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Novi Sad vs Subotica

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Reading the guidebooks it was clear that any self-respecting Art Nouveau fan should visit Subotica, just on the Serbian side of the Hungarian border. My first thought was to fly into Budapest and take the train south, but since I was already visiting Budapest to fly home, I flew to Belgrade and took the train north instead. To keep the journeys shorter I decided to sleep in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city, and day trip to Subotica.

The sleeping part went well: I stayed at the Voyager B&B, which got me a huge bed-sitting room, with sofa, desk, wifi and TV, a second small bedroom and a good-sized bathroom, along with friendly staff, for just 49 euros/night. The first thing said staff did was register me with the police, at which point I realized that the Art Home B&B in Belgrade had not done so. Hadn’t the guidebooks stressed the importance of registration?

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My train to Subotica, a comfortable intercity bound for Prague, was boarded by police (not immigration officials) who came through checking IDs. They were happy with my one registration slip, but two young women seated nearby were hauled off because they hadn’t been registered. When they eventually returned they had each been fined 50 euros (reduced from an initial demand for 300 euros each). Since the Art Home B&B had made a point of asking for payment in cash, I can only conclude that they were pulling a tax dodge by not registering me. A place to avoid!!!

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Feeling lucky to have stopped in Novi Sad instead of going straight through from Belgrade, I got off the train in Subotica, crossed a rather tired park, and found myself facing the first of several wonderful buildings. It’s true: if you like Art Nouveau you have to visit Subotica. You especially have to get there in time for the 12:00 tour of the interior of the town hall, during which you can marvel at the fact that they still hold meetings in the museum-worthy council chambers. I ate lunch in the Caffe Boss, in the courtyard of the building across from the train station, and considered making a return visit on my way to Budapest…

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Cafe culture was as much a fixture of the scene in Novi Sad as in Belgrade, but the people seemed friendlier – I was especially impressed by a very helpful young man in the T.I., and by the woman who closed her Bureau de Change to help me track down an elusive travel agency. All those cafes didn’t make it any easier to find somewhere for lunch, however. The patrons seemed only to drink, not eat. I did find one that also served pizza, and since I was suffering from both sore feet and a cold, I ate dinner each night round the corner from my B&B at Paprika.

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Novi Sad is famous for the Exit festival, a multi-day music extravaganza I was happy to miss, and for the Petrovardin Citadel, where it’s held. North of Belgrade, Serbia is decidedly flat, and the citadel was built in the 1700s on one of the few outcroppings of high ground, overlooking the Danube. I went up near dusk, as the remarkably high daytime temperatures cooled a little, and admired the views and the extensive remains.

Besides the citadel I checked out the cathedral, a church or two, and the museum (three good Roman helmets) but it was really too hot for extensive sightseeing. I had hoped to visit the monasteries in the Fruska Gora region, but the only affordable tours went on the weekend. Instead I took pills from a local pharmacy for my cold (mostly paracetamol) and enjoyed the AC in my comfortable digs.

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