Travelling Light

Beyond The EU – Palič (Палиц) and Subotića, August 2014

Palić (pronounced Polich) is a small town near Subotića (which is pronounced Subotka by the Hungarians and Subotitza by the Serbs), in northern Serbia. We spent our first night in Serbia here, on the recommendation of a relative who grew up here.

Palić has a lovely lake, with a huge park beside it. The nobility of the Austro-Hungarian empire used to have summer houses by the lake.

The streets of Palić are narrow and tree-lined. It was quite a walk from the bus stop to our AirBnB hosts, and it was only when we pulled out the phone in their street to pinpoint their location that we found a message from them saying that they would pick us up from the bus stop! Next time …

We were met at the gate by Pumugli, who gave our feet a thorough licking. He is somewhere between two and three months old, so still a baby.

Our hosts then told us that they had a swimming pool! This was not mentioned in the AirBnB listing, because it was only finished at the beginning of this summer. After a hot and sweaty walk, we were keen to cool off.

After settling in and having a swim, we headed out to walk around the lake to the town centre. There were a lot of people walking, riding bikes, or just sitting on benches around the lake.

There are some beautiful buildings in the park, a legacy of the Imperial period. They are now public buildings, of course, since the end of the monarchy in 1945.

The water tower in Palić is quite famous, and the painting on the left, wooden part is very typical Serbian – curliques with dots between them. As soon as we crossed the border, we started to see them everywhere.

Crossing the border was an experience, too. Serbia is not part of the EU, so the border checks are very thorough. There was a queue of trucks back along the freeway as far as the eye could see, and we drove past them for several minutes (buses get their own “fast lane”) before we reached the immigration check-point. You wouldn’t want to drive a truck through Serbia!

Even private cars face long delays – our relatives drove from Szeged to Palić, and had to wait three hours at the border when they were coming back. There is talk of Serbia joining the EU, which would remove the delays and aggravation at the border. That can only be good for trade and tourism.

Serbia, like Hungary, has a long and troubled history. It was settled by Romans, became part of the Byzantine Empire, was over-run by the Turks, finally won freedom for all its territories in the 19th century, then became part of Yugoslavia (quite a dominant part, as Belgrade was the capital of the federation) after World War I. It was invaded by Germany in World War II, then occupied by Russia and incorporated, with the rest of Yugoslavia, into the USSR.

Relatively quickly, though, Yugoslavia asserted its independence from Russia, while remaining socialist, and prospered under President-for-Life Tito for a long time. The Federation broke apart in the 1990s, amid hyperinflation and intense inter-state tensions. In 1999, the former Yugoslavia was at war with itself, and Serbia was bombed by NATO for 78 days in an attempt to force an end to the carnage.

Serbia has always been a melting pot, as the Danube valley is the major route from Western Europe to the Far East. The people in Palić almost all speak fluent Hungarian as well as Serbian, as this area in the north of Serbia was formerly part of Hungary (before the Treat of Versailles, boo hiss).

We felt we had barely arrived when it was time to pack up the next morning. Tom managed to get in a quick bludge in the swinging tree-chairs before we were off to Subotića to catch the bus to Belgrade.

The complete set of photos from Palić is here:

We deliberately arrived in Subotića a couple of hours early for the bus, so we could wander around the town centre for see the sights. The folk at the bus station were lovely and helpful, stashing our backpacks for us so we could walk unencumbered.

We knew we weren’t in Hungary any more the moment we was this McDonalds. Not only was it sporting bright red umbrellas, it was located INSIDE the Town Hall building!

The inside was as spectacular as the outside, with stained glass and period architectural features.

The central squares were lovely, full of mature trees, park areas and fountains, and surrounded by beautifully-maintained period buildings. Just behind the clean and neat facade, though, the courtyards and alleyways were dirty and covered with graffiti. It is pattern we have noticed in Serbia – putting the best face on the tourist street, but only a few metres away everything is in disarray.

Another sign of weak planning controls in Serbia – we have noticed in several places now that people will enclose their balconies in fairly ugly and unsympathetic ways. Not just thier balconies – in an older building we saw, the neighbouring building had been demolished, exposing the small light well onto which everyone’s bathroom windows open. The residents of the ground and first floors had enclosed their sections of the light well!

We thought we had done a pretty good job of seeing all the worthwhile parts of Subotića until we reached Belgrade, and our hosts there told us that Serbia is so religiously tolerant that there is a Satanic temple in Subotića. That we hadn’t seen!

And the complete set of photos from Subotića (minus the Satanic temple) is here: