Нови Сад/Novi Sad and Фрушка гора/Fruška Gora, Serbia

by - March 24, 2011

Novo Hopovo Monastery, Fruska Gora
Novi Sad Town Square
We felt that having spent 2 days there, Belgrade had been pretty much covered and that with 2 days left we needed to see a bit more of Serbia.  The general guide book consensus was that the best place to visit after Belgrade was the town of Novi Sad, about an hour and a half to the north from Belgrade by train.  Novi Sad is recommended for two reasons – firstly as it is an interesting place in itself, with an old town square, cathedral and castle overlooking the Danube, and secondly as a stepping stone to Fruska Gora, one of Serbia’s National Parks.  In order to fit in both a brief city tour and a National Park, we got the 7.20 train from Belgrade station.  Being a central European train, it arrived late, but still was early enough for us to have a bacon and egg breakfast in the town square after a taxi ride into town.

The Clock Tower with view over Novi Sad
Novi Sad old town is very much in the central European mould, with grand old buildings surrounding the cathedral and town hall.  After a brief look in the cathedral we walked on the bridge across the Danube to the castle.  This castle, much like the one in Belgrade, was designed to watch over the river and surrounding town and therefore had great views over not only the city, but the Danube and Fruska Gora too.  The complex is a bit grander than in Belgrade, with Austrian buildings that have been converted to hotels and restaurants being the dominant feature.  We had a drink at one of these restaurants, next to a clock tower that overlooked the city.  The clock tower had an amusing story to go with it – the Austrians built it when they ruled Serbia and then proceeded to enforce a “clock tax” to any household that they deemed able to read the time from it.  As they built it at the top of a hill, it was a pretty good excuse to tax the majority of the town below.

Four Lions Statue, Sremski Karlovci
Having sampled Novi Sad and its castle, we decided to head out towards Fruska Gora.  The National Park is known throughout the country as the heart of Serbia, as it contains 16 fully functioning Orthadox monasteries.  These monasteries were used to hide the last remains of traditional Serbian art and culture when the country was a part of the Ottoman Empire and were therefore seen as the last bastion of Serbia.  The National Park isn’t spectacular in itself – it is full of pleasant rolling hills, but there aren’t any mountains or lakes around, so the main attraction were the monasteries.  Visitors to the area tend to start from the town of Sremski Karlovci, so we got a taxi there first from Novi Sad.  Sremski Karlovci was an interesting enough place in itself – it contains the Serbian School of Theology and was also the place where a famous treaty was signed between the Austrian and Ottoman empires.  A fountain adorned with four lions was built to remember this treaty and those who drink from it are meant to either return to Serbia or get married.

Velika Remeta Monastery
In order to plan our trip into Fruska Gora and around the monasteries, we headed to the Sremski Karlovci tourist office, where we were met by two very helpful women who told us that without a car, the best way to get about was by taxi.  We knew how cheap the taxis were, so chose 5 of the 16 monasteries that were in driving distance and asked the driver to take us there.  Our taxi driver was amazingly polite – opening our door at every stop and trying to make conversation in his potted English.  Our first monastery was called Velika Remeta.  The layout of the monasteries tended to be a church surrounded on all four sides by a building that housed the nuns and monks.  We arrived to find a few nuns gardening in the inner courtyard and were left to our own devices as we looked around the church.  The inside of the church was stunning – the murals on the wall were in such vivid colours that they looked as though they had come straight out of a cartoon and the chandeliers, candles and icons were covered with gold and silver.  We spent about 20 minutes in Velika Remeta and on the way out we were met by a monk who spoke to us extensively in Serbian.  It seemed mean to give him the usual “govorite li engliski?” so we just stood and nodded and at the end of his little speech he gave us a laminated card with a picture of St George on it – I assume because we were English.  We were tempted to buy some of the local made honey on offer (which we christened “Nunny Honey”), but didn’t really want to carry it around with us.

Inside Staro Hopovo
The next monasteries – Krusedol, Grgeteg and Novo Hopovo, were all fairly similar to Velika Remeta, but each one had its own little something that made it unique.  Krusedol had an impressive big red gatehouse which we had to travel through on our way to the monastery itself, Grgeteg (our taxi driver’s favourite) was built in amidst a beautiful forest and Novo Hopovo was built beside a little stream which the nuns were taking water from for the gardens.  Combined with our final monastery – Staro Hopovo, the complexes were amongst the most serene and pleasant places I have ever been.  The monks were friendly and stood watch at the entrance while the nuns bowed their heads when we passed and tended the gardens.  What with the fantastic weather – not a cloud in the sky and a perfect temperature, our afternoon journey through the Fruska Gora monasteries in our little red taxi seemed to be more like a pilgrimage.  What’s more, as they are isolated and unknown to most of the outside world, we barely saw another person who wasn’t associated with the buildings themselves and we were therefore able to see how they run on a day to day basis.

Our wonderful taxi driver then drove us all the way (about 40km) back to Novi Sad station where we caught a train back to Belgrade.  The taxi driver, who had probably driven about 75km in total for most of the afternoon along heavily potholed winding country roads, and had been a model of politeness – opening the door for us, slowing down when we wanted a picture, etc, only wanted to charge us about £35, so we gave him a tip and made it £45.  This may seem a lot, but split between three it was the perfect way to see the monasteries.  The train back was late, but this gave me a good chance to write my blog up and look through all the photos.

Little Bay Restaurant, Belgrade
Having eaten at “?” last night, we wanted to go to the other highly recommended restaurant in Belgrade.  This was the “Little Bay” which is a restaurant that has been laid out like a small opera house - where everybody has their own box or “little bay” from which they can watch the live music on offer.  The restaurant is popular enough for reservations to be required.  Wednesday night was jazz night.  The prices were amazing - main meals started at £4 and we felt able to have a starter as well.  The service was so good that we had a bell pull in our box to get the attention of the waiter.  The evening, consisting of a starter, a main, two beers, a private box and a jazz band, cost us about £12 each - an absolute bargain.  All in all it had been one of those days of travelling where everything seemed to fit into place and where we would have been hard pushed to fit any-more in.  We got back to the hostel fairly late and thoroughly satisfied.

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