Early this May I spent a few days in Novi Sad. This Serbian city is smaller than Belgrade, more laid back and you can practically walk everywhere or take transit for a few stops. In Serbian Novi Sad means “New Plantation”. It’s in its own autonomous zone and has the potential to be the number one tourist destination in the region primarily because of their annual Exit Festival.
Novi Sad holds its annual summer music festival at the Petrovaradin Fortress. For four days in early July over 150,000 people from all over Europe and beyond descend onto the city. This huge influx of tourists is a boon for the city’s local economy. Novi Sad even built a new multi-use waterfront trail for the benefit of both local citizens and tourists.
The multi-use trail was primarily built a couple years ago due to the heavy influx of tourists from the Exit Festival. The trail spans a few kilometers along the Danube. There are separate lanes for walking, jogging and biking. The jogging track portion is made of the same energy-returning material found in running tracks at gyms making it easier on your knees. And as you walk, jog or bike you’ll see the various tennis courts, soccer fields and outdoor gyms situated at various points along the trail.
Inner city buses cost 50 dinars (approx 0.45 Euros) and you can buy your ticket directly from the driver. Even though the buses are a little run down they can take you practically anywhere in the city. Most buses connect through the main train station which makes it easier for travelers to get where they need to go upon arrival. And at the main train station there is a bike sharing program where you can rent a bike to explore the city on two wheels.
There are independent biking paths so that cars and bikes don’t mix. And I’ve noticed during my travels that this concept works a little better than the “share the road” concept found in larger cities like…I don’t know…Toronto. Drivers don’t get upset with cyclists since there is less interaction between the two. This oil and water relationship analysis is limited since Novi Sad is a much smaller city than Toronto and thus requires more research. There is a cool café called Culture Exchange that has mixes art, music, coffee, food and the love of bicycles. This YouTube video shows what Culture Exchange is like including their “Bike Kitchen” (bike repair) that is located on the lower level.
During my adventure travels I’ve camped, staying at hostels, motels, hotels and rental apartments (AirBnB) so this time around I decided to try out Couchsurfing to see what the experience was like. Couchsurfing is a free online community that connects travelers with those willing to host them for a couple nights. You sign up and provide details about yourself, photos where you’ve traveled, want to travel, whether you are looking for a couch or willing to host etc. It was my first time using this service even though I have friends who’ve used it. You can post your travel itinerary and have a host contact you or search for hosts and contact them. I found a host who was fairly new at Couchsurfing. Simonida is a fine arts student at the university and offered me a place to stay. She shares the apartment with her computer whiz brother. Turns out her brother and his girlfriend design iPhone apps for overseas clients. Simonida gave me a quick tour of the city, suggested sights to see and we even went to a small gathering at one of her friend’s apartments. The bottle of Amaretto I brought was well received.
And thanks to my friend back in Toronto who sent me a care package of goodies I was able to make Simonida and her brother some Mayan Hot Chocolate from Soma Chocolatier. This Toronto based hot chocolate contains ginger, jalapeno, vanilla and other spices to create a deep rich chocolate taste with a spicy afterbite. And as my brother in law once said, “It comes in a foil package without an expiry date so it must be good”.
The Canadian Ex-Patriot
A short while after confirming my Couchsurfing request with Simonida I was contacted by another host named Djordje (George). George lived in Toronto for some time before moving back to Novi Sad. I decided to meet George at his apartment for a cup of Turkish coffee and piece of homemade banana bread and chat with him about his experiences in two different cultures. George grew up in Novi Sad but moved to Canada and lived in Montreal for seven years and Toronto for fifteen. He used to work for a local Toronto news agency as a videographer. Fed up with the rat race and crazy hours he left Canada to live in Italy for two years and then moved back to the home he grew up in. He runs a bed and breakfast in his nicely decorated apartment called Girasole B&B. One of the larger rooms has its own kitchenette and bathroom. George advertises on HostelWorld, AirBnb and other places. Like some many other apartment owners in the city he is anticipating to be fully rented out for the upcoming Exit Festival. So if you are going to Novi Sad in July book a place now or bring a tent.
Just like other Balkan cities, Novi Sad has its share of stray dogs. They can be found wandering the main tourist areas and restaurant staff feed these dogs leftovers because they hate to see these animals suffer. Though other strays live on the outskirts of the city and are less fortunate.
The Petrovaradin Fortress was re-built in the late 1700’s while it’s earlier existence dates back to at least 3000 BC. Currently at the Fortress are a couple outdoor cafes, a restaurant, a hotel, art gallery and the City Musuem of Novi Sad. I went into the museum after paying the entrance fee only to discover it was basically two medium length corridors that had some city artifacts whose descriptions were only in Serbian. I walked around wondering why a museum catering to tourists didn’t have English labels. After about five minutes I headed to the exit doors then shrugged my shoulders at the senior employee gesturing “that’s it!?”. Well, surprise, surprise, the employee went and told some junior employee to open up the second floor of the museum for me. And upstairs was a beautiful collection of antique furniture used at different time periods during Novi Sad’s history. Descriptions of them were in Serbian and English.
Other areas of the city I visited were Liberty Square in the main centre and Liberty Bridge by the Danube. Liberty Bridge was rebuilt after being bombed by NATO in 1999. At the base of the bridge there is a small sandy beach with cafes and a playground.
Day and Nightlife
Drinking cappuccinos at various cafes during the day at places like Culture Exchange, Cafe Veliki and Café Atina was realxing. Though I was surprised that even though the food is inexpensive locals STILL go to that particular international fast food chain and pay double for a hamburger combo. At a local small restaurant I paid $1.5 Euro for a pizza lunch which included a cola. There was even a sushi restaurant in the city but when I got there it was closed; I wonder if it’s name Sushi-Buritto had anything to do with it.
My taste of the Novi Sad night life was similar to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The inner corridors by Liberty Square have a cross section of cafes, pubs and clubs. I went to the first club and found it was virtually empty with a few locals singing Serbian karaoke. I left shortly after I finished my shot of rakija. The second club was packed full of club goers with no elbow room and I immediately left. The third club wasn’t overly full, played decent music and felt just right so I stayed for a drink. I don’t know what the names of these clubs were I only know the taste of cheap rakija they served, ha ha!
Novi Sad is to Belgrade what Ottawa is to Toronto and if you’re in the Balkans the city is a must to visit. Now back to drinking coffee…