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    Europe Travel

    Visiting Serbia For the First Time

    One of the first countries we visited when we began the Grand Adventure was the Balkan nation of Bulgaria. We were, and still are, smitten with Bulgaria. It had everything we wanted; beautiful beaches, historic sites, delicious food, friendly people and all at a very inexpensive price. So we have made an effort to visit as many other Balkan countries as we could over the years including Romania, and Albania. This is how we ended up Visiting Serbia For The First Time. We only had a week, so we didn’t see it all, but here is what we saw while Visiting Serbia For The First Time in April.

    Belgrade Church of Saint Sava


    Located in a central part of the Balkans, the region has been an important crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years. Wikipedia says – In 1217 the Kingdom and national church (Serbian Orthodox Church) were established, under the Nemanjić dynasty. Next in 1345 the Serbian Empire was established, spanning most of the Balkan peninsula. Serbia became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1540. Next in 1929 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes adopted the name Yugoslavia. But in 1946, Yugoslavia became a socialist federation of six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia,

    When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1990, the Balkan wars began pitting former allies against each other. Inter-ethnic fighting between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovnia, escalated and included Kosovo and Serbia. The Yugoslav war left economic and political chaos that is still visible today.

    On the Danube looking across at Romania

    Through Our Eyes

    Serbia today, through our eyes, is a progressive country with several beautiful historic cities, UNESCO sites, good roads and infrastructure. It is not advised to drink the water, and EVERYONE smokes, but the traffic is much better than what we experienced in Albania and most people speak a little English. It is very inexpensive. During our six day visit we visited the largest city, Belgrade where we spent one full day. We did a day trip from Belgrade to Golubac. Then we traveled for one night to Novi Sad, two nights to Zlatibor and then back to Belgrade.

    Sunrise in Belgrade

    If you are considering Serbia, do your research to decide what is most important to you. We had read some recommendations that said don’t bother with Belgrade, but we actually enjoyed our time there very much. So depending on what you are looking for, Serbia has great food, nice museums, historic towns, prehistoric sites, beautiful nature and hiking and much more.


    We arrived at the Nikola Tesla Airport mid afternoon. The airport is actually pretty nice and we found arriving quick and efficient. But then we tried to find the car rental area and that was a bit of a wild goose chase. Signage is tiny and we missed the sign and wandered around for awhile. We finally realized we had to cross a major road, with no cross walk, where we found these container type buildings housing the car rental companies. Both odd and inconvenient as we stood outside in the rain. Eventually we were sorted and in the car heading to downtown Belgrade.

    Our hotel was fantastic. Garni Hotel Bohemia, I highly recommend for several reasons; exceptional service, parking available, laundry available and a great breakfast. On top of that we could walk everywhere we wanted to go from the centrally located property in the beautiful historic cobbled pedestrian street called Skadarlija.

    Garni Hotel Bohemia

    We arrived early evening and we were pretty tired. But we took a walk around our neighborhood getting a feel for the location. Instead of Serbian food (more of that comes later), we took the plunge to have a burger and fries at a highly rated little hole in the wall called Burgos. Definitely a nice change of pace and so delicious.


    Free Walking Tour

    Next morning, after a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we took a nice walk to meet up with a Free Walking Tour Belgrade. I’ve said before how much we enjoy doing these tours, it’s always an excellent introduction to a new city. Our tour provided some interesting historical information about the city, religion, ethnic troubles and culture. We walked a lot… visiting several pedestrian areas, churches and the Belgrade Fortress where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the Danube River.

    Belgrade Fortress

    Following our tour we visited the really amazing National Museum of Serbia enjoying some surprising painting and sculpture as well as some fascinating antiquities from the region. I highly recommend you visit the The National Museum of Serbia when in Belgrade. Leaving the museum we were treated to an unexpected folk dance performance on the Republic Square.

    Republic Square
    National Museum of Serbia

    For dinner we went to the highly rated Tri Sesira restaurant, founded in 1864 and serving the most traditional of Serbian foods. The food was really good, but we thought the service was poor and a bit “uppity”. Many tourists visit this restaurant so their snooty attitude to the customers was a surprise.

