A portion of the border between Serbia and Romania is a narrow gorge on the Danube River aptly named the Iron Gates. When travelling upstream, boats must pass through a series of locks associated with Djerdap Dam, which were only built in the 1970s and 1980s. A thick layer of fog when we passed through the first lock at 2 AM added to the eeriness. As we were stuck in the second lock for several hours, we were especially fortunate that an earthquake didn’t hit, as we’d have no place to go.
This rock sculpture was etched between 1994 and 2004. Not an easy feat!
The Mraconia Monastery had to be rebuilt when the dam was constructed because the original 15th century building was now underwater.
In one of the narrowest passages in the gorge, the Carpathian Mountains in Romania are on the left and the Balkan Mountains in Serbia are on the right.
After a day on the river, we docked in Belgrade, Serbia.
We paid a visit to Kalemegdan Fortress, which was built in the 6th century.
The top of the fortress offered some of the best views of the city, at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.
We only saw a handful of Syrian refugees the entire time we were in Eastern Europe. At a park adjacent to the central bus station in Belgrade, a few trailers had been set-up to welcome refugees on their first stopover from the Middle East.
From Belgrade we drove north to the village of Jarak for a Serbian-style feast. Four generations of the same family live on this farm, and they welcomed us the traditional way, with fresh baked bread dipped in salt…
…and shots of homemade slivovitz (plum brandy), which is over 100 proof. This “rocket fuel” is supposed to stimulate your appetite.
The family had converted part of their home into a restaurant for tourists. Lunch featured tons of fresh veggies grown on the farm, cheese-filled pastries, cassoulet, and goulash. It was delicious!
The family patriarch, who is well into his 80s, made sure everyone had plenty of slivovitz to drink. You could tell that he loved entertaining guests.
After filling our bellies, we wandered around the farm.
The next morning we travelled further north to Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city and a major university and cultural center.
Heading west into Croatia was a rather sobering experience. Here we visited the small city of Vukovar, the site of Europe’s worst siege since World War II. 90% of the city was damaged by the Yugoslav military in the early 1990s during the Croatian War for Independence. While some of the city has been rebuilt, a number of buildings, including this watchtower, have been left bullet-ridden, bombed out, and/or in ruins as a memorial to the past.
According to our guide, the town has over 30% unemployment and many young people have migrated to Ireland for better prospects. Yet she seemed optimistic about the future, and spoke with great pride in her city and country.