Published on 20.09.2014.
Fill article by Stefan Popovic
(The Daily Male
Attention back-packers, frequent flyers and Lonely Planeteers! This is a public service announcement telling you that it’s time you looked past Phuket, beyond Bali and further than Fiji in search of that completely unique getaway you’re after that won’t break the budget. I can assure you it’s great because Jetstar doesn’t fly there and it’s safe enough to warrant you not wrapping your suitcases in 12 packs of Glad Wrap before you check-in your luggage. Here’s the deal; ensure your seat back and tray tables are in their full upright position and you’ve left all emotional baggage behind, because I’m about to take you through 10 reasons why Serbia should be your destination of choice and how it’s going to restore your enthusiasm about taking a European vacation.
Serbia was just voted in at #5 in a poll of the most attractive countries in the world. To put that in context – this is a country that borders (among other countries) Bulgaria, Albania and Romania. So to say genetics play a bigger part than geography is an understatement. From tanned skins rarely susceptible to sunburn, to beautiful features and people with genetic cocktails that allow them to generally drink and eat large quantities without gaining weight, the benefits of being a nation that was never an English colony are endless. Another bonus; hipsters don’t exist in Serbia! On the off chance that you do see a person with tattered pants, dishevelled hair and a woollen jumper that looks like they knitted it themselves, they’re not a hipster – they’re homeless. In a country where the girls are tall and the men are taller, probably the only people who are going to be a little disheartened in Serbia might be short guys. You know what girls in Serbia call guys under 5ft 10”? Nothing… girls in Serbia don’t call guys under 5ft 10”. With a female population that lead you to believe there’s a potential cover girl around every corner, it may be Victoria’s Secret but it’s Serbia’s reality.
In short, from fine dining to fast food, Serbia’s a country where ‘low fat’ labels go to die. From gourmet burgers that would make McDonald’s their McBitch to pastries that ignore the existence of any such thing as ‘gluten free people’ and offer only a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to dining evolution – Serbia is to food what China is to mathematics. It’s also one of the only countries in the world to have completely banned GMO products, which is like a big F.U to the E.U, U.S and U.N… and Serbs are O.K with that. Ultimately, you’ve got to love a country where when you go to a bakery, yoghurt isn’t a dip – it’s a beverage.
If you’re wondering where all that hospitality that the French seem to be lacking went, it’s over here. It’s been divided-up pretty evenly among the Serbs, with a disproportionately high quantity going to every Serb grandmother with a pulse and a stovetop. Unlike Australia, the only time you’ll hear someone in Serbia ask you to “bring a plate” to a get-together is when they literally want you to bring an empty plate so they can pile it up and send you home with more of their food you couldn’t fit into your guts in the first sitting. You might arrive hungry, but you’ll never leave that way. While western households tend to say that “less is more”, Serbs believe “less is an insult and more is in all likelihood still not enough”. In short, in Serbia texting someone the letters ‘BYO’ is more offensive than ‘F.U.’
Don’t get too excited when you see Serbian dinar notes with a couple of zeros on them, Richie Rich. It’s probably just the equivalent of a few dollars. The good news is that while Serbia is located in the heart of Europe, it’s not a European Union member. The currency is still the Serbian dinar (RSD) and not the Euro, which means more savings for you, the travelling consumer. It’s pretty much like Serbia’s the only homeowner in a beautiful street where most of its neighbours come over to have fun because they’re all stuck renting from the same douche bag German landlord. Even in Belgrade (the most expensive city in Serbia), a one-bedroom apartment close to the centre will set you back around $260 AUD a month, your average beer price is around 170 RSD ($2 AUD) for a pint, while you can pick-up the gourmet burger I mentioned earlier for around 250 RSD ($3 AUD). Basically, it’s cheap enough to warrant making it your first choice destination, but not so cheap that you classify it as a third-world destination. A Paris holiday on an almost Bangkok budget.
The Morning, Afternoon & Nightlife
Serbia is a place where socialising is such an important part of life, it was in fact a socialist country for more than half of the 20th century! Like a real-life Balkan Facebook, the country is a living breathing social network, where everyone’s online at any time of the day and night, there’s plenty to see and yet no one’s going to walk-up to ask you to come checkout Farmville with them. Whether you spend your time wandering, your money shopping or your energy partying, rest assured Serbia’s open and operating 24-7. Busy city beaches, consumption of alcohol in public and floating raft nightclubs (splavovi) on the rivers that run through the country are just a few examples of why it’s fun and games at all times of the day in Serbia. It’s the perfect setting for another ‘Hangover’ sequel and it’s no coincidence that neither the words ‘Serbia’ nor ‘fun’ contain the letters ‘OH&S’!