    Tri Sesira

    Golubac and Lepenski Vir

    Day Two we headed out on a road trip, with no expectations. We had read about two places to the east that were worth a visit. It was a bluebird day and the drive was beautiful with views of the Danube and small towns along the way.

    Golubac Fortress

    Our first site of Golubac Fortress was a great surprise, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. Originally a Roman settlement, the fortress was built around the 14th century, passing through the hands of the Ottomans, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Austrians before the Serbs secured it once and for all in 1867. Recent renovations of the Fortress have made it more accessible to visitors. It is a beautiful spot for a picnic and lots of tour buses come here, so arrive early in the day if you can.

    Golubac Fortress


    Just a few miles down the road, with a sign that is easy to miss, you come to Lepenski Vir. I had no idea how incredible this prehistoric site was. Lepenski Vir, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, is an important archaeological site of the Lepenski Vir culture. It includes Mesolithic Iron Gates Hunter-Gatherers period and transition to Early Neolithic Early European Farmers period of the Balkans.

    Lepenski Vir is the oldest planned settlement in Europe and has unique, trapezoidal-shaped houses seen nowhere else. Its culture has yielded not only the earliest discovered portrait sculptures, but also the first sculptures larger than life-size in the history of human art. The site Lepenski Vir is located at the so called “Iron Gates” of the Danube, approximately 150 kilometres east of Belgrade. The excavations conducted by D. Srejovic (1965-69) on a sandy bank terrace, measuring 170X50 m., revealed a settlement which was inhabited between 6600 and 4500 BC. Man I love this stuff. What a great discovery. Don’t miss this.

    Lepenski Vir
    Lepenski Vir

    There is more to do in this region, if you have time, spend another day. But we headed back to our Belgrade hotel and prepared for an early morning departure.

    Novi Sad

    Day three we headed North. Our destination was the city of Novi Sad, but our first stop was the historic Danube city of Sremski Karlovci. We arrived fairly early on a Sunday morning, the village was quiet. So we walked through the pedestrian area admiring the historic buildings and beautiful churches. Then following our Map My City App we wandered up through the hills around the city to a viewpoint. The site appeared to once have been a lovely spot, but now graffiti and vandalism had ruined it. The view though still worth it. We took another route back to the city, enjoying the flora as we headed back to our car. This region is one of Serbia’s wine regions, I recommend if you have some time, to check it out. The wines we had in Serbia were surprisingly delicious!

    Sremski Karlovci
    Petrovaridin Fortress

    Novi Sad

    Our next stop was Novi Sad, only about five miles from Sremski Karlovci. We parked at the bottom of the Petrovaridin Fortress and walked up the steps the way the ancient people would have. But you can also drive and park at the top. The fortress, built in 1692, has a fabulous view of the Danube and is a popular tourist destination. You can walk all around the ramparts and there are a few shops and a restaurant. We almost missed the museum, as the signage was not very good. I am so glad we found it. A fascinating chronological history of the region, the prehistoric people and the fortress. There is also a glimpse into the vast labyrinth that weaves beneath the fortress, most of it still uncharted.

    Petrovaridin Fortress
    Petrovaridin Fortress Museum

    We made a stop to see the Monument to the Victims of the Raid. On the quay that today bears the name Quay of the Raid Victims, occupying Hungarian forces carried out a mass shooting of more than a thousand innocent citizens of Novi Sad in the so-called “January Raid” from January 21 to 23, 1942. The bronze composition “The Family”, 4 meters tall, was erected at that place in 1971. It’s a beautiful sculpture and memorial that includes all the names of the victims. Worth a visit.

    Monument to the Victims of the Raid

    Next we headed to our hotel on the other side of the river. I was not happy with this hotel so I am not going to recommend it. But we really enjoyed walking at sunset around the beautiful historic town and then heading to Fish & Zelenis’– a fabulous seafood restaurant that was one of the best meals we had in all of Serbia.

    Novi Sad main square
    Fish and Zelenis’


    Day four we enjoyed a lovely drive heading towards the mountain town of Zlatibor. The rolling green hills and bucolic farmland were a beautiful surprise as we headed to the Gostilje waterfall for a short hike. It was cooler and damper in this forest area but we enjoyed walking through the trees and enjoying the multiple levels of the waterfall. It felt good to get some exercise and breath the fresh air.

