Niš

June 5

I ate breakfast and finished packing then asked the hostel staff if she knew anything about the bus to Niš. I had looked it up online and it said there was a 2pm bus I planned to take, but like I’ve said, I don’t really trust online info. The girl called the station for me to find out, which was really nice, especially since she said the bus leaves at either 1:10 or 3:45. Told you the Internet is not reliable. It was about 11 so I’d have plenty of time to catch the 1:10 bus. I got everything ready, then stopped to get some money so I could buy food at the station and headed to the station. I bought my ticket no problem, grabbed some food and then boarded the bus.

At the Serbian border we had to debus and walk through customs which was interesting, but easy. And I got a stamp 😉

As we were about 20 minutes into Serbia there was a police check point and a plains clothes officer (with a gun) got on and was talking to this guy in the back of the bus about traveling without documents. The officer left, but then came back and escorted the guy off of the bus. The guy had gotten on the bus at the first town we stopped at in Serbia. I’m not sure how the police knew he was on the bus or if the bus pulled over because they knew he was on the bus. Either way, we were back on the road after about 10 minutes of excitement. The rest of the trip was uneventful and I made it to Niš around 5:30. The hostel was about a 25-30 minute walk and when I arrived at 6:10 the owner was surprised and said they were expecting me later…I had told them I’d be there around 6:30 so I didn’t think I was surprisingly early. The owner showed me around and informed me that I was the only one scheduled to be in the entire hostel tonight. So that’s kind of creepy. She also gave me a run-down of the city and told me that since tomorrow is Monday most things, like the concentration camp and skull tower, will be closed. Those are 2 things I really want to see so I’ll probably extend my stay a night.

I relaxed a little and then went out to find dinner. The restaurant the owner suggested was closed, but there are a lot of cafes around though so I picked another one and sat down. I asked for a food menu and when the waiter brought it he apologized that he didn’t have an English one but that he could answer any questions. The easiest thing for me to figure out was a Caesar wrap so I ordered that. But the waiter told me they had better things than that and suggested chicken fingers!! Obviously I was all for that! And not surprisingly they were delicious!

Then I headed back to the hostel and attempted to get some sleep in my too-quiet room.

June 6

I had a slow and lazy start to the day, but eventually made my way to the lobby where I met Nacio, a volunteer at the hostel. He’s from Argentina and has been/will be traveling indefinitely. The owner had told me he does tours of the city so I asked if him about it and he said we could go at 4.

Then I headed out, grabbed a quick bite and made my way to the Bebonj Memorial Hill. The map wasn’t very clear on how to get there so I followed this path through the trees and of course it started pouring in the middle of it. Luckily I had my umbrella, and the trees did provide a little bit of cover, but the path quickly became muddy. Eventually I made it to the top of the hill and there were some wooden umbrellas with benches under them so I took shelter under one for a while it thunder and lightening. Eventually the rain slowed and I walked around the hill. The Memorial Park/Hill was the place where the Germans executed the prisoners from the concentration camp. I would learn later that they weren’t executed in the concentration camp because it wasn’t big enough. The Memorial Park consists of 3 statues of clinched fists- 1 each to signify the men, women and children who were executed.

At this point I was quite wet and muddy so I headed back to the hostel for a little before I had to meet Nacio.

I went to meet Nacio and he showed me around the city. It is a little strange to get a walking tour of Niš from an Argentinian guy, but he was very knowledgeable and it was a great tour. After the tour we grabbed a beer then he showed me a wine cellar where I might be able to buy some honey rakija. I bought the rakija and a bottle of Bermet wine- famous for this region. Then we headed back to the hostel where I just relaxed for a while before I went out for dinner. BUT I have 2 roommates tonight! We didn’t chat much, but it’s just nice to not be alone.

I went to dinner at the restaurant the owner suggested and had a delicious meal! I got the fried paprika (roasted red pepper) stuffed with cheese appetizer and beans and sausage main course.

Then it was back to the hostel and bed.

June 7

I extended my stay a night so that I could go to the concentration camp and skull tower today.

It was another slow morning so I didn’t leave until about 11:30. It was too early to have a traditional lunch here and I didn’t want another fried pastry…so I went to McDonald’s lol I had a chicken McWrap and it was the perfect amount of food.

