A few words as an introduction...
Balkans… It was less than a year from our last visit to beautiful Romania, but in my mind and to Giorgos’ also was the last year initial root, which we had programmed but finally we weren’t able to do it. For this travel, Serbia and the southwest part of Romania were the places we want to visit. After our last year visit to Brasov and after the last visit of our Romanian friends to Greece – last May- the pass from Brasov was the only way.
The composition of our team was innovative… For someone this was his first trip to abroad, for some others it was the time to realize a promise, for someone else it was the challenge of a trip with a quite big number of team members. Nevertheless, it was a fact that all members was on excellent mood and all we had the greater expectations such for the company we had made as for the places we were planned to visit. After some meetings and discussions and after very hard dealing with our jobs, we manage to set our travel time.
On afternoon of August 14, we give our appointment on the 40th kilometer of Athens-Salonika national road. About at 5 o clock, Sakis, Giorgos Z., Stratos and I we made our first kilometers on a boring highway with destination the Greek-Bulgarian borders. One more travel had just start…
Our initial target was to stay for the last night in Greece in the closest place to the Promachona border station. Despite the Achilleas attempts to persuade us to stay in Salonika, we think that it would be better to stay for the night somewhere close to Sidirokastro town, in order to avoid the Salonika’s traffic jump and consequently to lose time.
After a distance of 650km and around 10.30a.m., we arrived at a hotel at Sidirokastro. We moved our baggage in our rooms and we went on foot to find something to eat at the town center. We were very excited! All the time we made joke each other. The only thing we care about was the places we had to visit, the people we had to see and the routes we had to drive. In a magic way all other problems had disappeared.
Sidirokastro - Nis - Davolja Varos - Prolom
The awakening was more than difficult, which may be caused from the previous day monotony kilometers. However, the program of the first day was including a big number of kilometers, so we had no time for delays. Just a few kilometers after Sidirokastro is the Promahonas border station with so many memories. We made a short stop at duty free (which is no longer tax free!) and then we continued to Bulgaria.
The route was known, so we had no problem. Arriving in Sofia we discovered changes in the road since our last pass. The addition of a new motorway section has as consequence to bypass the famous cobbled street with tram lines in order to arrive at city. This change confused us and the poor marking did not helped us to find the right road to Serbia. The assistance of a local motorcyclist gave a solution to our problem. Finally we understood that it was very simple, and we had only to follow the national road until the point where the road narrowed and we met the first traffic light, there was marked for Beograd.
From there we traveled about 100km. in a good road. It was not wide, but traffic was comfortable despite the fact that it was very busy. This road is part of the main route from Europe to Turkey. The about 10-20km route for KALOTINA, which is the border station between Bulgaria - Serbia was green and beautiful. When we arrived in the station we saw a huge queue of trucks waiting patiently to cross the border. Fortunately for us, things were quite different and we pass the borders quickly and without problems.
At 24:30 we were on the Serbian territory! Essentially the journey began at that moment! As regards the procedure I have to mention that we had no need for visa, only the passport and the green card for the bike was enough. The target of the day was to go to the south Serbia, close to the border with Kosovo. There was a natural park with great geological interest. The whole way up there was about 200km.
We followed the road to NIS, the third largest city of Serbia. The route we followed is the only one for anyone entering or leaving the country from this point. It is understood the traffic was increased, given that we were in the peak of tourist period. The positive is that there are some projects for highway creation. I cannot say that I got tired driving that route, but the it is a fact that I could not enjoy the lonely scenery of the Sjcevacka Canyon, which starts near the village of Gradiste.
Close to Pirot we stopped for refueling at a petrol station (gasoline price: 1,3 €/liter). I got impressed from the fact that we the gas stations was not under the supervision of well known companies (e.g. BP, Shell, etc). In the gas station we found that one of the clerks spoke Greek! He was in Greece for 15 years working in Crete when he heard us he replied to Greek. Moreover that guy gave us some information about how to arrive to NIS in order to find the attractions we wanted. Generally, as we finally understand during our trip a few people spoke English.
From the first kilometers in Serbia, I have the impression of country with rich vegetation and uniform houses in the villages. The most of them were with two floors and with tiled roofs. Some of them has been left without plaster, but the end result was beautiful. The Serbian as drivers is difficult to say that are the best beyond that there was also many newer and old poorly maintained vehicles, I don’t think that traffic education is Serbians priority ... but we have to not forget that we were in Balkans...
Finally we reached at NIS (approximately 90km), a few kilometers before the city we met the highway, which connecting NIS with Belgrade. From the point we had approached the town, we had the opportunity to cross through nice neighborhoods with green and wide roads. Immediately we started asking for possible the most known attraction of the city: the wall of skulls. The history of the wall of skulls is the follow: On May 31, 1809, on the Cegar hill , a few miles northeast of NIS, the Serbian rebels suffered the biggest defeat in the First Serbian revolution against the Turks (1804-1813). The rebels moving having as destination the city of Nis, they stopped here when the very strong Turkish forces attacked them. The battle ended with a spirited act of the Serbian commanders.
