After some sightseeing in Belgrade for a few days, the stay still didn’t satiate our yearn for travelling further, but grows within each passing day. In hope of making the most of our journey in Serbia, we decided to head to the north, to Novi Sad, which is the capital of the Autonomous region of Vojvodina. After the bus ride for an hour and a half, the peak of the medieval fortress and the snowy outskirts of this second largest Serbian city passed in the glimpse of our eager eyes.
On a rocky cliff above the right bank of the Danube, there extended an ancient military fort since the 18th century which its 5200-metre-long defence line stretches from the base of Fruska Gora. This Petrovaradin Fortress witnessed the drastic evolutions for centuries: It was first built by the Romans and expanded by Cisterian monks in the 13th century, then captured by the Ottomans in 16th century and the Austrians 150 years later. Refurbished in 1753 and 1776, nowadays Petrovaradin Fortress, though demilitarized in mid-20th century, becomes one of the most complex and best preserved artillery bastions in the Balkans. With the apex of 125m above the sea level, this stunning work of fortification gains its prominence by virtue of its geostrategic location. Of total of over 100ha, the upper Fortress comprises a maze of underground passageways, tunnels and galleries; while the lower one incorporates the officers’ residences, old arsenal and barracks. We meandered through the snow-streaked stairs up to the top of the Fortress, and to grab a thorough look at the scenery from this hailed Gibraltar of the Danube.
I left brisk footprint in the snow every step I climbed. The icy air whistled around my ears, giving me tingling sensations. The white specks of snowflakes, like powder, were pouring down like floating raindrops and caked my boots. The moment when I touched the fluffy snow, they dissolve into tiny droplets that soaked my skin. Wherever I set eyes on, my vision blurred with little white dots. Everything glistening was cloaked by such pure white blanket of snow, highlighting the bushes with an ivory outline of softness. The Clock Tower, in baroque style with Roman numerals, stood in harmony with this magical scene. As a distinctive landmark of the fortress, what makes the Tower unique are its short hand shows minutes and the long hand reflects hours, as opposite from the ordinary clock. Its slender structure, visible from afar, rang for the boatman on the river Danube, and reminded the change of the guards and military order in the past centuries.
Follow the Danube River, the main part of the city extended on the left bank of the river, while smaller part Petrovaradin lie on the right bank. Varadin Bridge, built in 2000, links the two sides after the destruction of NATO bombardment. The panoramic view of the Novi Sad and the ice-shored Danube River, as cloaked by heavy snow, sparkled in glimmering ivory. Snow dazzled in such a picturesque scene and shades of tree-leaves shimmered like tiny diamonds. While in Petrovaradin side, rows of houses fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, just the works of art along with their beautiful roofs. That was how being on top of the city feels like, after a gaze at this foreign land with a mysterious white cover.
As we left the Fortress, snow stopped and we headed to the Liberty Square (Serbian: Trg Slobode) in the opposite side of the Danube River. Liberty Square, as a cultural centre during the Austro-Hungarian rule in 18th century, is nowadays a usual rendezvous point and where focal manifestations were held. On the west side of the square is the Town Hall in Neo-Renaissance style with striking Ionic and orderly Corinthian columns. The front façade stands elegant pillars on the ground floor decorated with enchanting figures of 16 Greek goddesses. While at the top encompasses a tall tower with a bell of St. Florian, patron of the city. Additional to the centre of the square is the marble monument dedicated to Svetozar Miletić, a famous Serbian leader.
But before I got further captivated by those architectural styles in the Liberty Square, what stroked us was the splashy pedestrian thoroughfare that led towards to the end of Bishop’s Palace. One of the oldest lanes, if not the most beautiful, is Dunavska street – there we were ready to be inserted into everyday life and relished in the charm of the city. Interlocking series of vibrantly-hued walls, and the flourish of rainbow colour and whimsical ornaments, were like a treasure blessed with art nouveau items. The ionic façades, ceramic structure and regular geometrical shapes eventually seduced us as if rejoicing in a typical European town of 18th century. As soon as people continued clanking down the cobbled road, so did we wander with the locals in the middle of those two-story houses.
Outside the houses, multifarious open-terrace cafés, bohemian-style inns and brand-name boutiques were all concealing in the courtyards. The sellers piled up everything from daily necessities to fancy gourmets. Metallic chairs were extended along the flowery paths, and stained glass windows were flung open for exposing visually-rich interiors. Smiling shop-keepers, in their welcoming gesture, simultaneously ventilated their linear array of shops. The lingering scent of coffee wafted through the air. While far-off conversations punctuated with laughter, and the vicinity cheers were spilling from craft and pastry shops, adding exuberant atmosphere to this main promenade.
After a long day walking around this refreshingly relaxed city, our cameras already exceeded with images of snow-capped Fortress view, the Square and our smiling faces; while our sensory has been overloaded by the liveliness and well-tended beauty of Novi Sad. Clinging to this city already, until the dusk fell, we continued mingling amongst the youngsters and had a very last drink before returning to Belgrade. ♦