So last time I left you with my European trip we were in Italy. Next, we made our way to Serbia to visit Marco’s family. We spent a week in their hometown of Aleksinac and did some day trips to Niš and Sokobanja and a couple of days in Belgrade.
This is the second time I’ve been to Serbia and visited Aleksinac. The best part of this trip was seeing Marco’s family and introducing Octavia to her little cousins. Since I don’t speak Serbian I didn’t have many people to talk to. Luckily one of Marco’s aunts was an English professor. Octavia understands Serbian and she didn’t let it stop her having fun with everyone.
So you may be wonder where is Aleksinac? It is a town and municipality, which is in the Nišava District of the southern Serbia. It is believed that people have inhabited this area since the Neolithic age and most of the settlements are of the Vinča cultural group. Like much of Serbia, Aleksinac has been under the rule of the Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. There are many archaeological sites in the area and nearby, which have largely been left untouched. So if you enjoy hiking this region has many mountains and old castles to discover.
To get to Aleksinac we first had to fly Belgrade, where we were greeted Marco’s father. From there it took a couple of hours to drive to the small town of Aleksinac. On the way back we took a bus, which took a little longer but was easy enough.
Aleksinac town centre isn’t really a tourist hot spot. I think there is only one hotel on the edge of town. However, there are nice places to stay at spa towns like Sokobanja or Ribarska banja or in the larger city of Niš. I did enjoy visiting Aleksinac to get a feel for every day of small town living. However, it does get boring in the centre of town. I found myself just wanting to get out of town to see some of the natural beauty of nearby sites and villages.
In the centre of Aleksinac, there is a small strip mall with cafes and shops. This the central point where people meet, have a coffee or drinks together, do some shopping and even gamble. On the mall and surrounding streets, you can find the movie theatre, bakeries and more little shops. Marco’s fathers’ apartment overlooks the mall, which is where we stayed during our visit.
In regards to shopping, I didn’t find a lot that interested me. I found clothes and toys were not really cheap. This surprised me as I know the pay is extremely low and not many people could afford many of these goods. The quality was not high though and many of the toys were actually fake copies from China. Marco’s father did take me to a souvenir shop, which was worth visiting. Even if we did have to track down the owner to open the shop so we could have a look. I paid a quarter of the price for some little trinkets, then I would have in the city.
The supermarkets didn’t offer as big a range as what I am used to. This is because people eat what is in the season rather imported fruit and vegetables. I was surprised this visit to find a large range of dairy-free milk and a few organic stores in town. It’s amazing that the health food revolution has even reached small towns like Aleksinac’s even if cafes and restaurants are still a bit behind the times.
While we were in town we had the opportunity to visit a couple of family farms in the villages, on the outskirts of town. Despite the hard life it was nice to see how people live farm to table.
An observation we noticed was that the older generation on the farms spends a lot of time outside, tending to their animals and gardens. The younger generation didn’t have the same interest in working on the farm or continuing its legacy going forward. I’m sure that this is not the case with every family and jobs are in short supply. However, we did find that many young people are trying to move away into cities or work in factories, rather than working on the farm.
Marco’s father has a weekend home in a nearby village, which is about 10 minutes from the town centre. It is so quiet and peaceful out there and the views are lovely. His home has a vineyard in the front and a vegetable garden and fruit trees at the back.
On our last day, we had a little party there with the most of the family. Of course, there was plenty of meat, since that’s Serbians like to celebrate. After lunch, we took a pleasant walk down with all the young ones. We came across many beautiful wildflowers, which I intend on showing you in my next post. We also found a family of wild boars. The cousins believe that someone had trapped them on their property and have been feeding them since there were lots of old corn cobs around. It was amazing to see how they related to each other. The little ones just wanted to breastfeed, but mama and papa were more interested in eating the grass we gave them.
Eating out and in
If your strict vegan or vegetarian, you may have a little trouble in Serbia. I’m sure in Belgrade you would be fine, but not in the small towns. Eating out usually means grilled meats, cheese, bread and pastries made of flour and lard. There are no vegan options. I’m not following a strict diet when I travel, but I do seek out vegetables and fruits. In Serbia, you can find the most amazing fruit. Berries are growing everywhere and usually without pesticides. Most people keep fruit trees, so you can just eat on the go. In restaurants, you can find a variety of fresh salads. However, the best traditional dishes are usually found in the home.
