Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beyond Belgrade: Mokra Gora

When my friends K and R invited me to join them on a road trip to Mokra Gora, I had no idea what they were talking about.  I asked around at work and got very conflicting messages from, "It is definitely a must-see, you need at least 3 days" to "so not worth it, if you are going to drive 3 and a half hours, go to Budapest again".  Since they were going to go regardless, I decided to check it out for myself and come back with a full report.

The main attraction at Mokra Gora, besides the mountain scenery, is this train called the Šargan Eight, which used to be part of a "Romantic Road" route back in the pre-war days.  Now, they have reconstructed the most scenic parts and changed the original train cars to more touristy ones for a sightseeing ride through the mountain side.  The name Sargan Eight comes from the fact that if you went on a helicopter or on a plane over the tracks you would see a figure eight.  Also, according to Wikipedia, Mokra Gora are the words in Serbian for Wet Mountain.

Landscape as seen from a lookout point

Before getting on the train, we went to the other must-do nearby, a so called  "Ethnic Village", which is a nostalgic replica of what a Serbian village would have looked like back in the old days.  It was a cute little arrangement of wooden cottages that are now restaurants, shops, and tourist traps.  We had heard rumors that Johnny Depp had once filmed a movie in the area and that they had made a statue of him.  I asked one of the ladies that worked there, and it seems that the legend is true, but that they moved the statue to an unknown location because of "the construction."  I am not sure what construction she was referring to since 1.  There was whatsoever NO new construction anywhere around where we were and 2.  If anything is going to bring crazy American tourists to the middle of the Serbian countryside, it will certainly be a life-sized replica of Johnny Depp.  Oh, well.

As I was writing this, I did a quick online search and it is certainly true!

Courtesy of USA TODAY.  Full Article here

Me in front of one of the authentic houses

The Ethnic Village, old cars and everything

The train ride itself took about 2 hours, first you get on the train (we had to go standing room only, because they were all booked for seats) to the top of the mountain.  We were lucky to have gorgeous weather, and since it was the 4:20 train, the sun was pretty much gone and the scenery was beautiful.  I really enjoy train travel and I love having the wind in my face and hair while going really fast, so I was really hogging my window and had my head out for the entire ride.  Once we reached the top (in about 45 minutes), they gave us 10 minutes to get off, take pictures, and look around before boarding to go back down.  Then we kept stopping and re-boarding on the way down.  On the second stop, I think EVERY single person got an ice cream from those classic European freezers with the cardboard index.  Later, we stopped at a lookout point and finally at a cafe, where people get coffee, soft drinks or beer.  On the way back, I met a Spanish guy that is married to a Bosnian, who were spending the weekend there with their kids and her family.  He told me that they rented a house right by the tracks for 13 people for two days for only 60 Euro!

The long and winding road

Hanging out.  Literally.

So, the 36,000 dollar question:  Worth it?  I definitely enjoyed it and I am very glad I went.  If you already live in Serbia, and really like trains I'd say go for it, even if it's a long day trip.  If you have young kids and a big group, it could be fun to make it into a weekend of relaxation and nature bonding.  The drive is kind of a pain.  We left here at 9:15 and didn't get there till 1:45.  Good thing I had packed some snacks for the road.  Also, like most other attractions here in Serbia, there were NO clear road signs advertising the way, and the GPS proved to be not very trustworthy.  Getting to the main road was easy enough, but since it's nestled in the mountain ranges right by the Bosnian border, it was all curves and we kept getting stuck behind heavy trucks carrying everything from timber to live sheep.  There were times when were were doing 35 km/hr; which is less than 20 miles!   Kudos to R for his patience and excellent, one-lane-giant truck-passing skills.  If I had been the one driving, we probably would still be there.

No comments: