Road Trip through Serbia: A Daily Travelogue
After travelling along the Ibar highway through Rudnik, we arrived at Guča, just in time for the brass festival. I had been imagining Guča as a little town full of people, awash with the sound of countless brass ensembles. A town where singers and strippers performed in the taverns, and where the grimy streets were inundated by both vendors and the shoppers they aimed to entice… I imagined it to be a unified, noisy pandemonium. Perhaps precisely because of these expectations, Guča was a pleasant surprise. The town is tiny, surrounded by mountains, very clean and tidy. It is a town that becomes flooded by curious, foreign tourists during the festival. The locals are very polite and say that the town leads a peaceful and modest existence throughout the year, and that its entire revenue comes from the festival.
We visited the Brass Museum, a few art galleries, a book fair, a souvenir shop, and our day, which ended wonderfully, was filled with excellent food that we ate to the sound of many brass ensembles, competing and mingling with each other.
We set out for Zlatibor. From what I remembered of my student days, Zlatibor exuded peace and quiet, nestled in a beautiful landscape of hills, plateaus, and endless pastures… The Zlatibor in which I found myself this summer was entirely unrecognizable. The town centre had been greatly developed, commercialized, and nearly half of Serbia was trying to cram itself into the main strip. But this new Zlatibor attracts a very large public, especially families with small children. There is a high level of comfort at the hotels, a great selection of food, and the entertainment is organized to appeal to everyone, from the very young to the very old. Different concerts are organized in the main square, bands play in restaurants, there is a racket in the amusement parks, and shows are put on by street performers… In Zlatibor, even the shopping experience exceeds one’s expectations. Aside from the street stalls which offer fine, hand-made souvenirs – not just kitsch and cheap, Chinese-made items – there is a real, though small, strip mall.
Leaving Zlatibor we set our sights on Mokra Gora, a trip which took an entire day by bus. If I was able to highlight only one day of my travels in Serbia, I would pick the day spent in Mokra Gora without a second thought. The excursion was impeccably planned, we stopped at several interesting destinations and were given enough time to truly experience each one. On Mećavnik hill, Kusturica had built an entire ethno-village, Drvengrad. We roamed its streets, lit a candle in its church, enjoyed the extensive view of the beautiful meadows and mountains, visited the book store, and stopped for a coffee.
The best part of the excursion was a ride on the Šargan Eight. Since there isn’t an overwhelming concern for the passengers’ safety, I spent nearly the entire journey standing between two of the railroad cars, enjoying the beauty of the changing landscapes. What added to the dramatic experience of riding this little train along such a narrow rail, was the fact that we went through 22 tunnels in only 15 kilometers. The longest tunnel took a whole 4 minutes to pass through!
The choice we had made to park our rented car and set out on an tour bus excursion was an excellent one. We saw so much more than we would have if we relied on our own organization, and we learnt many interesting details from an excellent guide.
For more information on the various tours which depart from Zlatibor: www.zlatibor.org.
Days Four and Five
We set out for Tara, where we had already paid for two days of rafting. I dreaded what I would see in Tara, since in my student years I was among the first brave adventurers who rafted in what was almost an “untouched wilderness” back then. In those days, rafts were made of logs which were freshly cut right before our eyes. All of the personal items which we took on our three-day journey to Foča were secured in the centre of the raft under a sheet of nylon. After a couple of hours of rafting, we would stop at the nearest shore, set up tents by ourselves, after which a villager would surprise us by emerging out of the forest with a slaughtered lamb that we would spit roast over the fire. Drinkable water wasn’t a problem, back then we could drink straight from the river. It was because of these memories that I greatly dreaded what was waiting for me in Tara. Luckily, Tara has been minimally commercialized, and has only become slightly altered by the comforts of civilization. Instead of wooden rafts, we were greeted by rafts made of hard rubber, and instead of tents, we were lodged in wooden cabins. But the undisturbed nature of Tara remained the same: beautiful, pure, and undesecrated.
I heartily recommend this route for your trip through Serbia. Whoever has more time can certainly stay at each destination an extra day, experiencing the places more fully and at a more relaxed pace. But for the rushed Canadian travellers, who have a relatively short holiday, even these five days are invaluable for getting better acquainted with Serbia and experiencing some of its natural and cultural charms.
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