Sunshine in Serbia

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

So... Serbia. Not Serbia And Montenegro, by the way, oh no. In case, like me and this website, you missed the moment in June this year when a new European country was created- the 'yes' vote carried a controversial referendum by 0.4%. I had few preconceptions of Serbia, having forgotten most of the details of both the Kosovo conflict and the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, and having nothing else on which to base a prejudice. Had I thought more about it, I might reasonably have expected to encounter some hostility. I am, therefore, very glad I didn't think about it, and will adopt this as a firm policy from now on. All the Serbs I met were friendly and hospitable. Some seemed keen to rehabilitate Serbia's reputation, others keen to get a visa invite, but most were just open-hearted.

Navigation was quite simple at this point- find the town I'm in on the map, find the town I'm heading for, follow the one and only road between the two. Traffic wasn't much of a problem, the odd HGV, the odd horse and cart. A few cars, but they drove so fast I barely noticed them and were usually on the other side of the road- Serbian drivers love overtaking, whenever, wherever. There were many roadside shrines.

My first night in Serbia was in the town of Kula. I had followed signs for a 'leisure centre' that claimed to have beds, thinking this would be the cheapest option in town. It turned out to be a three-star motel with fountains outside and marble tiles.
-Do you know anywhere cheaper?
-One moment.
She phones someone.
-Which way did you come? From Sombor?
-(with a note of shadenfreude in her voice) Well, now you go back.

She gave me directions to a kind of hostel in Kula, which eventually got me close enough that the random I stopped and asked for help (by pointing at the name of the place on a post-it note and looking helpless) simply showed me the way on her bike. Once safely deposited at the hostel, which was a place for temporary factory workers to stay for as long as their employment lasted, I found myself in the charge of a girl my age called Sunshine (can't remember it in Serbian). I didn't discover until later that she had finished work at 5pm, but had agreed to stay on when the motel receptionist called, and cancelled her evening with her boyfriend, because only she could speak English.

Despite not speaking English, the owners of the hostel were very welcoming and plied me with coffee and traditional Serbian home-made plum brandy. Sunshine then took me to her favourite bar in town. I didn't see any other bars in town, but it was a pleasant enough place anyway. From Sunshine I learned the all important linguistic tools that I try and learn as soon as I cross a border- yes, no, thank you, left, right, straight on and cheers! I learned about the migrant factory workers, who leave their families for months at a time to go to work. The guys staying at the hostel were working at the Jaffa Cake factory which I had been extraordinarily delighted to ride past earlier in the day. I got an early night, as I planned to cover the 135km to Belgrade the next day, and slept soundly under the influence of the brandy.
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