Days: 501-502 (8 November 2015 – 9 November 2015)
Total distance travelled: 130,121.6 kilometres (80,820.84 miles)
It’s early afternoon in the hills above Novi Pazar.
We’ve just been picked up on the side of the road by a Serbian Orthodox priest, complete with beard, silver crucifix and black robes.
He’s chuckling to himself as news that Kosovo’s bid to join UNESCO has just been rejected is being broadcast through his cars radio.
“They blow them up for ten years, now they say they’ll protect them!”
He chuckles some more as he likens them (the Kosovans) to ISIS and then the Taliban.
You couldn’t make this shit up!
Two nights earlier, we’d arrived in Podgorica, intent to give the oft maligned Montenegran capital a little of our time, but sometimes plans can change quicker than expected.
With Novi Pazar (in southern Serbia) our next destination, we began to research our accommodation options, and to our surprise, could find no leads on where to stay, or anything on a variety of online booking engines.
The plan the following day, was to explore the city over the morning, before departing on an early afternoon bus back into Serbia.
Our lack of success in locating a bed found us reluctant to leave so late (it would see us arrive well after dark), so our time in Podgorica was sacrificed in favour of an earlier bus service, which still didn’t see us alight until very late into the afternoon.
The journey and border crossing had been uneventful, the only memorable moment an exchange as we munched on some junk food whilst on board.
Sarah: “These taste just like Cheesels” (an Australian ‘cheese’ flavoured snack)
Me: “No they don’t. They taste just like stale Cheesels!”
In Novi Pazar we floated between a couple of hotel options, before sucking it up and getting ourselves a private room at a surprisingly large hotel that seemed largely empty and had the odour of a place that had been saturated with cigarette smoke since its inception (however long ago that may have been).
As the sun dipped, so did the mercury, but we made the most of the waning light for a brief exploration of our surrounds, which fortunately found us not so far from the centre of town.
We had time to explore the small Gradski Park with its Kula (old tower), whilst in the heart of town we managed to stumble upon a hostel which had been our original goal, the fact that it looked long closed small consolation ahead of our most expensive night in the Balkans.
A cheap dinner of Turkish Kebab rounded out the night.
Now we weren’t really in Novi Pazar to see the town itself, rather we’d popped by to visit a couple of sites that earn the surrounds its UNESCO world heritage listing, and first stop was set to be Đurđevi stupovi, a twelfth century monastery set in the nearby hills.
First however, we had to find it, a task seemingly easier said than done.
We’d done a little research using Google maps, figured we had a general heading, so just followed our noses, eventually winding our way up a gravel track, through a lightly wooded farm, before eventually hitting a nice bitumen road.
Turning left and following this bit of tarmac brought relief when we eventually saw a sign saying two kilometres to go, and soon on a distant rise we could spy our prize.
Literally at the end of the road, the Đurđevi stupovi.
It wasn’t so much to see the ruined and reconstructed portions of the religious centre that had lured us, but rather the promise that it housed some of the nicer remaining religious art in the region.
Now we’re certainly not religious, but we can surely appreciate beauty, especially from the Byzantine era.
It wasn’t long before we were indulging in what we’d sought.
Towards the rear of the complex, newer buildings house the present members of the clergy, and a few we spied wandering from doorway to doorway, replete in their long black gowns and black hats, along with their full (also black) beards.
We took in the small adjacent cemetery, then began our journey on foot towards Ras (the Church of St. Peter), the oldest Serbian Orthodox church in the entire country.
It was around this time that our very own black clad priest entered our tale, sharing with us his views on Kosovo and their failed bid for UNESCO membership.
He’d apparently recognised us, and when we stated our destination, he was more than happy to take us the entire way (to this day we have no idea if he was extremely generous, or had been headed there anyway).
Minutes later, when on foot it would have taken us at closer to an hour, his station wagon pulled to a halt at the entrance to the church grounds.
Perhaps because we were in the company of such an esteemed member, we were not required to pay the usual entrance fee… or possibly it may be because we didn’t see anybody else around but for some workers doing restoration tasks who could collect it.
Inside, the light was dim, the stone floors cold and the air dusty.
Still, some of the carving was impressive and there was the opportunity to climb up to a second level and take in the interiors adornments from a different vantage point.
At some point, we parted with our new friend and eventually wandered our way back in to town.
It’s not every day you get picked up on the side of the road by a monk…
* It cost us 34.00 KM each (plus 2.00 KM for our luggage) to travel from Mostar to Podgorica.
* Our bus from Podgorica to Novi Pazar cost us €15.50 per person, plus an additional €1.00 to stow our luggage beneath the bus.