Novi Sad is the 2nd largest city in Serbia, the capital of the province of Vojvodina and the administrative seat of the South Bačka District. According to the 2011 census, the city has a population of 250, 439.
I like Novi Sad. There is a lot of beautiful old architecture and charm everywhere in the city but you can see that it is changing, developing. Many buildings are being renovated or restored. Their main square – the Freedom Square or Trg Slobode- is a great place to sit down and people watch. The square is dominated by the City Hall (built in 1895) and the Name of Mary Roman Catholic Church a.k.a. the Cathedral (built 1895). A monument of Zvetozar Miletic, a Novi Sad mayor in the 19th century stands in the center of the square.
The busy pedestrian street, Zmaj Jovina, is lined with cafe’s, bars and restaurants filled with people specially during the late afternoon when locals get off work, having an afternoon coffee or perhaps catching up with friends. I would imagine that in the summer, this part of the city is even busier. All the tourist attractions are concentrated in this area.
My host Nikola has had many couchsurfing experience before but I was the first person that he hosted in his new apartment. I was excited because Nikola and I have connected through facebook before we met and we were really looking forward to meeting up. He is a sports psychologist as well as an avid sportsman. His energy is amazing and he is full of fun to hang out with.
On my first night in town, Nikola and I went to one of his favorite bars, the Frida Kahlo Gallery Cafe. He introduced me to his colleague Jovan who’s calm and relaxed personality is something that I really admire. Jovan is an athlete and an artist. After our drunken first meeting, we met again the next day and he took me to a restaurant that served local Serbian food. He also introduced me to his favorite cafe where we chatted about sports and travel and his many artistic talents.
I also met another couchsurfer Sasa who first offered to host me but I’ve already said yes to Nikola so we just decided to meet up instead and have a walk around town. Sasa reminded me of a friend I met in Sao Paolo, Brazil – Oscar. Actually, Sasha is from Montenegro, another country that I would like to visit. He is currently studying in Novi Sad. The time we spent was short but it was fun to hang out with him. We had some beers, hung out at the main square, people watching while having pizza and just goofing around.
The night before I left Novi Sad, Nikola introduced me to his friends Ksenija and another Nikola – apparently a very common name in the Balkans. What a lovely, fun bunch to hang out with! We spent the night out along the quay on the Danube, which was also filled with locals enjoying the warm Serbian night. We got a little drunk, drinking beer and sharing stories about sex and relationships. I love people who can talk about these topics so openly. It’s so refreshing and fun.
On the morning of my departure from Novi Sad, Nikola warmed up the sarma that his mom cooked for him. Sarma is some kind of cabbage roll (well, it is!) that is very typical in Serbia. It was delicious! Of course, Nikola had to give me a shot of rakija – a fruit brandy that is popular in the Balkans. His family made it apparently. Actually, he gave me a whole bottle of rakija to bring to my next hosts! I couldn’t refuse. (But later during the bus ride to Osijek, Croatia, I felt a bit dizzy and probably drunk lol)
Novi Sad is another city that I would like to visit again one day. I honestly feel like I didn’t really explore the city from a touristic point of view. Nikola took time to show me the fortress while Sasha and Jovan took me for a walk around town but I feel like I wasn’t there as a tourist. What I enjoy the most was that I got to hang out with the locals which is what makes my Novi Sad experience really special.
I want to go back again in the future. I am really interested in visiting Belgrade too and parts of Serbia. I think in general the Balkan region is underrated but you can see there is a growing tourism industry. It will be interesting to see it in a few years and to meet the two Nikolas, Sasa, Jovan and Ksenija again. 🙂