We crossed the border from Bosnia to Serbia and were immediately greeted by four lovely little stray dogs. It was interesting to see one act very nervously when a local went to stroke it but it came straight over to us for strokes so we were in heaven and really didn’t want to get back on the bus. One of them had such a big tick behind its ear though, it was the size of a marble so hopefully it will drop off soon and stop bothering him.
Our first destination in Serbia was just a few kilometres past the border in the tiny hamlet of Mokra Gora. Our host said she’d meet us at the bus stop but there wasn’t anyone there so we began walking toward our accommodation when we saw a cute old lady waving at us. She lived next to the bus stop and we were staying in an apartment next door inside a humongous wooden house. She didn’t speak English so used google translate to communicate. There was a fireplace in the room and we pointed at how nice it was at which point she rapidly spoke into her translator and said “the temperature dropped down to 10° a few days ago so we had the fires on” then she said “but now it’s warmer we just pile it with wood to make a nice ornament” and I don’t know why but we found it hilarious. She also opened the fridge to show us some homemade fruit brandy and pine needle honey for us to try.
There’s a couple of things to do around Mokra Gora, one is to visit Drvengrad, also known as ‘Timbertown’. It’s a movie set that was built in 2002 for one of Emir Kusturica’s movies and now it’s a fascinating little place to take a stroll around. The other thing to do here is board the Šargan Eight scenic train which twists and turns up the mountain and has 22 tunnels along the way.
We made a reservation by email for the 16:10 train which was a rare extra service they were putting on which our host described as “extraordinary”. It was just a 2km walk to the train station and from then we continued up a steep hill to Drvengrad as we had a few hours spare. The village was picture perfect with a collection of wooden cabins atop a grassy hill. Many of the buildings had wooden tiled roofs too, similar to what we witnessed in Switzerland. We weren’t really sure if it was just a museum village now or actually lived in. We got the impression that some of the buildings were accommodation and there were a couple places to eat too. But we mistook a rustic hairdressers for a museum piece and stepped inside, seeing the salon owner waiting for her next client. The beautiful church was the centrepiece of the village and a vintage car was parked up besides it. The church looked and smelt brand new inside with chunky slabs of fresh wood. After admiring the quant village we headed back down to the train station.
Even the train station was beautiful with a large wooden building featuring towers and spires. The previous train pulled into the station and we were so happy they’d put on an extra service because that one was filled with school kids! I’m not sure how old the train was but it was a lovely vintage style and each carriage had a slightly different seating layout. We opted for the front of the train and each carriage had a little balcony section at the front at back with space for a few people to stand. Craig opted to spend most of his time outside on the balcony while I enjoyed the view from inside.
The train chugged it’s way through the scenic countryside with pine forested hills and patches of lush pastures where some grand houses were perched. There was some information in English and Serbian played across the speakers, along with plenty of intense music. The train climbed up to the train station at Sargan where we had 15 minutes to stroll around and buy an ice cream. Near the station was a beautiful wooden church that reminded us of the ones we saw in Norway.
The front of the train was manoeuvred to the back so that we could travel back down the route we’d come, and this time we were sat at the back of the train. It was a lot more enjoyable actually as Craig said standing on the balcony behind the engine was a little challenging when it passed through tunnels and the smoke had nowhere to go. So this time I stood out on the balcony too and watched as went through the longest tunnel of the trip and the light faded into complete darkness. It was hard to comprehend quite how dark it was yet we could still see a tiny pin-prick size hole in the distance which marked the start of the tunnel. It was really creepy actually, especially as I leant on a part of the balcony that had no support and I became a little giddy thinking of myself falling out the train into the darkness of hell. The train stopped at a few stations and viewpoints on the journey back so we could all get out and take photos of the beautiful countryside and after 2 and a half hours of trip was over.
The next morning we caught a local bus towards Uzice. It was a 45km journey and cost just €1.40 per person and because it was a local bus we were able to take our backpacks onboard, thus avoiding the baggage fees we kept getting charged on Bosnian buses. We actually asked the driver to drop us off at the road junction to avoid backtracking but we discovered we had a 2 hour wait until the next bus. A super bouncy puppy kept us entertained while we waited and we stuck our thumb out too incase anyone was heading our direction. Low and behold a lovely chap driving a Renault 5 pulled over for us. We felt a little nostalgic because we used to own this very car back in England. The driver didn’t speak English but he suggested he could take us 10km to a junction which was great news. He drove like a race driver though, at one point he checked to see if our seatbelts were strapped in. Mine didn’t have anything to clip into so I just awkwardly held it against me, figuring he knew of a police check coming up. Turns out there weren’t any police, he was just strapping us in before the formula 1 race began with him zooming down the wiggly, mountain road at 100kmh.
