Serbia

Serbia by CC user trodel on Flickr

Introduction

Along with most of the fragments of the former nation of Yugoslavia, the 1990’s was not a great time to be in Serbia. Along with Croatia, the Serbs were generally aggressors during that war-filled decade, contesting claims to much of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.  The latter interventions drew a response from NATO countries, which resulted in a fair bit of damage from aerial bombardments from those nations.

15 years onward from that time though, most of the damage has been repaired, peace has reigned, and this historic country has many cultural sites that date back to Medieval and Roman times that travelers will be suitably impressed by after seeing them with their own eyes.

Packaged together with hearty food stuffs that will find their way to your dinner plate multiple times per sitting, and river canyons that will give a reason to pause to soak in the intense beauty that nature only gifts you every once in a while, Serbia is an alcove of the Balkans that should not be skipped despite its recent war history.

Currency: Serbian Dinar

Languages: Serbian, Hungarian

Church of Saint Sava by CC user watchsmart on Flickr

What To Do

While you may be anxious to head out into the countryside to check out the many fortresses, monasteries, and Roman ruins that are present in this nation, take some time in the capital of Belgrade to check out the Church of Saint Sava. Standing as the largest Orthodox Church in the world, Saint Sava does not let the casual visitor down, as its exterior boasts amazing fountains, a statue commemorating the saint whose name gracing this cathedral, and giant domes and steeples that dominates the skyline of Belgrade.

The interior is furnished with fine marble and despite the grandeur of this religious monument, it is still not finished, as donations from the faithful continue to finance the mosaics that are presently being created within its interior.

Those looking for a defensive bulmark to tour in Serbia will find a worthy site in the Petrovaradin Fortress, a position that has been fortified by various civilizations and tribes dating back to the Paleolithic era (as far back as 20,000 years ago). The first real ramparts were constructed on this bluff overlooking the Danube River 5,000 years ago, and when the Romans came, they erected a formidable fort called Cusum.  The present fortress was built back in the 13th century by the Hungarians, which fell to the Ottomans in the 16th century.

In the present day, lovers of modern music will want to plan a trip here when the EXIT festival is on (early/mid-July typically), as many A-list rock, pop, and R&B groups have performed here in the past.

Back in the 12th century, the Studenica Monastery, which stands as one of Serbia’s most intact Orthodox Christian religious sites, was founded by Stefan Nemanja, who organized the territory what is considered Serbia in the present day. With two churches within this cloistered environment that were created using fine white marble, the highlights are nonetheless contained within their interiors.  Inside are Byzantine-style frescoes of common religious scenes in Christianity that were created in the 13 to 14th century AD.

With the formation of the fledging Serbian state came the need for a capital city.  Back in those days, the city of Stari Ras was founded, and while it is in ruins in the present day, there are many aspects to this place that make a visit worthwhile. Situated in the highlands of the western portion of the country, its position was vital to counter the influence of those in present day Bosnia and Kosovo, and to take advantage of its proximity to the nearby Adriatic Sea.

While most of the site consists of the lining of former foundations and walls, a monastery known as Sopocani will placate those looking for a significant physical structure.  With UNESCO support, there are hopes that significant re-construction work will begin soon.

Tara National Park by CC user lonelyplanetexchange on Flickr

Summer visitors should definitely make tracks to Tara National Park, which boasts river canyons that will reveal how under promoted Serbia really is.  If the spectacular mountain lakes, deep canyons, powder blue water, and the relative unspoilt nature of it all were in a Western European country, there would a stampede of punters trammeling the unreal scenery that exists here.  Visit before the masses find out!

Finally, winter travelers that enjoy carving up the winter snows on elevated pistes should give Kopaonik a good try. With long and sometimes difficult access thinning out the less committed powderhounds, those that persevere will be rewarded with uncrowded slopes that sufficiently challenge skilled shredders, while being kind to novices.  Prices are shockingly low, with après ski pints coming in at a pound a pop, and the most expensive lodgings only setting you back 38 quid per night.

Burek by CC user by craighatfield on Flickr

What To Eat

Those looking for a quick bite in the morning should do what the locals do and reach for a Burek. Being a pastry that is filled with cheese, meat and/or vegetables, and then baked or fried, it is a common treat that is immensely popular in this country.  This popularity is borne out in a burek festival in the Serbian town of Niš, where you can sample innumerable varieties of this tasty treat.

As for the main course, you can’t go wrong ordering a Pljeskavica, a hamburger-like dish that considered to be an official food of Serbia. Frequently served sans buns and created with a mix of meats (such as lamb and pork, though many other ground meats can be mixed in as well) and onions, it will make the paleo dieter in your travel group leap for joy at first sight.

One dish that is definitely NOT paleo friendly, but a dream for those with a raging sweet tooth is Vasa’s Torte, a layered cake that will have you abandoning your diet in record time. This light and intensely flavourful cake comprises walnuts/almonds and orange zest/juice in the body of the dessert, with a light whipping cream topped with grated dark chocolate coating the exterior.  Serve me this cake when my number is up, and you will have the dictionary definition of a beautiful death!

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