Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunny southern Serbia

So now I cross the border from Bulgaria to Serbia, and the one of the first things I notice is that the border guards look like thugs and the small towns smell like piss.
 No pictures of the border police. I think you could be arrested for that.

The place I'm headed for, Nis, kind of rhymes with drunken piss ("neesh" actually).

Nis has some attractions, but I missed seeing the Birthplace of Emperor Constantine the Great, nor did I go to see the Skull Tower. So what did I see?

I arrived just on dark and stayed in a quiet hostel in the Balkan Backpackers chain.

This is not actually the hostel. It is the building over the lane though. A man in a grubby singlet with no teeth yelled at me in Serbian from a window of one of the apartments. Took me a moment to work out he was actually giving me directions on where to turn.

Nenad was the best host, and quickly set about revising my stereotypes. First he made me a glass of lemonade with fresh lemons and then he gave me a potted history of Serbia. Basically it was under communist rule for less time than Bulgaria because Tito stood up to Russia and established his own brand of socialism. And now people love to party and have fun.

Despite the hostel being on a dirt path between grim soviet-style apartment blocks adorned with graffiti, he tells me it is very safe and the two local pastry shops are open 24 hours. If that isn't enough to raise my mental rating of Nis, next day I discovered what the Fortress is all about.

Lulled by the sun I spent quite a bit of my day in Nis at the Fortress which is a lovely park with a ruined mosque and hamman and some more roman ruins, and also lovely bars and cafes.

In common with many of the other Balkan states, the relaxed and convivial atmosphere both hides and is a reflection of very high unemployment - around 30%. People have plenty of time sit around drinking coffee or beer or something stronger with their friends. As I was about to discover for myself in Belgrade - next post dear readers.

Nis has the best app ever. Nis Talking is a dynamic guide to all the main sights and it works a treat. Eat your heart of Lonely Planet, because your ebook versions suck.

The app led me to a couple of churches where I found that devotions are also very much part of everyday life for many Serbian people.

Incidentally that other bible, LP, does redeem itself a bit in my mind when under Serbian history it says "hugely misunderstood". OK, it isn't just me.

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