Note: To protect the privacy of our members, e-mail addresses have been removed from the archived messages. As a result, some links may be broken.

Find Lesson Plans on! GettyGames

[teacherartexchange] Melissa's travelogue to the Zlatibor region of Serbia


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Apr 24 2005 - 21:32:04 PDT

Dear all,
For my spring break I decided to visit some of the mountain villages of
Serbia. Below is a a travelogue of my experiences. I have the photos edited
(200) and have begun to work on posting some online. I will post the page
once it’s finished.



Zlatibor Region
Spring 2005
April 17, 2005
            Spring break had just begun and I was nearly to my destination
of Zlatibor, a mountain region about 230 km from Belgrade. Having left the
town of Užice (pop. 60,000) after dropping off some people and picking up
others on the bus, we proceeded with the last 25 km. to the town of
Zlatibor. The tour-style bus slowly proceeded through the narrow, winding
mountain roads. Small farms with terra-cotta tiled roofs dotted the valleys
and sides of steep hills. The abundant pine forests (Zlatibor gets its name
from zlato, which means gold, and bor, which means pine) provided green,
compensating for the decidious trees that had yet to produce leaves.
            Only a 4 hour drive (ok, in a bus it takes longer) from
Belgrade, the region of Zlatibor is a favorite destination for Serbians. In
the winter (with over 100 snowy days per year), three ski lifts and some
cross-country trails accommodate winter sports lovers. In summer, people
flock to the region and its mild climate, seeking refuge from the heat of
cities. Although Zlatibor has an altitude of over 1,000 meters with peaks up
to nearly 1,500 meters, the climate is milder than one would initially
expect. The clean, pure air also attracts people with medical ailments, and
is particularly known for its successful natural treatment of people with
respiratory and thyroid disorders. For all, the beauty of its rolling
pastures, creeks, and forested slopes is enough to provide some respite from
the business of modern-day life.
            Stepping off the bus, I opted to walk to my hotel. Although I
didn't know exactly where it was, I heard from teachers at school that it
was fairly close to the town center. Besides, I only had a small duffle bag
(and my backpack where I had my photo/electronic gadgets) – the return trip
would likely mean more bags. For a tourist town, I was surprised to see that
signs (including the hotel and restaurant road signs) were in Cyrilic. For
example the town name of Zlatibor would look like ЗлатиБор, and my hotel
"Jugopetrol" would look something like Југоптрол. Even the tourist
information booth's sign was in Cyrilic! I knew that I would have to crack
open the Serbian phrasebook in order to make myself understood here – which
was a good thing, since teaching at an English-language school doesn't force
me to learn much of the local language.
After dropping off my stuff at the hotel, I headed back towards the city
center. Although the air wasn't all that warm, the radiating sun felt
wonderful. A small "lake" (more like the size of a large pond) provided a
nice focal point for the town, with park benches and a sidewalk
circumnavigating it. Children munched on popcorn from the rabbit popcorn
vendor stand and all ages happily relished an ice cream cone. Groups of
school children chattered and skipped along. Some paused for a drink at the
"Česma Kralja Alexandra I" drinking fountain. After enjoying some moments of
peace, I walked onward, heading towards the buildings past the lake. Here,
newer cottages had been constructed, especially popular with weekenders from
Užice and Belgrade. Moving onward, I meandered through the cluster of shops
and restaurants. Nearing suppertime, I headed towards the direction of the
hotel but was drawn to the expansive hill. On closer observation, one could
see small purple spring wildflowers, delicately swaying in the mountain
breeze. As I moved onward past the ski lift area, the flowers became more
numerous, dotting the entire hill. Sitting down on the grass amongst nature
with the warmth of the sun was quite refreshing.
Mokra Gora
The next day, I headed back into town to find and visit the tourist
information booth. Unfortunately, the woman didn’t speak any English, so
communication occurred in other ways. After understanding that I wanted to
take photos of the countryside and people, she called for a taxi and I was
soon on my way to the town of Mokra Gora. When realizing that both could
speak French, the communication between the taxi driver and myself then
became a bit easier. The skies varied between quite overcast (and even some
sprinkles) to occasional patches of blue sky. Regardless of weather, I was
going to see as much as I could.
Located near the Bosnia-Herzegovina border, the small village of Mokra Gora
is best known for its spectacular Šargan Eight Railway. Designed in a figure
eight loop, engineers in the early 1900’s were able to work around the steep
cuttings and narrow gorges (300 m vertical difference between the two
stations Mokra Gora and Šargan-Vitasi even though it was only a 3.5 km
horizontal difference) to create this beautiful section of railway. Although
the train route no longer serves its original purpose of connecting rural
villages between Belgrade and Sarajevo, this short section has been restored
back to its original 1925’s glory and is now a successful tourist
attraction. Nearing the train station, I spotted a traditional-looking
village on top of a hill. It was the set constructed for the 2004 film
release Life is a Miracle. Like other buildings of the area, the roofs were
quite steep to accommodate the heavy snowfall. Wood was the dominant
building material, used both for construction and decoration. I especially
enjoyed the unique church with its carved interior wood and the views from
the plateau. The taxi driver pointed to the hills in the distance, which he
said were in Bosnia.
The road to the Šargan train station paralleled the train tracks in several
places. In other areas the railway went through tunnels. Even though I
wasn’t taking the museum train, the view still was beautiful. At the train
station were restored buildings including a museum with souvenir shop and
café. Climbing up the steps, I walked past the end-of-line turnstile and up
to the constructed waterfall. Walking through the pine forest (and pretty
pink pine-like flowers), I saw another train tunnel and great views of the
On the way back to Zlatibor, we spotted an older woman by the roadside.
Beneath her black scarf one could see her white hair with a thin braid
across the top. When the driver asked her if I could take her photo, she
smiled (many teeth missing), tapped her wooden “cane” and seemed thrilled.
After I took a few photos, she held my hand, kissed my cheeks several times,
and reached into her pocket to pull out a few nuts. Such warmth and
generosity. Shortly after waving goodbye, it began to rain. Back in
Zlatibor, I ordered Komplet Lepijna at a restaurant recommended by a
teacher. After looking through the crafts stalls and purchasing some of the
famous Sirogojno sweaters for my family, the sky once again grew heavy. It
would be a good time to get caught up on some reading in the hotel and look
at my photos.
            Confirmed that Zoriča and the staff members of the Open Air
Ethnographic Museum Staro Selo (meaning “Old Village”) were anxiously
awaiting my arrival, I was looking forward to the next step of my journey in
Serbia. The hotel workers at the desk that Monday morning could speak some
English, so I explained to them that I was seeking a taxi driver who would
be willing to hang around the museum village for several hours and then take
me to some nearby areas for photographing authentic villages and their
residents. A personal friend of his, the hotel worker knew that this taxi
driver would be a good match – and he even spoke English. Making our way on
the narrow winding road, we stopped a couple of times to take photos and for
Mikica (taxi driver) to show me some small sights along the way, including
the streams with clear water.
            Just outside the entrance of the open air museum was a small
village church built in 1764. The interior, also painted white, was quite
simple. The floor was stone and there were no pews for congregation members.
The front of the church had a wooden altar with several iconoclastic
paintings that looked quite old. Mikica introduced me to the church Father,
explaining to me that he had gotten married here seven years ago. Mikica
also showed me several religious traditions, including kissing special
paintings, candles burning for the dead and living, and entering/leaving the
church facing forwards (walk backwards when passing through the doorway and
leaving the church) and making the sign of the cross.
            As we entered the museum grounds, we saw several groups of
children who had come to see the preserved 19th century homesteads typical
of the region. I hope that some of the students from the International
School of Belgrade can come here as well to learn more about the cultural
heritage of Serbia. For Serbian children, this would help broaden their
knowledge of their native country’s history, and would provide a richer
appreciation and understanding of their host country. Over coffee at the
museum’s homey restaurant, Zoriča explained that she had established this
ethnographic museum in 1974, the only one of its kind in Serbia. She had
seen many other open-air museums in other countries and was eager to help
create such a museum in her home country.
            Our tour started with the main house of one of the two
homesteads preserved on-site. The first room had a hearth in the middle of
the dirt floor for cooking and warmth. The second room had an earthen
heating stove, bed, cradle, and long table. The bed was for the eldest of
the extended family and the cradle was placed near the stove for warmth.
This room had a wooden floor and was the best-furnished space in the
homestead. Married family members lived in cottages very close to the main
house, but (as this was the heated place of the homestead) all main
activities and socializing happened here.
            The homestead also consisted of a chicken coop, corn crib (made
of wattle to provide good ventilation and drying of corncobs) semicircular
baking stove (bread was baked for the family twice a week), a shed for
drying plums, a guest cottage, granary, milk house and stable. Only one
woman of the family could enter the milk house for sanitary reasons. Here
milk, cheese, and butter were prepared. In one of the storage sheds, tobacco
hung to dry. In its second room one could see large wooden barrels and a
special stove, all for the creation and storage of Serbia’s national drink –
rakija (plum brandy). A blacksmith shop served the village. Here I saw
wooden wheels and some old wooden farm equipment similar to that like my
great-grandfather had used. The stable was located a bit farther away from
the other buildings (the milk house was quite close to the main house) and
had two levels. A ramp led up to the top level and was used to guide sheep
up to the loft. This design is still used in the region. A simple wooden
fence with woven soft branches surrounded the homestead.
            On the site several buildings have been adapted for visitors and
museum operation. A shop sells local handicrafts and goods such as honey and
herbal tea. Others are now homey apartment cottages for visitors attending