Just as we reached our junction he decided to keep driving and we realised he was taking us all the way to our final destination of Bajina Bašta. It was 10km away so a 20km detour and when he dropped us off he wouldn’t accept any money, just shook our hands and smiled. How sweet!! We then had a sweltering hot walk to our accommodation which was as far away from town as you could get without having to change the bloomin’ postcode.
We arrived so early in the day that we headed straight back out to explore. The town sits beside Tara National Park which was our reason for visiting this area. Sadly public transport into the park is very limited so we walked 3km to the road and began hitchhiking. Three young lads picked us up, in England I’d probably be intimidated getting into a car with these lads, wearing tracky bottoms and with the tops of but they were so friendly. Turns out they were heading to Perućac Lake as well so they took us to the main ‘beach’ which was a floating pontoon on the shoreline. To be honest it didn’t look very appealing to swim in, the water was deep so I didn’t want to jump into the unknown and there was a lot of scum floating on the surface. So we took a stroll along the shoreline and found a much nicer entry point down some stone steps. The water was a lovely temperate and we had a great view of the lush green hills and the floating houses that this lake is known for. The lake is a dammed part of the Drina River and across the other side was Bosnia. Interestingly the floating houses were only along the Serbian side and I found them so fascinating so we went for a stroll further into Tara National Park to see more of them. They were the perfect tiny homes; little wooden cabins with terraces, barbecues, some potted plants and a floating jetty or boat for shore access. They all had solar panels too which was great to see but we couldn’t help but wonder what they do about toilet waste. The lake was pretty badly littered with plastic bottles so who knows what else they throw into the water.
We would of liked to explore more of Tara National Park and head to some of the viewpoints but it was such a hassle to get around by buses and the heat was so exhausting that we just didn’t have the energy. I saw a photo of the viewpoint and it looked nice but not wow enough to justify getting there. It was a shame as the park is home to about 40 bears which is quite a lot for the small area but chances of seeing them are very slim as they avoid humans.
So we strolled down the road to check out a small waterfall and bought a beer to sip while dipping our feet into the icy cold stream. It wasn’t quite as idyllic as it sounds as we rested our feet in some sort of river plants that had little shrimps crawling all over them and then I took a sip of beer that went down the wrong way and I thought I was on deaths door. The pain was so intense that I could of potentially just had a heart attack and blamed it on trapped gas. I was almost afraid to drink anything fizzy after that.
Anyway, we had a successful hitchhike ride back to town from a couple of very well spoken students who politely excused themselves from the conversation to answer their phone to ‘mama’. The following day we walked to the Drina River to see a house that’s been built on a rock in the middle of the river. Apparently in the 60’s some young lads were swimming in the river and used the rock as a place to rest but they found it so uncomfortable that they swam to shore to grab some planks of wood to lay on. They made a basic shelter but the following summer they decided to make it even better and thus the Drina House was built. There’s been about 6 different houses on the rock as they’ve been bartered and beaten by the river and rebuilt. The house was so cute with a little terrace on it. I’m not sure what it’s actually used for these days but we saw a man moor up on the rock and head into the cabin with his little dog.
We were just getting a little taster of the Balkans on this trip and Serbia lacked the big rocky mountains that we love so after a few days in the rolling hills of the west we made our way south towards Kosovo. The easier option would of been to take a bus to Belgrade, the capitol, and one the next day to Kosovo. But we weren’t too interested in the capitol and it seemed out of the way to do that, so we caused ourselves more hassle (unknowingly) and planned to travel on 3 different buses to the town of Novi Pazar.
So we left Bajina Bašta at 8am on a bus to Uzince where we had almost 2 hours to wait for a bus to Kraljevo. From there we had another 2 hour wait as we missed our connecting bus. There was a huge thunderstorm while we sat and waited and the bus station toilet was an absolute state. I think the squat toilet was made from a porous concrete instead of porcelain as it was now black from years of dirt.