The journey to Nis was a fairly epic one, the only people in our carriage were myself, my travel buddy and a couple of backpackers. Sweltering heat meant the only way to travel was with our heads out of the train window. Which was not a bad deal as the Serbian countryside and scenery were awesome. The line followed a river, cutting through canyons and cliffs, working fields and mountains. I had yet to meet a single Serb but already I had a good feeling about this country. Which proved right as soon as we stepped off the train.
We rocked up in Nis late afternoon and wondered around looking for an ATM and taxi, we found neither so I flagged a taxi down as he was dropping someone off. Turns out this was the best taxi I have ever picked. The driver asks where we were from then says welcome to Serbia. He then proceeded to tell us he is a Couchsurfer. Then he tells us that he clocks off work in an hour and asks would we like to meet him when he finishes so he can show us around his city. To which we agreed to with caution at first but a quick look at his CS profile revealed 50+ positive references. He dropped us at the hostel and then he refused to take any money for the taxi, even though we were insisting. He left saying that he would meet us back outside the hostel at 6 when he finished work.
So 6pm and we met our new friend as promised. He handed me a can of beer then for the next few hours gave us a guided tour of Nis telling us all about the city and Serbian life in general. He took us to what he described as the best street food stall in Serbia, and he was not wrong. The south of Serbia is all about barbeques and this street food was literally one big bbq with lots of meat and salad options. We sat down to eat at a kind of mini open air arena by the river side where they were setting up for a free concert. The food was absolutely delicious, the area is so big on barbecues that they hold an annual week long barbecue festival in August every year, unfortunately I missed it but I am so tempted to return for it one year.
Nis city itself is a cool place to explore. On one side of the river is a modern small city centre made up of high streets leading to a square besides the river where a bridge crosses over to the old part of the city. A walled fortress with an arched entrance. On entering the old town there is a few bars, restaurants and souvenir shops then a big green area. You can take a walk around the old walls which we did and stopped for a beer taking in the view of the city.
Outside the walls is the market area which was also a cool place to explore, a little hectic and crazy. Our new friend told us how during the 99 Nato bombings Nis was hit pretty hard. In a cluster bombing gone wrong Nato accidently dropped bombs here on a busy lunch time killing 15 civilians and injuring many more. All this happened in recent history but there is no scars or signs of it now. Nis has moved on and become the great place it is today.
The next morning my travel buddy had organised a walking tour that she was recommended to go on. We visited pretty much the same places we had been the night before but this time in the daylight and learning about the history of Nis rather than local life. After a tour of the city we jumped on a bus out to the skull tower. The skull tower is exactly as it sounds. A tower built from human skulls. Constructed by the ottomans besides the old main road in and out of Nis the tower served as a reminder to everyone passing by of what happens when you try to revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
After this our guide led us back in to Nis where he took us to a back street restaurant that we never would have found without local knowledge. Again it was more barbecue and salad. This time Kabapche, rolled pork burger like sausages and a mix of salads and pickles. As with all walking tours we tried to tip at the end but the guide would once again not take any money. Stating that he does not do it for money, He does it to show visitors his city and educate them on the history whilst brushing up on his language skills. Again we insisted on paying but it was beginning to look like we could not even give our money away in Nis. In conclusion Nis was awesome as was Serbia and I look forward to discovering more of this country in the near future.