One of the best things about living abroad is, especially during these exceptional times, that you can travel in new and exotic places corona-safe and without crossing borders. A week back we packed our family (two adults and a one-year-old) and an insane amount of stuff into our car and headed to beautiful Western Serbia for a vacation in the woods and mountains.
One unfortunate thing about traveling with a small child is, that you have to pack pretty much everything for them. For our baby we had a bed (and a mattress), two strollers, a rucksack to carry her during the short hikes, a luggage of clothes and a sack of food. Plus of course a kettle to boil water in – just in case. So unfortunately I was unable to pack as much yarn as I would have liked to, and only took my Venezia Shawl WIP with me. Furthermore, I couldn’t pack all the woollen sweaters I would have wanted to, so I chose to take my beautiful Autumn Leaves (Syksyn Lehdet) alpaca sweater, since it’s been with me on hiking trips before, so I knew it would be perfect for the conditions.
Like scenes from the movies
Our first destination was the little town of Mokra Gora right on the south-eastern edge of the vast and wild Tara National Park. Mokra Gora is mostly famous for the museum railway “Šargan Eight” (Šarganska Osmica), which is an old but restored narrow-gauge railway running in the mountains and forming an 8-shape as it’s climbing the steep hills. We stayed at a hotel called Konačište Osmica, which is the old station building turned into a hotel and a restaurant, our room window giving to the rails, so the railway atmosphere was really prevalent – but in a pleasant way.
We took the Šarganska Osmica on our first day in Mokra Gora, right after a traditional Serbian breakfast, including e.g. the local delicacy komplet lepinja (that was some heavy stuff, by the way!). The train runs twice a day until mid-October, and since we nowadays wake up early every day, the 10.30 train was just perfect for us. The little one dozed off to the soothing tremble of the train pretty quickly and continued to sleep until we reached the end of the railway (i.e. turning point) in Šargan Vitasi, so my husband and I had the chance to just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery. On the way back the train made several stops to villages and scenic stops, which thankfully kept the youngest traveler entertained. Altogether the trip took approximately 2.5 hours.
After the train ride we wanted to stretch our legs a bit, and decided to walk (or hike) to Mokra Gora’s other main attraction, the picturesque Mećavnik (Drvengrad) town built by the Serbian director Emir Kusturica up to the hills above Mokra Gora. We packed the toddler into her carrying-rucksack and walked up the steep-ish hill, enjoying the sunshine and greeting some sheep and chicken on the way.
In Drvengrad, there are mostly accommodation, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops and stalls, but it was definitely still worth a visit! And just like everywhere in Serbia, there were plenty of dogs and cats around to keep the toddler busy and interested while we enjoyed a late lunch and a cup of coffee.
The next day was quite rainy, so we headed to the direction of Zlatibor, a ski resort town which is growing fast but not very pretty, and visited the Stopića cave. We didn’t expect much from our destination, so the size and the majesty of the cave really blew us away. Walking into the “hall” of the cave, you could just imagine being a part of the Fellowship of the Ring in Moria, or hunting a Horcrux with Harry and Dubledore. So it was well worth the drive – even though the serpentine roads there and back were a bit too much for our youngest cave explorer…
Adventures in the Wild
On the third day of our trip we headed to our second destination, which was in the town of Perućac by the river Drina, right next to the Bosnian border and on the Northern edge of Tara. Since we drove through the national park, we stopped for a supposedly nice and easy hike from Kaluđerske Bare to a nearby lake. Unfortunately it had been raining, so the path was in large parts washed away by the stream, and we had to balance on slippery rocks and branches to keep our feet dry. Also the temperature up in the mountains was quite low, just few degrees celcius.
After walking for an hour (it was supposed to be a 45-minute walk to the lake) in challenging terrain and no lake in sight, we decided to adjust the plans a bit and headed back taking an easier route. For us adults, our merino wool socks and alpaca sweaters and beanies were enough to keep us warm (and we were of course also walking), but for the toddler in the rucksack the conditions were a little too harsh – in the end she was wearing her own woollen socks as second mittens, and my woollen socks (picture later in the post!) on her shoes and legs to keep her warm.
From Perućac we took a short trip and hiked to the most amazing viewpoint called Banjska Stena, which is one of the most popular sights in Western Serbia, and I would say the highlight of our whole trip. The place was absolutely breathtaking! The hike there was 6km long but really easy (although a bit boring, since the walk was mostly just road – little hiker was so unimpressed she fell asleep in the rucksack on the way up) and it took us a bit over an hour to both directions. There are not enough words to describe the place however, you have to experience it. So if you’re in (Western) Serbia, this place is a must-see! You can also drive up and just walk 1km, if a longer hike is not your thing.
Our last little sightseeing stop was on our way home, in Bajina Bašta. The House in River Drina (Kućica na Drini) is the symbol of the whole area, and according to the legend the stone that the cottage was thrown there by the medieval Serbian hero Kraljević Marko, who wanted to cross Drina but didn’t want his horse to get wet. The horse jumped on the rock and then to the other side, and the horse’s hoofprints are allegedly still visible on the rock. The cabin itself was built in the late 1960’s by a group of young people who used the stone as place to rest while swimming in the river, and wanted something more comfortable there. I actually think that you can book the cabin for a stay – but since it would have been really inconvenient for us (a toddler in a row boat? And all the stuff? I don’t think so), I didn’t check it.
So, what are the main takeouts from this trip? First of all, I think I need to knit the toddler a really warm and smooth merino or alpaca sweater, maybe pants also. I’ve been a terrible mother and I have only knitted her one (super cute) sweater, one pants and woollen socks. Oh and a baby blanket – but that was just to kill time in the last weeks of the pregnancy 🙂
Also, vacation with a 1-year old is DEFINITELY not like a vacation without children. You have so much to consider all the time, be prepared for anything and everything and whatever you do needs to fit the kid’s eating and sleeping schedules. So I had little to none time for knitting, and managed to knit maybe 10-15cm of my Venezia Shawl… So in hindsight I’m really glad I didn’t drag e.g. my BiRTHDAY sweater with us! 😀
Third (and most importantly) – it is so much fun to live in a country for which you had zero expectations, but turns out to be super beautiful and versatile! Can’t wait to continue exploring the other regions as well – and hopefully at some point show the best sights to some family and friends!