You can’t go to Serbia and not try the burek. Burek is made of handmade layers of pastry (made with lard) and is usually filled with cheeses (ricotta and sheep’s cheese) or mincemeat. It is always served with yoghurt or buttermilk. The first time I saw Marco eating cheese burek with buttermilk I was like what the? Dairy with dairy is too strange and rich for me to stomach.
This little bakery just off the mall is Marco’s fathers’ favourite place for burek. They serve theirs cut up, which apparently is normal for eat-in. I prefer the meat burek and Marco liked the cheese. The other place with the orange door is our favourite burek shop. It’s about a 5min walk from the centre and you can see the old lady and man making it in store. I love their cheese and spinach scrolls. Octavia usually loves burek but I think she found it a bit more oily then she used to and refused to eat it. Or maybe because she preferred a croissant, which until this point in the trip was her main food group.
The mall has about 5 or 6 coffee shops next to each other. From what I could understand they only serve coffee and is the place where the young people can smoke and ‘be seen’. Marcos cousin said there is no coffee shop that is better than another, just which seat has a better position.
There was no soy option for me and I wasn’t in the mood for black Turkish coffee. Marco had a cappuccino, which wasn’t what we are used to but maybe we are just coffee snobs. Besides the smoking, which I tried to protect Octavia from as much as possible, the coffee shops are nice to sit and watch the world go by.
We found this tiny little hole-in-the-wall bakery and tried to find something for Octavia. Marco ordered this fried palacinke (crepe with ham and cheese) which was tasty but really oily. I got a box of these delicious jam shortbread cookies. They just melted in the mouth.
Restoran Oaza (Oasis) is really the only grand restaurant in Aleksinac. They serve a variety of traditional Serbian dishes including grilled and smoked meats and salads. I was excited to eat some fresh salads and fish. I ordered the Pastrmka (smoked trout) and Marco and his father had Pileci Batak (grilled chicken) and Aleksinacki cevapi (Aleksinac-style skinless sausage). We shared the Kupus (cabbage salad), Srpska (Serbian salad), Paprika (marinated red peppers) and Lepinja (home bread).
I really loved this restaurant. The food was really fresh and delicious. They also had an English menu. This is really helpful because Marco can speak Serbian, but he can’t read the language. Serbian has two written languages and often the menu is the latin or cyrillic. My only issue which I had in every restaurant in Serbia is that people smoke inside and outside. You may find a nice position and then find someone will come and sit on a nearby table and start smoking. Luckily we didn’t visit at a busy time so we were in the clear.
Here are some of the wonderful welcome meals we were served by different family members. Mese, a selection of salads, cold meats and cheeses are always served first or alongside soup and the main meal. Soup is also often served as a first course. We had the most amazing chicken soup (second picture) on one of the farms. It was so creamy and delicious. It actually had no cream or dairy, the quality of their chickens are so good that the soup was so rich. For main meals, we were usually served grilled meals, such as chicken and pljeskavica (hamburger patties), alongside potatoes. Another meal we were served homemade kiflice (bread rolls with cheese) and pizza.
You’re probably wondering where was the Sarma (cabbage rolls), Prebranac (beans), Punjene paprike (peppers stuffed with ground meat, onion, and rice)? Well I was wondering the same thing, but Marco explained to me those dishes are more everyday family meals. The dishes we were served were for more celebration, to welcome us back to Serbia. When we did eat out I did seek out this kind of homely dishes that I love, which was also difficult since its more popular to eat grilled and roasted when your out. However, I did find some delicious traditional dishes in Niš and Belgrade. This is not to say that this food wasn’t delicious. Marco and Octavia were in heaven. I just found myself missing my usually Mediterranean diet.
For pizza, the most popular place in town is Picerija Venecija. We ordered takeaway from here one night with all the young adult cousins. I was hoping I could order my daughter something vegetarian since she was only really eating meat and bread. So I ordered the vegetarian pizza and greek salad. The pizza had onion, canned mushrooms and egg. They didn’t offer any other vegetables on the pizza. The pizzas were nice though and salad was fresh.
No trip to Serbia would be complete without eating a delicious Palačinke (crepe). Monca Fast Food is the best place in town to get a sweet or savoury palačinke. I ordered jam and nuts. Marco got distracted when he was ordering mine and so I ended up with a crepe full of jam, Eurocream (eastern European chocolate spread) and nuts. So mine was heavy and really rich. Other than that the crepe itself was well made, soft and delicious.
So that was our trip in the small town of Aleksinac. Stay tuned to see our trips to the nearby city of Niš, the spa town of Sokobanja and the capital city of Belgrade.