Whenever I come back to the UK after a trip abroad I always hope that the, what are they now, border agency officers will be pleased to see me. 'Passport. Oh, alright John, how was your trip? You've lost weight, how's the kids?' that kind of stuff. To date though it's never happened. I canhope that it is does one day, I mean there's got to be an incentive to fly from big airports. Unfortunately in order to fly directly to Serbia I had little choice.
Belgrade airport was under construction and when it's finished it will be quite smart, it may take some time though. I was met by Marijana, the sister of a good friend who I met in Kourou, Mark (you know who you are). We drove to their house in New Belgrade, a residential area which lay between the airport and the city proper. They have two houses on the same plot of land, one of which is rented out the other a cosy and above all warm building. They made me very welcome with plenty rakia, food and beer. Their dog, Medo (teddy bear or similar), was a large badger shaped mutt who was very much the local Alpha male, we got on OK though. Not too late a night but I was tired so after sharing a few drinks with Marijana, Slobodan and Krinka (Marko and Marijana's sister who lived there also).
Krinka and Slobodan left for work reasonably early leaving Marijana to escort me to the bus station for the next stage, a bus to a town near my final destination. Srbobran was deserted when I arrived, nobody on the streets and a single taxi in the rank. After a helpful translation over the phone from Marijana I found myself in Turija seeking my contact, Mirodrag. I found him in a back room with a number of fellow organisers talking and, of course, drinking. They plied me with rakia, the spirit of choice in Serbia before inviting me to assist in judging this years entrants in the sausage competition.
After tasting many, many sausages, all cured paprika based pork types I was pretty much sausages out, but there was much more to come.
The judging crew were predominantly Hungarian but contained also a Slovenian, very cosmopolitan. The others offering fantastic hospitality were from Turija, one guy (the one with the fantastic grey tache at the front right) was a sausage machine and polished off a plate of juicy, peppery bangers with very little effort.
I was the whisked off to the house of my new translator, a quiet dark haired girl called Darijana. There I met her boyfriend and father who both spoke English. The Hungarians were staying there also and laid out an impressive spread of many pork products and peppers. Some very real advice if there are any reading this who aim to visit Serbia; the hospitality is second to none any empty glass or plate will not remain so for very long and always expect more offers from your hosts friends.
The Hungarians had organised a dancing party in Srbobran where a three course traditional Hungarian meal was accompanied by more drinks. I actually tried to stick to water, there's a first for everything. There was a lot of dancing and music, a two four piece band; two saxophones, keyboard and bass. At the end of the night two of the Hungarians took the initiative, took out an accordion and percussion to give a rendition of some very traditional Hungarian music.
I returned back to my incongruous hotel around midnight and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
The following morning I met the Hungarians and Darijana for breakfast before visiting the house of a famous writer, from the region, Gion Nandor. His house in Srbobran was to be visited by the Hungarian Ambassador and the Hungarian contingent had been invited and consequently so had I. This was a lot more interesting than I had first thought but pushed me for time as I was due to meet a representative from the Serbian national press around noon. The meeting went well and I made it to the central stage in time for the arrival of the 2028m long sausage, the central piece of the show. I really enjoyed the fiery whips that accompanied the procession.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the festival taking in the sights, sounds and general experience. After a couple hours kip in the afternoon I ended up in the hotel bar with my Mac catching up with some writing when, The Hungarians turned up and hijacked me. Many beers later I had a late night and fell into an alcohol induced sleep.
The breakfast invitation missed I arose at ten thirty in time to say goodbye to Darijana and family and an unexpected lift to the bus station where I waited, hungover, for half an hour until my transport finally arrived.
The trip back to Belgrade was uncomfortable but thankfully swift. I was collected by Slobodan and Marijana and was taken on a whistle stop tour of Belgrade which included a fantastic Rakia bar.
The most fantastic Moscow hotel.
The newly constructed Orthodox temple.
Finally ending up, after two false starts, at a great traditional restaurant 'The Cherry Tree' where the food was good and plentiful.
There was an invitation to a birthday party but I gracefully declined in order to catch up with my notes and get some kip before the journey home.
The flight home was unremarkable and over quickly. The Serbian leg of The Sausage Trail is over and marks the first festival on my schedule. I loved every second of my time in Serbia and would recommend a visit to this fantastic central Balkan state to anyone. The hospitality is awesome and the landscape breathtaking.
So far, Shetland and Serbia have proved to be good choices for the book, I hope that this continues.