I’m adjusting to Novi Sad. My previous visit was in May, during a fast-paced day trip from Belgrade. After several months in large European cities – Belgrade, Istanbul, Athens, and Prague – it’s a significantly different experience. Novi Sad proper has a population of about 250,000.
I’m learning to adapt more quickly to the many challenges of constant change. It’s an interesting process. Each location has an “expectation versus reality” time interval. Acclimation begins with accommodation and finding yourself with a new kitchen, bed, bathroom, etc. It takes time to “unravel” an unfamiliar environment, but the effort is worthwhile.
My Novi Sad apartment has a bathtub – rare these days – and I’ve been enjoying the luxury of soaking my travel-weary bones! I sprained my left ankle walking on rough cobbled streets and am forced to take a few days to relax and coax it back to normal. It was swollen twice as large as the right, but thankfully is getting better every day. The biggest challenge is staying off it!
Travel in the age of covid is almost always tiresome, but the trip from Prague was short and relatively uneventful. Taxi transports to departure airports are stressful. No matter how you book the taxi, there’s always the chance of a no show or late driver. Taxi drivers had an especially rough time during covid. Some of them have become a little cheeky and aggressive.
In Prague, they have a service called Bolt, and it’s appropriately named! My driver arrived 30 minutes late, and the fast and furious ride to Prague’s Václav Havel Airport was terrifying! Novi Sad doesn’t have an airport, so you fly into Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport and take a taxi to Novi Sad. Compared to Prague, it was a sedate ride.
My apartment on Kosovska Street is near the city center. The layout is a wide row of beautiful buildings, parks, interesting shops, a public square, and cafés as far as you can see. Cars aren’t allowed in the center. Occasional light rain and cooler autumn weather are here, but the day I arrived, it was 30 (86 F).
I’m learning my way around, experimenting with local cuisine, finding restaurants I enjoy, walking districts of the city, and getting a feel for Novi Sad’s unique vibe and local culture. There’s an excellent selection of quality restaurants, and they’re reasonably priced. Expense wise, dining out versus cooking seems about equal. Finding the right ingredients for cooking a particular dish can be problematic. I finally found red pepper flakes and parsley, so I could make a simple pasta aglio e olio!
Markets in Novi Sad are much different than in the US, and food labels are in Serbian only. It’s easy to forget that you’ll have to schlep purchases back to your apartment. I’ve been reminded to keep things light, especially with a gammy foot!
So far, I haven’t rented cars during this trip, because it wasn’t necessary in large cities. I may rent one to explore nearby nature reserves like Fruška Gora. Autumn hikes are on the agenda. Located in northern Serbia, Novi Sad is near Hungarian, Croatian, Romanian, and Bosnian borders.
Shortly before my arrival, I learned about renewed border tension between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo’s refusal to allow cars with Serbian license plates to enter its territory created problems.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province, is located along Serbia’s southern border. It claimed independence in 2008. Apparently, Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to end current tensions and the “standoff at their shared border“.
Most western nations recognize Kosovo’s independence, but “Serbia and its allies, Russia and China, refuse to do so”. In addition, five European Union countries don’t recognize Kosovo as an independent state – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. Trying to understand their reasoning complicates things even more – at least for me. I try to do my homework and understand what’s happening in the countries I visit. The Balkans are a challenge!
Spain, Cyprus, Greece
Some say the “best-known motive” for Spain’s non-recognition of Kosovo is that it “doesn’t want to offer any form of succor to the independence movement in its own province of Catalonia”. The Cyprus objection is “based on similar grounds, namely Turkey’s continued occupation of the northern third of the island – the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)”. Greece’s “stance over Kosovo is likely a show of support for Cyprus”.
Slovakia and Romania
Slovakian and Romanian “objections to Kosovan independence aren’t as clear”, certainly not to me. Both countries have large Hungarian populations and a “deep historical sensitivity to border issues and secession of ethnic minorities”.
Romania’s Hungarian ethnic minority advocates “autonomy of the Székely, an area in Transylvania predominantly populated by Hungarians”. Autonomy has “been rejected by all political parties in Romania, except the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), an integral part of the current government”.
I may never understand complicated Balkan history, wars, and politics. A few Serbs have tried to explain the Kosovo situation to me (from their point of view). The current Kosovo Serb population is about 100,000, and it’s the second largest ethnic community in Kosovo. Many “Kosovo Serbs (mostly near the Serbian border) want to remain part of Serbia, but Serbian majority towns are becoming rare in Kosovo”.
Kosovo’s Cultural Significance
Historians have labelled Kosovo as “the political, religious, and cultural core of medieval Serbia”. Serbs have “lived in Kosovo since the 11th century. From 1200 to 1455, Kosovo was part of the Serbian Kingdom“. Since 1999, during Balkan and Kosovo Wars, hundreds of historic Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo were destroyed. Many of those devout structures date as far back as the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. As a religious country, this destruction is a sore subject for Serbs, adding to the tension between Serbia and Kosovo.