Παρασκευή, 22 Μαρτίου 2013

A Cultural Gem on the Danube

By Conn Bardi

The first thing you notice about Novi Sad is the tranquil pace of life. A slower and more serene stride, where you have time to enjoy your surroundings. If you work in one of the major cities, London for me, then you will appreciate the fresh air and healthy pace of life; no packed underground or busy buses. It takes me a day or two to slow down and let go of the stress; but afterwards I not only enjoy it, but also appreciate its health benefits.
Novi Sad is a historic city, where the Austrian-Hungarian building design influence is noticeable. It is the capital of Vojvodina, an autonomous province, based in northern Serbia. The river Danube (Dunav in Serbian), which runs south of the city, is crossed by 3 bridges, which were destroyed during the 1999 bombing raids. The main bridge, which crosses over to the Petrovaradin Fortress (Petrovaradinska Tvrdava), is the Varadin Bridge . Varadinski Most, now known as Duga in Serbian, was rebuilt in 2000. It is most beautiful at night, when it comes to life in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of colours aimed at it from underneath.

The construction of the Petrovaradin Fortress’s was finished in 1780. The castle, which overlooks Novi Sad, is definitely worth a non-hurried visit to discover its history and its exhibits. There is a road with ample parking at the top. For the more active among us, its stone steps will lead you to the summit. A local guide will take you on an underground tour of its tunnel system, when they gather enough numbers to make up a group of at least 10 people. Its most prominent feature is the large clock, with its hands inverted – small hand showing the minutes and large hand the hours. This was to aid maritime traffic calculate the tides as the hours hand was visible from a long distance. Modern technology has since simplified navigation. A grandiose hotel is situated behind it with a coffee shop, which overlooks the river and the city from its veranda. At the top of the castle, you can enjoy a number of ateliers behind the battlements with Novi Sad in its splendour at your feet.

The Bridge of Liberty (Most Slobode), one of the most modern bridges in Europe, is located above The Strand – Novi Sad’s sandy beach by the riverbank. The Strand has a number of huts for hire during the summer months, bars, food stalls and deck chairs where you can enjoy a drink watching the tree rich banks of the river. The Danube is fast flowing and, although not as warm as the Mediterranean, it is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. People in dinghies can be seen to jump into the river and float lazily next to them, painter in hand, to keep cool in the summer. Lying on a beach chair, you can enjoy the green bank on the opposite side and the beautiful churches and houses that are built t in the copses. 

On the right side from the fortress is the Rail-Road Bridge (Drumsko Zeleznicki Most), which, following its destruction during the raids, was temporarily rebuilt in 2000 to accommodate the passage of the train and cargo loads.

In the winter the temperatures fall below 0°C (-25°C over 2011-12 winter season) and the city is usually covered in snow. Unlike other more modern cities though, life in Novi Sad does not stop. Public transport continues to run and people, despite the bitter cold, go about their business as usual. It is a mountainous dry cold though, which requires lots of warm layers.

Novi Sad is very pretty during Christmas. Brightly decorated and snow-covered, it is indeed Holly. The visitor can enjoy two Christmases. The Gregorian Calendar on the 25th December and the Julius Caesar (Julian) Calendar on the 7th January. The latter is the Old Style Orthodox, which is a Bank Holiday in Serbia. On the eve of it (Badnje Vece), locals burn branches of the Badnjak tree and make a wish, which is carried to Jesus (Christos) by the smoke and the flames.

The atmosphere in the coffee shops and bars is really warm and friendly. Mulled wine (kuvano vino) is drunk, which warms the cockles of your heart; especially in good company.

Dunavski Park has a lake with a pair of swans known as Isa (the husband) and Bisa (the wife), benches where local people can be found reading or chatting and public toilets. The loving couple of swans have been together for years. Opposite the park is the Museum of Vojvodina, displaying a wide range of historic exhibits, which traverse through the ages. It is open Tuesday-Saturday; its website at museum of Vojvodina is available in English.

Located in the centre of the town is Liberty Square (Trg Slobode). The Town Hall can be found on one side and facing it, is the Catholic Church of Holy Mary, which is worth visiting even if you are not religious. Behind the Town Hall is the National Theatre (Serpsko Narodno Pozoriste), founded in 1861. Its website at Serpsko Narodno Pozoriste is in Serbian.

It is worth walking down all the little side streets, which are full of coffee shops, if only to enjoy the city’s architecture. In the summer, most coffee shops put tables out for people to sit and drink coffee in the sun. There are also the Kafanas. These are traditional bars, where local, and travelling singers, play music whilst you enjoy plum Brandy (Sljivovica rakija). Be aware – it is strong!

Novi Sad, due to its culture is known as the Athens of Serbia. Its residents enjoy visiting the museum and theatres, locally and further afield in Belgrade. There are a couple of noticeable bookshops, the Mamut (IPS) in Zmaj Jovina 15 and The English Book in Njegoseva 147, which are not very far from the centre. One worth visiting though is the Small Bookstore (Мала велика књига) 4 Ignjata Pavlasa, where the owner will discuss books and authors with you in perfect English. He also helps local children with theatrical shows.

The mountainous area north of Novi Sad is called Fruška Gora, where there are 16 monasteries, ranging from the 12th to the 15th century. The most famous one being Krušedol, which was built between 1509 – 1514. Nowadays, you will find modern buildings on its grounds, where film crews stay when they are shooting on site. If you do visit it in the winter though, wear warm clothing as it is not heated and its cobblestoned floors do not offer much insulation. 

There are a number of hotels in Novi Sad. Petrovaradin Fortress offers its own, although slightly dearer than some others; it is a castle after all. The town centre itself has plenty. It is worth visiting them and asking to see the room before you book. I could not recommend one over the other, because they all have their own charm and qualities. One thing they all share in common is the warm Serbian hospitality.
Novi Sad – Once visited, forever smitten.