November 7, 2020:
I had one day left in Belgrade, Serbia and decided to take a day trip to Novi Sad, the country’s 2nd largest city. It occupies a privileged position on a bend in the river Danube.
Unlike most of Serbia, Novi Sad was never part of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, it was founded by and remained solidly in the hands of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. In the 1800’s it became the capital of a region called Vojvodina that traded into Serbian hands in 1918.
To get to Novi Sad, I took a bus, which left from Belgrade’s central bus terminal. The ride cost $7.25.
75 minutes later, I arrived at Novi Sad central bus station on outskirts of town. My first impression is that Novi Sad is MUCH smaller than Belgrade.
I walked into town, stopping at local market. The lively place had lots of fruit, veggies and shops selling Nike/Adidas sweats. I now understand where Eastern Europeans get their style.
I then walked by the impressive Jewish synagogue. A plaque outside mentioned that all the city’s Jews were taken from here to Nazi concentration camps in 1944. It is now a concert venue since there are no Jews to use the synagogue.
Eventually, I reached the beautiful city center! It was full of old colorfully painted buildings. It could not be more different from grey Belgrade.
I stopped at the Roman Catholic church- an unexpected find since the rest of Serbia is Eastern Orthodox, but it actually makes sense because of the Austrians.
The city is full of history. The most famous sight is the Petrovaradin Fortress the only remaining Austrian fortress in Serbia. During the Yugoslav era, a general was ordered to tear down all the Austrian fortresses but when he got to this one, he was too awestruck by its beauty to follow the order. So, Petrovaradin remained. If you’ve read some of my other Serbian blog posts on Nis and Belgrade, you might remember that those cities also have fortreses. Those were Ottoman and were unaffected by the destruction order.
The fortress has a couple restaurants, a museum on the history of Novi Sad and amazing views of the Danube. This is where all the influencers go to take pictures. There were about 10 girls doing photoshoots around the fortress.
I wanted back to the city center and wandered around. It was so beautiful. One thing I noticed was the large number of children playing in the streets. Serbia must be the most kid-friendly country I’ve visited.
After a goulash lunch, I visited an Orthodox church and then a Vojvodina history museum. Just like that it was nearly 3pm and time to head back.
On the walk back to the train station, I saw a barber shop and decided to get a $7 haircut. It ended up being the most memorable moment of the day.
The barbed had an enormous beard and blasted a YouTube reggae music playlist through his massive speakers. There was one haircut in front of me. I spent the time checking out his table full of Croatian Playboy magazines. By the way, both the photos and articles in Playboy magazine are absolute trash.
When it was finally my turn for a haircut, the barber first chugged a beer and sat me in the chair and dramatically whirled the scissors around his fingers. As the haircut progressed, he stopped seemingly every minute to drink beer, chat with his friend, and load a new reggae Youtube video. Right at the end of the haircut, we got into politics. He was a big Trump supporter because he said Serbians want a strong leader more than democracy. That was not an ironic statement. I also believe that Trump is popular in Serbia because Democrat Bill Clinton was president when the US bombed Belgrade. All that said, I got a great haircut and memories to last.
It was now 4:30 and the sun was setting. I headed back to the bus station to go back to Belgrade.
Novi Sad was a lovely town and I wish I spent a couple days here for the vibe. That said, a day is the perfect amount of time if you are simply trying to see the sights.