Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Enter the Time Machine or Speak with Dead - The Choice is Yours

By Ljilja Cvekic

BELGRADE, July 09 (Serbia Today) – Whether you want to travel back in time or follow the footsteps of a war criminal, speak with dead or drink wine with Old Romans, search for truffles or milk a cow – you can do all you want with Serbian tour agencies that recently started competing in offering as strange as possible tours.
A group of smiling people are listening to Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito telling jokes with a Cuban cigar in his hand, while waiters with white gloves on are serving cocktails. Lobster and caviar are waiting on the table at the luxury mahogany dining car, while a sparkling royal-blue train is heading west.
It is not a scene from an old time nostalgic movie on socialist times when Yugoslavia was still spreading allover the Balkans and Tito’s Blue Train was crossing the country serving the hedonistic needs of the late dictator and his royal guests; it is a part of a tour offered by a Belgrade agency. Only Tito was not genuine, performed by an actor. But a singer entertaining guests, Miki Jevremovic, was the same that sung for the Marshal in 1970’s and a tour guide was the same one who toured Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during his visit.
“With this tour Belgrade’s Grand Casino won against Las Vegas to host a recent gathering of the managers from around the world,” Tanja Bogdanov, the Vector Tour agency’s director, told Serbia Today. “Big international corporations that have opened offices in Belgrade are the main customers for such tours as part of their retreat and team building programs.”
The offer includes various types of pleasure, from Gastro Safari and Legend Hunt Game to Adrenalin Park and “Run with Partisans to catch your dinner”.
Those who find cooking more appealing and relaxing, and have never had the opportunity to go the whole process of getting food on the table, can spend a day or two in a village, trying to accomplish a given task to prepare some of the Serbian traditional foods, but have to do all by themselves: for “gibanica”, a cheese pie, they have to milk a cow, make thin layers of dough and take eggs from a chicken coop; for apple pie to get apples from a tree and if they need potatoes, they have to take them from the ground.
“Tourism has to change. All contents get boring in a while,” Bogdanovic says.
Last year, when war crimes indictee, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was caught in Belgrade after six years of hiding as an alternative medicine practitioner in Belgrade, the same agency has organized a tour that followed the footsteps of Dr. Dabic.
In a battle for customers, traditional white magic of east Serbia’s Vlachs has found also a place on a tourist menu of an agency.
“Some people are ready to pay 4,000 euros for a trip to Cuba to be cured by a sorcerer. And we have it right here, in eastern Serbia. Vlachs’ white magic is considered to be one of the strongest in the world,” says Radmilo Bumber, head of Pan Europa Adriatic agency.
Old believes, customs and superstitions are still very alive in villages close to the Romanian border, inhabited by Vlachs or Wallachians, Romanized people from south-east Europe, descendants of Roman colonists or Thracians, Illyrians and Greeks. There is still a fear among some of them that wives and lovers can “tie them up”, put spells on them and ruin their lives. For hundreds of years, fortune-tellers are helping them out by taking spells off and giving advices on how to deal with problems on the basis of what cards or beans might say.
In a day or two tour guests are taken along the Old Roman roads, through the underground world to the spot where Roman legionnaires had crossed the Danube river, and down to the town of Negotin and surrounding villages, where they have 10 minutes with the White Magus or one of the fortune tellers. A male secretary is opening a door escorting a visitor to a no-smoking room where a woman behind a table with cards spread over it seams to know all about him.
“What is happening there is just between two of them,” Bumber said.
But those more hedonistic than concerned about their fate would rather enjoy the taste of wine or truffle. According to the legend presented by the agency, when gods had become tired of creating the world, they agreed to make for themselves a strange growth, of a strange form and smell, but of divine taste, as well as a drink to go with it to recover their strength. They created truffles and wine. Now, the tourists might join gods in searching for truffles with a guide and specially trained dogs.
One of the loveliest unusual one-day trips is organized by Serbia’s Railroads – travel to different towns on the Romantic Train, preserved as it was in the beginning of 20th century with little outside balconies between old train cars and pulled by steam locomotive built in 1917.

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