.
People were out and about all over Belgrade, I assume because it was a beautiful Friday evening and because of the game. Once we were back in our neighborhood, we stopped in our local pub and learned a little bit more about the football game. It was between the two most popular teams in Belgrade and the police had cordoned off all around the stadium to let the fans of one team in before the fans of the other team. This was to help prevent any altercations between the fans, but caused it’s own set of problems.
We placed a couple online bets on the game and watched the end of it from the comfort of our Airbnb. Next week our 90 day visa for Serbia will be up and we are off to Croatia. We are not flying there, or planning to take a bus or train, but I’ll have more about that later.