A significant change of scenery

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Where I stayed
Hotel Patria

Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Monday, July 9, 2007

The last twenty-four hours have seen a fairly steady transition from the chaotic Orientalism of the southern Balkans. Traveling by train at long last - after weeks of hot, cramped buses - I got into Belgrade at about 9:00 this morning. The fact that it was an hour and a half late proved that I was still technically in the Balkans, but the atmosphere had already changed a fair deal. I didn't waste much time in Belgrade though, having the intention of coming back after seeing a little of Vojvodina first. Once off the train, I looked for the closest ATM, pulled out about 10,000 Serbian dinars (just short of US$170) and then bought a train ticket out of town. By just a few minutes after 10, I was back on the rails northwards again, aiming for the old Hungarian town of Szabadka, now better known by its Serbian name: Subotica.

Vojvodina is where the mountains of the Balkans fizzle out and disappear. Basically an extension of the Carpathian Basin, the region feels and looks exactly like the Hungarian puszta to its north. In fact, that's what it was long considered, as Vojvodina - or Vajdasag, as the Hungarians call it - was, together with the Banat and Crisana regions of Romania, an outer part of Hungary's Great Plain. The post-World War I Treaty of Trianon saw these territories permanently severed from Hungary, but the common atmosphere remains very strong. It's not a particularly stunning area, with few trees about and most of land given over to agriculture. The frequent stretches of bright yellow sunflowers and occasional Baroque bell towers of rural churches help to liven things up a bit though. Overall, it strongly reminded me of the time I spent hopping around Hungary on weekend breaks from studying in Budapest.

Subotica is a pretty little town. Naturally its outskirts are peppered with hideous tenement blocks, but the downtown core is a charming mix of Baroque buildings, humble Hungarian-style houses and grandiose Secessionist edifices. It's the latter that brings in the tourists, as the dramatic Hungarian-style Art Nouveau buildings are the best examples of their kind outside Budapest, Kecskemet and Marosvasarhely (today Targu Mures, in Romania). Overall, the town feels like a Hungarian city that somehow ended up on the wrong side of the border - which, if you ask the Magyars, is precisely what happened. It makes for a dramatic switch from the minarets and Turkish bazaars of Kosovo and Macedonia.

Though there is tourism about, the numbers remain low and likewise so does the number of hotels. As a result, I had to go for somewhat of a splurge this evening, staying at the bleakly Communist Hotel Patria. The location is nice, in quick striking distance of the train station, but it feels a little silly paying $35 a night for a small, bland room in a dim, Socialist-era block without any character. Still, the place is quiet enough, so at least I should rest well. And they offer free breakfast, which is another plus.

One day is exactly enough for the town, fortunately, as - while it is a lovely place to look around - seeing the sights takes little more than a few hours. So it makes for a good city to have a relaxing, unhurried visit before heading off elsewhere. Which is what I will be doing from tomorrow then. In the morning, I will take train back southwards to Novi Sad, spend the afternoon there and then return to Belgrade for a few evenings. It should be interesting noting the difference between each place.
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