    Beautiful green hills
    Gostilje waterfall

    Mountain Town

    After our invigorating hike we headed on to Zlatibor, the mountain ski town at 3000 feet. Wow, it was not what I was expecting. Recent construction has at least tripled the size of the destination. A gondola takes skiers or hikers up the mountain. The town is littered with construction cranes as hotels, retail and restaurants are quickly changing the look of the old town. Our apartment hotel, the Vila Masa, was a nice surprise, brand new and beautiful with an excellent breakfast included.

    The weather was chilly but we walked around the town to see what there was to see. It had been a long day so we enjoyed a room picnic and called it an early night.

    Next morning we were up early and walked to the Gold Gondola about a mile from our hotel. We took some time to explore the market, full of local cheese, wine and salami as well as traditional souvenirs. We headed to the gondola, hoping to get in a hike before the forecast rain began. The gondola ride was fun, about 20 minutes, and provided a great perspective of the sprawling area, former farmland, now being built up with condos and homes.

    Delicious local products at the market
    Top of Gold Gondola

    At the top, it was a bit chilly, but only a few patches of snow was visible. We had hoped to find some great hiking trails, but there wasn’t really as many as we had assumed. But we put in a couple miles, and had just turned to head back when the rains started.

    Zlatabor Mountain Hike

    Back in town we visited a very traditional Serbian restaurant Jezero. Our time in Serbia was coming to an end and I still had not eaten the famous Sarma, (stuffed cabbage). It was so delicious. I am going to make this at home.

    Sarma Serbian Cabbage Rolls

    Back to Belgrade

    Our final day we took a couple of hours to drive back to Belgrade hoping to have plenty of time to visit the Nikola Tesla Museum. The highly rated museum does not take reservations or sell advance tickets. Guided tours are offered a few times a day and we were optimistic. Despite arriving an hour in advance to the museum we were turned away. I’ve heard great things about this museum, but we did not see it. I hope you have better luck.

    Church of Saint Sava

    We took a walk to see the famous Church of Saint Sava, built in the 1930’s, before heading to a hotel at the airport, where we slept just a few hours, our Uber arriving at 4:00am for our 7:00am flight to Vienna. Farewell to Serbia.

    Thank you for reading my post Visiting Serbia for the First Time. See last week’s post A Visit to Lake Ohrid North Macedonia. We love it when you comment and share our posts. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    Location: Albania

    We had Albania on our itinerary in 2020 when we had to cut our travels short and return home due to the Pandamit. It’s taken four years to get Albania and other Balkan countries back onto our itinerary. We are so glad to finally visit and to learn all About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Cobbled Streets of Berat Albania


    As is true for all the Balkan nations we have visited, the history here is wildly chaotic. And yet the people are steadfast and resilient. A product of oppression and occupation and much more over thousands of years. In all the Balkan countries we have visited, from Bulgaria to Slovenia, Croatia to Romania, we have found wonderfully welcoming people happy to share their homeland.

    Born to Albanian Parents, Mother Teresa is much revered


    History here, well it would take volumes to cover it. As is true through out Central Europe the area known today as Albania was passed from Byzantines to Venetians to Ottomans. The Romans made an appearance, as they always do. But it is the more recent history of the past century that is so fascinating, frightening and frankly it’s a story that needs telling. I knew very little about this tyrannical leader and totalitarian regime of the recent past and I expect most other people are the same. I certainly am no expert, but here is a brief timeline from what I learned;

    Communist era gun bunker in the middle of the city
    Gun bunker entrance

    About Albania – Tirana and Beyond

    1918 -At the end of World War I Italy occupies Albania

    1921 – Yugoslavia invades Albania

    1921 – Ahmet Zogu comes into power and will continue in and out of control of the country for the next 18 years, declaring himself King.

    1939 – Mussolini attacks Albania

    1941 – Albanian Communist Party founded; Enver Hoxha becomes first secretary. He is a staunch Stalinist.

    1946 – Enver Hoxha becomes prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and commander-in-chief.

    1961 – Under Hoxha, Soviet Union breaks diplomatic relations, Albania looks towards China for support.

    1967 – Hoxha regime conducts violent campaign to extinguish religious life in Albania; by year’s end over two thousand religious buildings were closed or converted to other uses. Albania is declared “the world’s first atheist country,” religious leaders are imprisoned and executed.

