Exploring with Locals in Subotica, Serbia

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.december-balkans-85jpg_24271343136_o december-balkans-86jpg_24271346426_o

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.december-balkans-58jpg_24001869100_o december-balkans-39jpg_24189270012_o december-balkans-75jpg_24001874620_o december-balkans-82jpg_24189293782_o december-balkans-51jpg_23929626929_o

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.december-balkans-89jpg_23929661479_o december-balkans-101jpg_24297508735_o

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.december-balkans-362jpg_23929880309_o december-balkans-268jpg_24297656215_o december-balkans-281jpg_24189464782_o december-balkans-256jpg_24215124351_o december-balkans-161jpg_23670716343_o december-balkans-158jpg_23669303164_o

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.december-balkans-115jpg_24214996131_o december-balkans-259jpg_24189456072_o december-balkans-291jpg_24215138961_o

The architecture in the city was breathtaking.  We visited the town’s main sights – including the main cathedral,december-balkans-158jpg_23669303164_o december-balkans-172jpg_24189361512_o december-balkans-163jpg_23669313684_o

synagogue,december-balkans-194jpg_24297565695_o december-balkans-212jpg_24297594115_o december-balkans-216jpg_24297600265_o december-balkans-208jpg_24001982640_o december-balkans-201jpg_23670745633_o

city hall,december-balkans-298jpg_23929823289_o december-balkans-306jpg_24189480092_o december-balkans-349jpg_23669471164_o december-balkans-347jpg_23670873983_o december-balkans-342jpg_24002090200_o

and Raichle Palace.december-balkans-391jpg_24189545892_o december-balkans-399jpg_24002135870_o december-balkans-405jpg_24002138410_o december-balkans-412jpg_24297751085_o

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.december-balkans-358jpg_23669481894_o december-balkans-324jpg_24297687535_o

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.december-balkans-422jpg_24189560922_o

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.december-balkans-366jpg_24002115650_o december-balkans-250jpg_24271491646_o december-balkans-260jpg_24271502916_o

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.  

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6 thoughts on “Exploring with Locals in Subotica, Serbia

  • February 1, 2016, 10:22 am

    that sounds like a pretty cool way to explore a city and get to know some knowledgable locals. i wish more cities offered something like this!

    love the pics and especially the architecture there! looks so unique and ornate compared to that of belgrade! really cool contrast between the two cities 🙂 can’t wait to read more on your last trip!

    • February 1, 2016, 10:58 am

      It was a fascinating little town – we only wish we’d had time to jump over the border to Szeged, as the architecture there is similarly opulent!

      But yeah, it was a total departure from grey, concrete Belgrade – which I also loved, obviously! I’m excited to write more about this trip, it’s just finding time to do so that’s been difficult!

      Thanks for the comment – I hope all is well in Deutschland. You must be off to Romania soon?

      • February 2, 2016, 1:28 am

        i havent been to szeged either… i havent explored much of hungary or serbia to be honest (but more of hungary than serbia). one of these days ill get to it i hope!

        all is well in germany- just vying to leave this place soon lol. but probably wont happen until mid 2017. but yes, off to romania soon! havent really planned anything for that trip though as the ukraine nonsense will happen a week after, so ive been trying to get that sorted instead. i think in romania i will just go sit in a town the whole time and not move. not even joking. as bad as this sounds, romania doesnt have me that excited if i dont have a car… literally everything i want to see there sits in the middle of nowhere and im only going for a long weekend trip. ive avoided going there thus far as a result, but finally decided to just go play around for a quick weekend. any upcoming plans scheduled aside from southeast asia?!

        • February 2, 2016, 8:11 am

          I hear you about Romania. Having a car really helped in Bulgaria to see all the stuff that would have been damn near impossible to see on public transport. What town is going to be your base? The trip I’ve planned in my head around Romania would have me hopping between Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara, and Cluj…but I’d also be keen on seeing Maramures. Is Moldova part of your guys’ Ukraine trip? And Transnistria? My heart is all aflutter thinking about all the fun on your horizon!

          Nothing else on the books here. Was hoping to use Lufthansa miles at some point this year to get back to E. Europe, but not sure if it’s going to work out. I’m still keen on hitting the Montenegrin and Albanian beaches in September, but am not sure if I’ll be beached out after SE Asia, which I can’t bring myself to get super excited for. Ah well, I’m sure something will materialize in coming months. Flights to Ethiopia are cheap for around Thanksgiving time, so maybe we’ll do that. Merp.

        • February 3, 2016, 9:18 am

          Accidentally deleted your comment this morning (pre-coffee morning hands running amok!) but Targu Mures and Sighisoara sound great for a short getaway. I think you’re doing it right! 🙂

          New news is I’ve found cheap flights into Almaty and out of Bishkek in September for 11 days…let’s see if HR here can get me time off approved before fares go up again!

          • February 3, 2016, 1:57 pm

            aghhhhh almaty and bishkek are two incredible cities! fingers crossed you can get those tix!!!! 🙂 keep me posted!

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