There are 4 ‘Cs’ on the Serbian coat of arms and you could be forgiven for thinking they all stand for ‘Celebrate’. From foods you love to eat to beverages you love to drink and music you love to dance, sing and play air-instruments along to, you can be sure that Serbia has a festival celebrating them. ‘Belgrade Beerfest’ corrects all of the mistakes made by Oktoberfest; more live bands, cheaper beer, fewer Germans. Voted best festival in the world and winning the award for “Best Major European Festival 2014” is Exit Festival in Novi Sad. It combines modern music and pyrotechnics set against the ancient backdrop of the Petrovaradin fortress on the Danube River so it’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Big Day Out’. Then there’s Guca Trumpet Festival. A festival where for a few days every year in August, a quiet village of 2,000 people opens its gates to a river of alcohol, roast meats, brass music and around 500,000 people. An eruption of joy, gypsies and insane frivolities worthy of Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram account. I know that even as you read this, you probably don’t believe it because in Australia and much of the western world, brass music is usually associated with pubescent boys or geriatric gentlemen in marching bands and camp military costumes, that usually form the soundtrack for the dissolution of the human sex drive. Basically, an atmosphere that’s about as arousing and as likely to get you up and excited as watching your grandparents making out while their teeth are in respective glass jars beside them. Rest assured, in Serbia there are more than a few gypsies waiting to prove you wrong in exchange for what here might be considered pocket change.
The Capital City – ‘Belgrade’
If New York and Paris got together and had a lovechild that combined the rugged coolness of the former and the euro-chic style of the latter, then had to give that baby up for adoption to a good family so that London didn’t get jealous, then Belgrade is that baby and Serbia’s signed the adoption papers. I really don’t know what I can say about this city that compliments it enough; it’s got old-school charm, modern day style and eternal beauty. If Kanye wasn’t so hooked-up on Chicago, he’d write a song about it. It’s also a city where hot people use public transport! Yes! You wouldn’t think this is such a massive a selling point, but you’d be surprised how much easier it is to go without a car and how significantly the complaints about late public transport reduce when you’re fare-evading alongside a woman that looks like she’s Adriana Lima’s Slavic cousin. Belgrade was again voted “Best City to Visit in Europe in 2014” by travel site Yomadic and is regularly in Lonely Planet’s Top 5 world destinations. I’m not going to say it’s Heaven but you do pay no admission to get in, it’s name in English literally translates to “White City” and there’s a good chance the guy stamping your passport at Belgrade airport customs and deciding whether to let you enter the country will be called ‘Petar’. Sooooo, you be the judge…. Amen.
Sport is as much a part of Serbian culture as mono-brows and an inherent fear of Liam Neeson are to Albanian culture. So much so that it’s probably the only country in the world where you can find basketball and tennis courts inside the walls of a 1500 year-old fortress. Amusingly, this also makes it incredibly easy to convince many American tourists that Serbs defeated the Ottoman Turks in a game of 3on3 or that the Second Serbian Uprising was decided in a 5th set tie-breaker. World and European champions in sports from waterpolo & tennis to football & volleyball, not to mention more World Championship basketball gold medals than any other country, it would seem Serbia’s run the ‘human race’ and lapped every other nation along the way. Whether you want to watch it, play it or just bet on it – sport in Serbia isn’t a past time – it’s a way of life.
Serbia really lives up to the phrase; ‘Poor economy, rich history’. It’s a history that’s seen more battles than Rambo, more rulers than a Catholic schoolboy’s backside and more major events than Ticketek. So much so that the Serbian flag is the only flag other than the U.S flag to have flown above the White House. Another interesting fact is that the word “vampire” comes from the Serbian language and Serbia is also responsible for exporting most of the world’s raspberries. So if you’re a Twilight fan who also enjoys eating Pavlova, you’re welcome. Serbia even took the time to give the world Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Albert Einstein’s wife and to give Australia Sam Kekovich and two Stefanovic brothers. It’s also the country responsible for Nikola Tesla; the ‘man who lit the world’, designed (among other things) Alternating Current and therefore without whom we wouldn’t have the band 'AC/DC'.
Without going on about it too much, Serbia’s basically like a giant Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory; there’s heaps to see, most of it’s edible and you can actually drink straight from some of the rivers. As for the oompa loompas, they live next door and are called ‘Romanians’. In addition to the monasteries, the architecture and the resorts, there’s more natural beauty than you can poke a stick at. Over 30% of Serbia is covered by forest including 5 national parks, 22 nature reserves and most importantly, no Ivan Milat. With plenty of hiking and rafting tours to choose from as well as an abundance of cascading waterfalls and rushing rivers, despite what R&B trio ‘TLC’ may have told you, in Serbia at least, you can go chasing waterfalls and stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.
So take the opportunity to visit a nation where the natural beauty of the country is surpassed only by the overwhelming hospitality of the people and the range of adventures on offer. You’ll fall in love with this land where surnames ending in ić are common and can rest assured that even if you’ve got 99 problems, an ić ain’t one.