Stevan Sindelic was browned up with gunpowder in order not to surrender to the Turks. In this way he killed himself and the rest of the 3,000 soldiers and about 10,000 Turks. After the retreat of the army of the Serb rebels, the Turkish commander of the NIS, Hurshid Pasa, ordered the decapitation of Serbs who had killed and the placement of the skulls in a wall to serve as a warning to anyone else attempting something similar. Totally, 952 skulls were included, along with the skull of Stevan Sindjelic witch placed on top. The scalps from the skulls filled with cotton and were sent to Istanbul as proof of victory to the Sultan of the Turks. The wall was in open space until 1878, when finally the Nis became free. During the years a big number of scalps had been destroyed by the weather or the relatives of the dead rebels who removed the skull to bury them. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel witch had designed by architect Dimitrije T. Belgrade Leko was built to accommodate what was left of the wall. Today, only 58 skulls remain, and the skull of Sindjelic has also survived. Serbia has suggested that the "wall-skull" should be included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
We found easily the church witch accommodates the wall and moved to the ticket office. In that moment we realized that we had not exchanged money. The kind lady, who thankfully spoke English, showed us that there is exchange store. In general, the rate is: 1€: 100 Serbian dinars.
The time was approaching 3pm and we decided to depart to the south in order to find open the Davolja Varos attraction, or else the "City of the Devil." Unfortunately we were unable to visit the castle of NIS with the impressive bridge. Leaving I had the opportunity to take a peek at the beautiful gate behind a central square ... I hope there we was going to be worthwhile!
Following the signs to Pristina and Skopje, we met the town Prokuplje (30km) and then the town Kursumlija (32chlm.). From the first miles as moving to the south you can see the abandoned of this area... Both roads, and villages are left in their fate. The few residents trying to live facing daily difficulties. The roads, which are part of the central axis to Skopje are looks like at least badly maintained country road in Greece. You have the impression that time has "frozen" before the war out... Seeing some older buildings and homes you can understand old glory, but soon you feel melancholy for the today status…
Shortly before the village Raca we made a stop at a gas station to buy some water and for rest. Personally, my back ached from the shocks because of bad road. After some time we greet a young man with a Suzuki 250cc passing through the point we was. Immediately he turned and came around to greet us and to offer us some cigarettes. The guy didn’t spoke English, but with body language we managed to get some information about Davolja Varos witch we had to visit.
We rest for some more time and then we start again. After the village Raca there is mark giving notice that in 9km. is the point of attraction Davolia Varos. At 6km. we turned left and left again along a narrow path but also impressive in a uniquely beautiful natural landscape. The road leading to the entrance of the geological park. We paid 2500 dinars each and we got...
In the park you can find two rare phenomena in the same place: 202 stone formations which have been created by erosion. The formations are from 2 to 15m. height and they have average diameter of about 1m. on top of each formation are stone blocks witch weighing about 100 kg. There are also two sources with extremely acid water (pH 1,5) and high mineral content, even 1000 times higher than the usual found in drinking water. The Davolja Varos is a true miracle of nature.
According to the legend, long ago, this area was inhabited by, peaceful and religious people. This annoyed the hell, so he made “Devil's Water”. People drinking this water forget their origins. Having as fact that residents drinking the water, arranged a marriage between a brother and a sister. The devil's plan was interrupted by a fairy, according to the legend she still have this area under her protection. The fairy failed to make people understand their fault, so the bride and groom took their way to church. At that moment, the fairy began to pray, to somehow prevent the incest. God heard her pray and united earth with sky ... Then the cold wind blew, and God transformed the wedding guests to stones!
As we learned the place stays open at night, which gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular lights and music. Unfortunately, the lack of accommodation in the area does not help that. So we took the road back to find somewhere to spend the night. We had heard about a tourist destination that was the Prolom about 20km away from Davolja Varos. The place is famous for its spas and for this reason we assumed that we would have no problem to found accommodation.
Following a beautiful drive we arrived in the village. Indeed, there was tourism development. Many people circulated giving you the impression that there is a lot of life... Watching little better you could understand that the average age was over 65 years! First confirmed this finding was Sakis who went to the hotel to ask if there are available rooms ... when he returned he said: "I think I'm in Aidipsos!!! (Aidispos is a place in Greece which is a classic tourist destination for old people)
We were such tired that we did not find the courage to look elsewhere. The truth is that the area did not give us the perception that we could find many accommodations. We decided to stay and we went together to the reception. Once we passed through an area with fountains and lawn, you thought that you were in a nursing home or church yard after the Sunday service! Unsurprisingly eyes fell upon us…
The hotel (Prolom Hotel: 54€/double room+breakfast) outside giving the impression of a classic building former Eastern bloc, but the rooms were partly renovated. Although, generally it was pretty good! It had a swimming pool with thermal water; we didn’t test it because we were very tired and hungry! We take a bath and after that we start looking for a restaurant. Choices were few and specific. We preferred to find something outside the hotel. We were lucky because we met a young man who spoke some English. The guy drive us to a restaurant of another hotel, which had a more quite pace and customers was a bit youngest. Choose of foods was random because the menu was only in Serbian and the waiter did not speak any English. Fortunately, our choices were very good. We went back to our hotel at 10pm, I tried to write my diary but I was so tired that my eyes closed, moreover I answered to me mobile and after an hour I could not remember my answer... I was exhausted...
At 4 o clock in the morning I got up 2-3 times to drink water. Nevertheless I felt rested and I failed to sleep again ... So I opened my computer and I wrote everything that happened during the first day in Serbia … At a moment I heard George talking in the next room. I asked him why he had got up ... he replied: "I am extremely thirsty... but beyond that I feel I have rest ..." "... so I'm fine too as I feel the same," I answered and continued writing on the calendar...