    1975 – 1991 – Hoxha creates authoritarian state with no roads in or out. A complete closure to the outside world and absolute isolation for Albanian people.

    1985 – Hoxha dies and Ramiz Alia is his successor.

    1991 – Communism falls in Albania.

    1992 – Democratic Party wins election. Former President Alia and eighteen other former communist officials, including Nexhmije Hoxha, wife of late dictator Hoxha, arrested and charged with corruption and other offenses.

    The “Pyramid” originally a shrine to Hoxha is now a school in Tirana
    A piece of the Berlin Wall displayed in one of Tirana’s parks.

    Albania Today

    Thirty-three years after the fall of communism in Albania, it is a much different place. The country continues to find its way out of the decades of oppression. As a visitor however, you will find a vibrant city in Tirana, despite traffic gridlock and some persistent air pollution. Efforts are being made for new roads and infrastructure upgrades, but as of this writing there are way too many cars for the quality of the roads. Both parking and driving etiquette is non-existent. Multiple high-rise buildings are under construction and unique and beautiful architecture abounds.

    View from Kruje

    Albania awaits entry into the European Union, and they have waited for a couple of decades. Government corruption seems to be the stumbling block. Hopefully they can move forward in a positive way.

    Our Six Day Visit

    During our time in Albania we based ourselves in Tirana in an Airbnb. We had a car, although we regretted it on several occasions. Driving here is not for the faint of heart and gas is $8USD a gallon. To get around Tirana however, we parked the car and walked and took the bus. Multiple taxi options are also available. We spent two days in the city of Tirana and we recommend the following.

    As we often do on day one of visiting a new city we signed up for a free walking tour with FREE TOURS. Our guide was excellent, spoke perfect English and had a great grasp of the complicated history of Tirana. During our two hour tour we visited the Skanderbeg Square, which is the heart of the city and named for Albanian National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu. Skanderbeg is revered for defending the country against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. Our guide described all the new construction in the city and changes being made to attract tourism. We visited the “pyramid”, originally a shrine to Dictator Enver Hoxha but today a school. He also explained the Bunk Art Museums (more on that below) and pointed out several other museums in the city. Finally he shared with us some great restaurant options. A perfect introduction.

    Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu
    National Museum of History

    On Our Own

    Following our tour we headed out to explore more deeply several places in the city. We started at the Et hem Bey Mosque, a beautiful historic mosque right on Skanderbeg square. Throughout all the occupations and historical violence, this mosque was saved partly because of its unique beauty and design. The minaret was broken in WWII but replaced after the war.

    Gorgeous interior of Et hem Bey Mosque
    Unique and beautiful exterior Et hem Bey Mosque

    Next we visited Bunk Art Two. There are two Bunk Art museums, Bunk Art One is further out of town (more on that below) but Bunk Art Two is located right behind Et hem Bey mosque. Both museums are built inside former bunkers, built to protect the communist elite in times of war or nuclear attack. Bunk Art Two is smaller and easily accessible from the city. Learn more here.

    Decompression Chamber Bunk Art Two
    Communications Equipment Bunk Art Two

    PizarirRi New Bazaar – we ended our day strolling through the city’s New Bazaar, a colorful and lively area for locals and visitors alike. Our guide recommended this to us for traditional Albanian foods as well as crafts and people watching. We had an excellent meal at Oda, a old family restaurant serving traditional local food.

    New Bazaar
    Oda Traditional Food
    Local salad always has cucumber and tomato
    Stuffed peppers are a traditional Balkan food

    Day Two in Tirana

    Dajti Express Gondola – we took the bus to the foot of the gondola, and we are so glad we didn’t try to drive in the crazy traffic. The bus was clean and efficient and cost 40 cents USD. We arrived pretty early to the gondola and there was no one there. It was Sunday and we were surprised. We rode the gondola up and admired the views. Slowly more people started to arrive so we headed out to do a hike. We had trouble finding the trail head, because a big fence had been erected. But we eventually scooted around it and did a nice but not too strenuous hike traversing the side of the mountain. The area is a bit run down with tacky tourist tzotskis, but I recommend you do the gondola when in Tirana especially for the views. The Gondola is closed on Tuesdays.