summer programs. There are also a few outdoor theatre-like areas for summer
entertainment, lectures, and concerts. Knowing of my desire to
take photos of local villagers, our docent took us to the village of
Sirogojno. On the way, I stopped to try on a sweater for my sister (the
famous Sirogojno sweaters are hand-knitted by peasant women of the region),
but my mind was more focused on getting some good photos of villagers. After
taking a few photos of some kindly older women, we then went the home of an
older couple. I took some photos of them with the traditional conical
haystacks in the background. The man then led me into a shed where he was
making rakija. His stove for boiling the plums was more modern (but still
rustic) than the one at the museum, but it served the same purpose. The
finished rakija, he explained, took at least 2 years to ferment. The rakija
he produced was mainly for his family, especially for festive events such as
the family slava. He offered each of us a small shot glass to sample – it
indeed was quite strong. Alcohol content may be from 40-70% (according to
the internet, at least).
            Proceeding back to the ethnographic museum, we were treated to a
tasty meal of kyamak (milk cream butter) on fresh hot bread, sir (Zlatibor
cow cheese), and svadbarski kupus (sour cabbage and pork with some veggies).
After exchanging contact information and receiving some visiting tips for
the next day, I thanked Zoriča and her staff for her warm hospitality. Prior
to going back to Zlatibor, we saw a bit more of the countryside, including a
small waterfall and country church.
            The next morning Mikica picked me up and we headed towards Užice
to buy some traditional Serbian music and see a few places recommended to us
by Zoriča. We started by visiting the Church of St. George, named after
Mikica’s patron saint. Nearby we visited Jokanovića House, a 19th century
house preserved as an ethnological and cultural monument. Again, the people
here were very warm and friendly, giving us a personal, complete tour. With
a combination of the guide speaking sometimes in English and Mikica
translating other parts, I understood most of it. The furnishings reminded
me very much of items I had seen in Tunisia – an Islamic influence from the
historical Turkish domination of the country.
            We then went to a local gallery (warmly welcomed again) and the
National Museum that housed ancient artifacts, some local traditional
costumes, historical documents, and items through Tito’s reign. Tito’s
Popular Army of the Liberation as its headquarters formerly occupied the
building in 1941. After purchasing the CD’s, we returned to Zlatibor, where
I had lunch at a restaurant recommended to me by Mikica.
            On Wednesday morning, we left the hotel around 7:30 AM to get in
as much as possible before my bus departed early afternoon. Once again, the
skies alternated between menacing gray, some rain, and then blue skies. Our
destination was Dobroselica, a small village with an old wooden church. At
times the narrow road was covered in gravel. We stopped a few times to take
photos of the beautiful natural scenery, pastures, and creeks, especially
around the area of Vodice. Heading into the village, we met an elderly
shepherd with his flock walking on the road. He carried a wooden rod much
like those the shepherds in Tunisia carried. His face was reddened and
wrinkled from a harsh mountain life. Out here, access to decent education
and medical care was rare. He, like other men of the villages, wore the
traditional Sajkača hat. During WWII, the chetniks were strongly
anti-communist and bitterly resisted the invading Nazis.
One of the local residents offered to unlock the church for us. Taking the
very large skeleton key, he went up to the short wooden, carved door. Inside
the tiny wooden church (the man said it was 300 years old while an internet
source said the church dated back to the early 19th century) were small
iconoclastic paintings on wood of saints and many embroidered altar cloths
and banners. Next to the church stood a wooden tower housing the church’s
On our way to the next destination, we stopped at a restaurant/hotel outside
of Zlatibor owned by a friend of Mikica’s. When going for a walk through the
countryside the previous day in a quest to go down to some abandoned farm
buildings, I had neared this building. We were then off to Mačkat, a village
touted to have the best cooked lamb dishes. While there, we also visited the
local church (which had Biblical scenes painted on the ceiling) and the
elementary school. Like other educational institutions in Serbia, it had
suffered years of neglect. The director showed me the school library,
consisting of a few shelves of worn books (most not very “kid-friendly”),
many dating back to and about the reign of Tito. On the way out, Mikica
spotted two photos of his deceased mother who had taught at the school.
Nearing lunchtime, we stopped at a national restaurant that served the famed
Mačkat lamb. The tender meat and potatoes were especially tasty and filled
me up for the bus ride back to Belgrade.
            This was the first extended opportunity I had to experience
Serbia outside the capital city. The people were genuinely warm and
friendly, and seemed to be especially enthralled that an American would take
such an interest in the country’s heritage. The region of Zlatibor has a lot
to offer tourists during various seasons. Hotels are being privatized and
beginning to receive needed refurbishing. Meals and lodging are affordable,
especially when compared to other European countries. Continued emphasis on
tourism infrastructure and a positive P.R. will undoubtedly help the world
come to recognize Serbia as an attractive place to visit. And the
hospitality of the people will keep them coming back….

To unsubscribe go to