Then it was off to the concentration camp. For less than $2 you can get a combination ticket to the concentration camp, national museum, skull tower and Mediana (summer residence of Constantine the Great but it’s closed for refurbishment). And the ticket includes a tour guide of the concentration camp so this lovely young lady took me around and explained everything which made it really great! The concentration camp is really interesting. At first, important figures of Niš were imprisoned and held hostage. If a German soldier was killed, 100 of the hostages were killed. If a German solder was injured, 50 of the hostages were killed. Eventually the camp grew and political elite, gypsies and Jews were imprisoned. The camp also didn’t discriminate- it imprisoned and executed men, women and children without distinction. A few months into the operation of the camp, 146 people planned an escape. At the time, the camp was only enclosed by a barb wire fence and 104 people were able to escape. After that, the Germans built a wall around the camp and it became nearly impossible to escape. There were no gas chambers or execution fields at this camp as it mostly served as a place to hold people before they were sent to Germany or Poland. Of course, thousands were still executed in Niš, mostly at the Bebonj Hill.

After the concentration camp, I stopped and had some ice cream for a quick snack then it was off to the skull tower. Of course on the way it started pouring again. The skull tower was built in the early 1800s as a warning. In 1809 the Serbian army attacked the Ottoman Empire who was occupying Niš. The Ottoman Empire was much more powerful and defeated the Serbian army, although they did lose a lot of men. The Ottomans decapitated the Serbian soldiers, skinned their skulls and built a tower out of the skulls as a warning to any other army that wanted to attack. Originally there were 952 skulls but now only 59 remain. It’s quite a surreal sight.

After the tower, I went back to the hostel to dry, pack and relax. Of course I’m alone again tonight >_< and I hate packing! So much! Especially after I buy something. I had a great packing plan, but that was all ruined with the bottles of wine and rakija so it was complicated.

When I’d had enough packing, I went to get dinner. I stopped at one of the cafes and they didn’t have an English menu either so I asked the waitress for a recommendation and told her I preferred chicken. She said ok and didn’t really tell me what I was getting…and then chicken fingers showed up again! Ha I love Serbia 🙂

Then it was back to the hostel to shower, finish packing and sleep.

June 8

The bus to Pristina leaves at 9:30am or 6pm, I was told by the hostel owner. You can catch it at the bus station, where its €1 more, or you can catch it outside the train station. I decided the 9:30 would be best and I’d try to catch it at the train station. I left about 8:30 so I could grab breakfast on the way and got to the bus stop outside the train station by about 8:50. I waited until about 10:30 and no bus going to Pristina came by. There was a ticket stand for another company then the one I was supposed to take and I took a chance and asked the lady working about the bus to Pristina. She wrote down 7:00 and 18:00. At this point I decided to go back to the hostel, where I told the owner what happened. I was really hoping the times had changed and not that I had just missed the bus. The owner called the bus station and found out the times did change so she apologized for misleading me. Luckily there is still another bus today so it’s not the end of the world. I was hoping to have this half day in Pristina since my flight is early Friday so I only have Thursday to explore. But in the world of things that could go wrong, this is pretty minor.

I hung out at the hostel and watched Netflix most of the afternoon and then went to grab lunch. When I got back, Nacio was there and we chatted a bit before I had to leave for the bus station. I had decided to go to the bus station this time just to be safer. €1 isn’t worth missing this bus!

I made it to the station in plenty of time and like a miracle, the bus showed up! Crossing into Kosovo makes me a little nervous because there’s a lot of political tension between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo is recognized as an independent country by like 110 countries, but Serbia believes it is still part of Serbia and refuses to acknowledge their independence. The war in Kosovo, started by the Serbians, in the late 90s was the reason NATO bombed Serbia. Kosovo today is like 60-80% Albanian so most of the world thinks Serbia has no right claiming it as theirs. Of course all of this makes the border more difficult to cross. I’ve read a lot about it and believe traveling from Serbia into Kosovo is ok because Kosovo is pretty chill. But trying to enter Serbia from Kosovo is much harder because Serbia has zero chill. You cannot enter Serbia from Kosovo if you entered Kosovo from another neighboring country. Since I have yet to go to Kosovo and do not plan on returning to Serbia, I should be fine! I’m on the bus now though so I’ll let you know when I post if I made it ok.

Since you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve guessed that I made it fine. But if you didn’t guess that, I made it fine.

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