When we crossed the border from Macedonia and the Republic of Serbia it was already dark on the Monday 16/11/09. With the sun going down around 16:00 to 16:30 hours, you find yourself easily driving when it is dark, even if it is not late at night. When we arrived in front of the Macedonian officer the gentleman asked us where we are coming from, holding our passports in his hands. We first thought he wanted to know our nationalities, but no no no. He simply wanted to know from which country we are coming from. We were quiet surprised by his question. If we are on the point to leave Macedonia, it seems to us quiet obvious that we are coming from Macedonia. Apparantly for the officer the question had a reason to be asked. So we nicely responded Macedonia and that completely satisfied the officer.
Then we drove something like 200 metres on a closed area to get to the serbian side of the border. There is no otherway to go, from one custom office to the other. When we arrived in front of the Serbian officer, the same thing happened. We hand over our passports and the first question the gentleman asks us is: "where are you coming from ?" We looked at him with big question marks on our faces. He didn't move one muscle on his face waiting for our answer. We told him Macedonia, thinking how on earth is it possible to come from another country ????? In any case the officer did the necessary procedures that went quickly, so off we were in the Republic of Serbia.
That evening we had a quiet evening in the van and slept in just outside a town called Presovec.
The next day our destination was Pristina, capital of Kosovo. The independence of Kosovo has been declared quiet recently in january 2008 but not all countries in the world have acknowledged the existence of this new state. With the independance of Kosovo, Serbia looses its status of the biggest country in the Balkan region.
On our way to Kosovo we saw quiet a lot of houses under construction or newly build. We also passed on the way a lot of billboards mentionning developing programs financed by Canadian, American and European Institution and also the UN. In this southern part of Serbia people of muslim beleive live and we saw some mosques.
The signs on the road were rare, so we were not sure that we were heading in the good direction. After driving for about one hour we arrived at an intersection with signs, to comfort our choice. At a certain moment in the middle of a road, there was a sign that cars needed to stop for police control. They controlled all the passports, but no explanation whatsoever explaining you why. After passing that control, we drove 2 km and found ourselves in front of other controls. A lot of cars were waiting in line. The offices in which the officers were sitting looked like small cottages you can find on construction site. The driver of the car in front of us came to tell us something about going forward and pay something. So we passed a line of about 40 cars to go directly to one of the offices. An officer came out to check our passports and asked us if we paid the Kosovo insurance. As we were not aware of that insurance he indicated another booth, were we can go and have that procedure taken care of. While Olivier went to pay the insurance, I received back our passports with a paper in each one stamped by the authorities of Kosovo granting us a tourist visa to enter in the country. Olivier came back totaly astonished about the price. They were asking 120 euros to us for this insurance. Smaller cars pay 50 and ours 120. We were planning to stay only 3 days in Kosovo, so this price was way over our budget. We gave back their piece of paper about the tourist visa, greeted all the officers and made a turn back, deciding that we will not visit the country of Kosovo.
We finaly stopped in a town called Vranje. In this town we stayed in a small hotel called Vaj Rahaj Hostel and in the evening we had dinner in a nice, fancy restaurant. We had a nice conversation with a waiter called Igor, who was the only one speaking english. Igor explained to us that we would not be able to find a lot of live music in the following three days as the country was mourning. The patriarchal of the Orthodox church died and the country was mourning for three days. The patriarchal is the most important person with the highest rank in the Orthodox church. The mourning consisted of not playing any live music and also on the radio, they were playing only instrumental music (also called elevator music). Before leaving Vranje the next day, we tried to visit a little bit the town. But the old hamam (turkish bath) dating from the Ottoman empire was now turned into a museum and closed when we stopped by. The white stone bridge, they were making a big fuss about seemed a little dissapointed, ones we succeeded in finding it.
We decided to head in direction of Belgrade. While we were driving on the road just leaving the city of Vranje, a policeofficer stopped us. He started talking something in Serbian. When we told him that we are not understanding, there was one word he pronounced: SPEED. He told us that we were driving 74 km/hour instead of 50 km/hour. He was giving us a fine of 3.000 dinar that is equivalent of 30 euros. We wanted to be sure about this speed thing and the officer showed us a hightech device in their car controlling the cars passing by. Olivier tried to see if it was negotiable, but the offcer didn't seem to want to negiotate anything. He explained to us that if we didn't have dinars, we had to go to an exchange office to change money. So we opened our wallets and paid the fine and asked on return a ticket from him. After that unpleasant experience, we saw that there were quiet some police along the road and indeed checking speed of cars. As of that moment our eyes were blocked on our speed indicator in order not to be over the limit indicated on the road.
