I think it’s common knowledge that the quickest and easiest way to get to know a place is with someone who lives there and knows its ins and outs. It cuts down on the learning curve, which can be especially difficult in places off the beaten path – like some parts of Serbia that aren’t as frequented by tourists, especially in the winter months. So when I was doing my manic googling (as I do before any trip), I was very excited to come across the Subotica Greeters Program – a program that enables tourists in the Vojvodina city to explore with someone who knows the city well and has access to all of the gems it has to offer.
As it turns out, our entry to Serbia wasn’t so simple. On top of normal jet lag, David had gotten sick from airplane food (thank you, Lufthansa, always a pleasure), and we didn’t know if we’d make it at all. Fortunately enough, David was able to rally (after a quick boot in the Frankfurt airport), and our jet lag made getting up at 5:30am to catch the train from Belgrade pretty easy.
One thing I didn’t know about the region in wintertime is the fog – the fog in Belgrade hung around for most of our time there, and made for some moody shots – especially these I took in the train station prior to our departure.
The four hour train ride to Subotica afforded me some great views, and David some much needed naptime. By the time we reached the town, on the border with Hungary, David was better rested, and we were both rearing to go. Levente, organizer of the greeters program, met us at the train station, and we started our walk around the city.
Levy was a great ambassador of his city, and had great insider information on the town’s history. Subotica is best known for its interesting Central European style of art nouveau – it seemed to bridge traditional art nouveau with more modernist art deco – and the city itself actually culturally more Hungarian than Serbian. Most people in the city speak both Hungarian and Serbian, and while some signs are posted in Serbian cyrillic, most are in Hungarian language.
But what was most interesting about our time with Levy was getting his perspective on real world issues facing Serbians, including ethnic Hungarians living in Serbia. Wages are low – non-livable almost. So much so that many people in Subotica are leaving Serbia altogether to seek work in EU member Hungary. The majority of people in Subotica are of Hungarian descent, and as such many are leaving to Hungary where there are more opportunities for lucrative work. The grass, it seems, is greener in Szeged, only a few kilometers to the north.
Another interesting spot Levy took us was to a local coffee roaster. As an employee of the world’s largest coffee company, I loved to see an example of a local coffee business in a place (like Serbia) with a very strong indigenous coffee culture.
We were welcomed warmly by everyone we met with Levy – from his counterparts at the Subotica Tourist Information Center (and I do love a good tourist information center), to his fellow volunteers at the American Corner, a service funded by the American government to promote American culture throughout the world. He seemed to know everyone in the city, often pausing his informational chats with us to greet passers-by. We truly felt like VIPs.
At the end of the day, Levy dropped us off at the bus station so we could get back to Belgrade. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend using the greeters program (there’s one in Belgrade, too, that we didn’t use) to get to know the city better on a limited time frame. Not to mention that Levy had the keys to the synagogue and city hall, buildings we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise (they are open to the public, but on more limited bases that didn’t correspond with our schedule).
You can read more about the Subotica Greeters Program here. Subotica is easy to reach by either train or bus from Belgrade (or from Hungary, as well). We took a train leaving Belgrade at 7:30am headed for Vienna that made limited stops, and cost around 700 Serbian dinars each. Subotica’s train station is located right in the city – you can practically see the Raichle Palace from its entrance. Our bus was a bit more expensive (around 1000 dinars, and took about an hour less to reach Belgrade. The bus station in Subotica is a bit further out of town, but still easy walking distance to the historic core.