    View of Tirana from the gondola

    Bunk Art One – Located at the foot of the gondola, so a perfect activity to do at the same time. This is the original Bunk Art museum, opened in 2014. Located inside this massive bunker designed to protect the communist elite in case of nuclear or other warfare. It is five stories deep set into the mountain. Be sure to have a light jacket or sweater because it is very chilly. Most of the displays are available in English. It’s a fascinating look into the mindset of the communist leadership of the time. Sad and frightening for those who died and those who lived through the tyrannical leadership of Enver Hoxha.

    Bunk Art One
    Bunk Art One

    Day Trips Outside of Tirana

    With our car we chose to do day trips from Tirana on three days. All of the places listed here can be done with a tour, or a taxi from Tirana. All can also be overnight destinations on their own. But we chose to do them as day trips. Let me reiterate however, driving in this country is not for the faint of heart.


    Duress – a popular summer destination, Duress sits on the Mediterranean Sea about 30 min from Tirana. But, of everything we did in Albania, Duress was my least favorite. The town has a few historic sights including a Roman Amphitheater and Venetian Tower, but the sites and the town overall seemed rundown and in need of some tender loving care. The beach was covered in sea-grass during our early April visit.

    Sea grass and a messy beach in Duress
    Roman Amphitheater Duress


    Berat – Possibly my favorite place we visited in Albania, the UNESCO World Heritage site offers a beautiful river front location on the Osum River with ancient 2500 year old village and winding cobbled streets. Berat is known for its “one over one” windows and a is showcase of traditional Albanian life. It’s a straight up walk to the fortress above the city (also driveable) but absolutely worth seeing this beautiful Castle of Berat and walled site dating to the 4th century.

    Berat Walled city and cobbled streets
    Osum River and The Arched Bridge of Gorica


    Lake Bovilla – the drive to Lake Bovilla was crazy. We probably would not have done this day trip if we had better understood how rough the road was going to be. But, we made it and were so glad we did. We arrived early and were the only people there. We assumed no one else was dumb enough to tackle the road. But then vans of tourists started to arrive and even taxis. So if you want to come to Bovilla but don’t want to try and drive it, there are multiple transportation options.

    Lake Bovilla is a reservoir built high in the mountains and the crystal clear turquoise water is a sight to see. You pay 100 lek (1 USD) to climb stairs to the look out at the top, and this is what makes the drive worth it. Mind blowing beauty.

    Just a snapshot of what the road was like
    Climbing to the peak
    Oh the view

    Close By

    Kruje – It’s another winding drive to the medieval village of Kruje, but it’s not so far and I’m glad we went. We enjoyed climbing up to the old castle and shopping in the colorful historic bazaar. There are several museums too as well as hotels and restaurants. Kruje is the birthplace of Albania’s National Hero Skanderbeg.

    A beautiful day at the Kruje Castle
    Kruje is famous for it’s colorful and traditional bazaar

    Final Thoughts

    Be sure not to miss the local coffee culture. Albanians spend hours in sidewalk coffee shops. It really is a huge part of the daily social life of nearly everyone. In fact our tour guide, somewhat tongue in cheek, said he thinks all the coffee shops make people lazy…they spend too much time drinking coffee with friends. During our stay we of course tucked in to as many coffee shops as we could. And, we made a visit to Tirana’s only Microbrewery, The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewry.

    I love good coffee and Albania has it
    Refreshing stop at The Taproom by Pan’s Microbrewery

    About Albania – Worth a Visit

    Lake Bovilla

    Rough around the edges, indeed. But for me, it’s beautiful to see this rising star of a destination working to overcome all of its troubling past. If you love history like I do, unique culture and strong and resilient people, you will love Albania. Come and see why Albania is one of the most anticipated emerging destinations in the world. Come and see what is happening here – About Albania – Tirana and Beyond.

    Coming up in a future post I’ll tell you about our visit to Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia. This could be a day trip from Tirana, but we chose to spend several days. Stay tuned to learn more about this beautiful region of the Balkans.

    More next week about Lake Ohrid

    Thank you for reading my post About Albania – Tirana and Beyond. See last week’s post A Visit to Knossos Palace, Heraklion Crete here. We thank you in advance for commenting on our posts, sharing and pinning. And for being faithful followers of My Fab Fifties Life adventures around the world.