We decided to take the highway to be a little bit more tranquil about this speed issue and our first intention was not to go inmediately to Belgrade. We wanted to stop in a bigger city then Vranje called Nis. Ones on the expensive highway, we missed the exit to Nis and finaly decided to continue and stopped instead in a middle sized town called Krusevac. Little did we know how important this town will become for us during our stay in Serbia.
After searching in vane for an automatic laundry, we decided to go and visit the town. We visited the remains of a fortress belonging to King Lazarus and also an Orthodox Church on top of a hill. While walking around in the center, we bumped into a café/bar/lounge called Scena that seemed nice and decided to have a drink. As soon as we installed ourselves at the bar, we started talking with this very nice girl behind the bar called Maya. She was very interested in our project and in general very curious to speak with us. After a while she told us that she knew a band in Belgrade. The base player of the band was from Krusevac and friend of the boyfriend of Maya. She made some calls and gave us afterwards the telephone number of a musician called Branislav Radojkovic (a.k.a. Bane) from the band called Naked. We couldn't listen to their music at Scena as they didn't have the CD, but she explained us briefly their music and we decided that we will contact the musician in any case.
Next to the place we parked our car that night, there was a water fountain (remains of the Ottoman empire). In the morning of the next day we used the water fountain to wash some clothes, as finding automatic laundry was impossible since we left Turkey. We were parked just on the border of a small neigbourhood. At a certain moment a gentleman came to us and offered Olivier homemade Raki. He served him half of a cup, as if it was water. Olivier told me that it was quiet strong. The gentleman couldn't speak english but was happy to share his Raki with us.
Before leaving Krusevac that day, we called Bane in Belgrade to see if we could meet with him. He was already informed about us, through the boyfriend of Maya. He suggested us to come, listen and record his music in a club in Belgrade called The Tube that same night. Their concert was programmed after midnight as the time of mourning was ending at 00:00 hours on the Thursday night.
We arrived at Belgrade in the beginning of the evening and had all the time to find the center and the club Bane gave us as rendez-vous. The first impression of the capital was the big avenues, big buildings, some reminding you of western Europe; like the national theater, the house of the parliament. There was also this huge orthodox church which appears to be the biggest in the balkan region. We walked around in a pedestrian street filled with shops. We arrived early at the club The Tube, the bandmembers were not there yet. The club had a very trendy interior design. It was a long corridor with the stage of the band at the back of the corridor. The place was very dark. The walls and ceiling were all painted in black. There were small lightbulbs giving atmosphere light. Around midnight we met Bane, just before they started performing. We had a quick chance to explain him further about our project. He gave us information about their music and also told us that their next concert was programmed in Paris in the festival "Jazzy Colors" organized in different foreign cultural centers in Paris.
We hereby extend the invitation to all parisians to attend the concert of NAKED on Friday the 27th of November at the Centre Culturel de Serbie in Paris at the following address: 123 rue Saint-Martin, 75004 Paris. Nearest metro is Chatelet or Rambuteau. The entrance fee is 10 euros and the concert starts at 8 :00 pm
That Thursday night at The Tube their concert started a little after midnight. The band consists of six musicians; Milos Punisic accordion player, Djordje Mijuskovic violinist, Nenad Brankovic electric guitar player, Branislav Radojkovic & Ivan Mihajlovic base players and at the drums Goran Milosevic.
I was completely seduced by their music. It is a mixture of folk music (because of the accordion and violinist) and jazz. I am not sure about the music genre's, but maybe you can label them in the category of acid jazz. In any case there is good energy in their performance. The club was rather full, especially for a Thursday night. People came for the concert, because when the band finished most people left, even though there was a DJ afterwards. We made pictures, some videos and offcourse musical recordings.
In some seperate articles you will be able to listen to one of our recordings of their performance and also check out a video of their concert. Of course they also have their myspace where everyone can listen to their music. The address is: www.myspace.com/nakedjazz. After their performance we spoke a little with Bane, but we decided to call him the next day to meet. We left the club about 3 o'clock in the morning and went searching for a place to sleep.
