Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dead End

 Almost every wall or building in Serbia has Graffiti. It is so ubiquitous, eventually you don't even notice it. Evidently one of the most popular slogans translates as  "Ha!  You wasted your time painting this wall!"
 Werbass (population 25,000) is a nondescript gritty town circled by factory sites and agri-supply businesses and the steady traffic of transport trucks and tractors that feed them. The town is known as the food factory of Serbia with a meat canning plant, sugar refinery, and cooking oil margarine production facility. The sugar refinery uses the locally grown sugar beets and has been here since 1913. I have seen this building in old family photos.

The main street is canopied by the old trees that line its route with cafes and stores set back further from the street than other towns in this area. The side streets are mostly well kept single family dwellings with the odd apartment building or town house complex thrown in. A disused, polluted canal runs across the north side of the town. We cruised the main street looking for a town square or town hall and neither of these were evident.

The only accommodation in town is the central Backa Hotel, a tired 45 year old six story building that is way past its obvious glory days with multiple dining rooms and a ball room. It is now mainly used as housing for temporary workers at the food plants. We unwisely decide to take a room at the Backa so that we can be in town and get started in the morning tracing the family history. I have to rate this hotel in my top five list of worst rooms (This list includes the one in Ahmadabad, India where my sister and I had to block the holes in the wall to keep the rats out). We are assigned a dorm style room with seven beds and two bathrooms. The light fixtures are all bulbs on a wire, curtains frayed, bed sheets ripped and mattress with stuffing spilling out covered up by torn bed sheet.

Glory days in the rear view mirror

On the recommendation of the desk clerk, we head out to dine in one of Werbass' top restaurants. This restaurant is an eclectic mix of kitsch and old world charm near the edge of town. Its outdoor court yard dining area houses hand made iron sculptures and the roofs around the terrace are an odd undulating row of clay tile roofs supported by columns made of re purposed varnished tree trunks with branches still attached. The floor is a mosaic of old ceramic tile, pottery and granite all carefully cemented in no particular pattern. On the walls are spot lit decoupage plaques of naked women and on each table is a vase with a bouquet of (magic?) mushrooms. The sound system provides the ambiance with a mix tape of Lionel Ritchie, Guns and Roses, Whitney Houston and Kraftwerk.
Excellent food and service though, with a wood fired oven in the kitchen. $14 each including a litre of wine, espressos, slivovica (plum brandy), dessert and tip.
Funky restaurant "Club A"

Back to Hotel Hell where no amount of wine or slivovica will make it seem better and we all have a terrible night's sleep. We cannot find anybody who speaks enough English to steer us to the museum. Finally I find out from a news stand women that the museum is housed in a non marked building right beside the hotel and that it will be open tomorrow. Behind the museum are two side by side abandoned churches in different states of disrepair. We recognize one of the churches from old family photos as the one from my grandparents 1934 wedding.

We set out to explore the surrounding countryside and secure other accommodations ending up in Sombor about 35 Kms northwest. Sombor is a town of about 50,000 inhabitants that has a charming town hall, central square and cathedral from the 18th century. North from here near the Hungarian border is the town of Subotica, a major town with amazingly preserved architecture from the Austro-Hungarian medieval kingdom period. Both of these towns are a feast for the eyes. I discovered that SMS text messaging is the method that is used to pay for street parking here. Cyrillic signs are difficult to decipher and the tow truck known as "the spider" scooped our Ford Mondeo and took it to a suburban depot. A cabby helped out and took us there for 3$ and we approached the standoffish attendants who were expecting some pissed off Romanians to come for their Romanian plated car. I paid the 63$ ransom(1+1/2 weeks wages for the average Serb) and when they saw our amusement at the situation they relaxed and apologized. A total delay of 20 minutes from missing car to back on the road and now I know about SMS pay and park.
Sombor town hall

On Tuesday morning we set out to try our luck in Werbass one more time. 
We were soon to hit the jackpot.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Very nice post.
    Its so interesting to read about how people from a different country and a culture view my hometown :)
    Such reviews bring your attention on something that you never really payed much attention on, since it's all been around you your whole life so you're used to it and you automatically ignore, for example the tags thing :)

    I guess that's why blogs are awesome!

    Keep up the great job! :) I hope you'll enjoy the rest of the trip! Let us know when you're in Vrbas again, feel free to visit the museum any time!