We found easily a place in a neigbourhood in front of a house that appeared under construction.The next day while preparing ourselves the gentleman living in the house, we thought was empty, invited us for a coffee. It appeared that he and his family lived on the groundlevel of the house. The first floor was under construction as it is destined for his son. A young serbian neigbour who spoke english explained to us that parents built houses of at least two floors. The upper level is for the son and his family. They take time to finish the upper level as the son growes up. That explained why we saw so many unfinished houses. If the family has a daughter they don't build. Tradition has it that it is the family with the son that takes care of the house for the next generation.
Ones we were finished socializing to go and visit the centre of Belgrade, it was allready around 3:00 pm. Not only was it getting dark, there was also thick smog forming over the city. We took a tramway and got lost on the way. Finally we had a chance to get in the same pedestrian street we already knew and go to the National Theater and Republic Square we have already seen before. In the evening we had a rendez-vous with Bane. We made plans with Bane to go to his appartment that evening. The rest of the week-end we spend with Bane and his girlfriend Mika. They opened their house to us and invited us to stay at their place for the rest of the weekend. We spend the weekend talking about music, politics, war and lots of different subjects. They were just adorable people. For me they introduced us to their lives when it was Yougouslavia, the absurd period they lived through in the 90's because of the balkanwar, the political situation in Serbia before and after the war. It all seems to me so complex that it is difficult to give a summary of their stories. In any case they provided me the red line to follow if I want to read more about the historical events in this region.
On the Saturday we visited the fortress and the parc in Belgrade. From this point you have a nice view over the (foggy) city and the Danube river that flows in this city. In general the city is good restored. There are two big buildings in the center that have been bombed by the Nato and kept in this state, probably waiting for a solution to be found what to do with them. Otherwise the city has been rebuild after the war.
Bane and Mika come from the town called Krusevac, so they spoke a lot about the difference between their town and Belgrade. We went to see a photo exhibit in an art gallery from a Photographer from Krusevac. They also brought us to this CD shop to buy some serbian music and the shop was held by someone from Krusevac. We were suspecting and joking with our hosts that the whole Krusevac population came to Belgrade and they all knew each other.
That Sunday we left Belgrade as time is running by. It was difficult to say goodbye to Bane and Mika as we spend such a nice time with them. But after exchanging some gifts and goodluck wishes we did hit the road in direction of a town called Çaçak. On the road between Belgrade and Çaçak in a town called Celje, we celebrated our 11.000 km milestone. The milage of Bubule was showing 133.446 km (Go Bubule go!!!!)
We arrived at this town by the end of the afternoon. We finally didn't really visited the town, as we were exhausted of going to sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning for the last three days.
Before leaving Serbia on the Monday (23/11/09), we wanted to visit a monastery, as we passed so many monasteries on our road. We decided to visit a 15th old century monastery called Sretenic not far outside the town called Çaçak. The Monastery was in a fairly secluded area in a quiet place with a nice view over the surrounding mountains.
Ones we were inside, a sister opened the chapel for us to visit. Before entering the chapel, I had to wear an overall over my pants. I think because I was wearing pants, she indicated that I had to put this on. The orthodox chapel had frescoes that dated from the 15th century that were in a very good state. The frescoes were painted over a black wall. We were not allowed to take any pictures. The sisters were all dressed in black, with a black scrave over their heads. We were explained that a total of 19 sisters were living in the monastery. I just had to ask about the men I saw walking around. The sister explained to us that the men helped the sisters out with a few tasks in the garden, on the field and in the houses. The establishment was very good preserved with a nice garden. We were not invited to visit the other residences. After the visit of the chapel, we were offered tea and lokum (turkish delight). We also received fresh apples from their garden.
We continued our trip in the direction of Bosnie. On our way just outside the town called Užice we picked up Sacha who was hitchhiking. He was heading for a town in Bosnie that was on our way. Sacha liked only Rock & Roll, so he suggested us to shut down the radio if they were not playing Rock & Roll. Sacha showed us the right way to drive to Bosnie. Also he showed us the house of this famous serbian film producer and musician, Emir Kusturica. His house was up on a hill overlooking the village called Mokra Gora. When we suggested to Sacha if he thinks we could stop by at the house of Emir Kusturica, he didn't seem keen on the idea. We crossed the Serbian / Bosnian border on that same day.