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093: Studenica Monastery+ near Novi Pazar. 2012/8/2

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[Fulfilling day of sightseeing = photo album]

LP made a glaring mistake.  It was by pure luck that I wasn’t misled.

I got up at ten to 7 for the breakfast.  The “continental breakfast” consists of bread, an omelet with some very salty and rather hard sausage, some juice, and a cup of tea or Turkish coffee.

The smiley receptionist with big blond curls wasn’t here today.  In her place was a skinny and younger lady.  I double-checked with her about reaching Studenica Monastery; again, she doesn’t know how to get there, but from the description she decided it’s reasonable to reach there via Ušće.  “So it is Ušće and not Užiće?” I asked, and she confirmed: the Užiće mentioned in LP is a couple of hours away from here and doesn’t make sense; the Ušće the blond receptionist yesterday told me about, is roughly one hour away from here and is close to Studenica Monastery.  (And no, she has never been there, but it seems important, as she learnt about the history, her major being Serbian literature.)

When I reached the bus station, I saw that a bus waiting there has the destination “Priština” – so there is a bus to Pristina at 9am, even though today is Thursday and not Friday!

The bus I took actually goes all the way to Novi Sad and eventually to Subotica.  The ride to Usce took a bit more than an hour and eventually I dozed off.  I was still a bit sleepy-eyed when people woke me up so that I could quickly hop off.  This is more like a turning of a road with three cafés and some shops lining up, rather than a town, let along a city.

Understandably no one spoke English.  As I entered a bank and found two fourty-fifty-ish women inside, I knew I was not likely to have good luck there.  Indeed I was not.  I eventually had to head back to the place where I was dropped off, and on the opposite side was something vaguely resembling a parking lot plus a booth.  I said “vaguely” because the two buses parking there looked very run-down.  On the outside of the booth was a piece of HAND-WRITTEN schedule, all in Cyrillic, so I mustered all the Cyrillic I have learnt during the past four days, and little though that amounted to, I made out that there is only ONE SINGLE bus to Novi Pazar at 18.55!

Yes, there are a couple of big road signs saying that Studenica Monastery is 11 kilometers away, but I don’t think hiking UP all the way is a good idea, especially in such hot weather.

Before I remembered to check if “Studenica” was also written on this schedule, I hastened to ask the couple of middle-aged men in the booth.  Absolutely no one understood English.  When I started to wonder whether I should settle in one of the cafés along the road and wait to see if some bus passes towards one direction or the other, a man tapped me,
Parlez-vouz français?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I have forgotten most of the French I ever learnt, and the harder I tried to recall it at this moment, the more GERMAN surged into my brain – it’s always been like this.  After one second I mustered the French I remembered and explained and asked away.  And good news: there’s a bus at 11.45 to Studenica, and there’s a returning bus at 18.  “Est-ce-qu’il n’y a pas de autobus entre 12 et 18?” On the one hand, I was surprised that I’ll have to wait all the way until 18; on the other hand, you can see how broken my French has become.

Finally the man wrote something else: yes, there’s a returning bus setting off at 13.10 to arrive here at 13.30.  And very luckily, there’s a 2pm bus departing for Novi Pazar from here.

It took me three seconds to remember how to say “merci.” “Merci beaucoup!” he brightly responded, already disappearing into the obviously full-of-smoke booth.

I waited at a café across the road.  The basic coffee (Turkish, as it turns out) costs only 30RSD; even an espresso cost only 45.  And that Turkish coffee, while being very fine, comes with a bit of tiny dessert.  I ended up asking for a second coffee.

I was obviously the only stranger (and a very strange one) on the bus.  Oh, and I remembered to wear the pair of long pair of pants, whose lower half can be zipped off – I certainly do not want to travel all the way to a monastery and be turned away because of inappropriate clothing.  The blond receptionist yesterday said that, since I am a tourist, she guessed no-one would mind, but I don’t want to risk it.  And besides, of course I want to respect people’s culture, even though this high-waistline pair is from my high school years, and the already way-out-of-fashion high waistline makes me rather uncomfortable.  (I guess I was too well fed in Poland, even though my waistline is more acceptable than when I was in Poland I suppose.)

Shortly before we arrived, I noticed the ground is a bit wet.  And when several people and I got off at Studenica, it started to rain – this again confirms a lesson I learnt in Novi Sad: always remember to bring the umbrella no matter how cloud-free the sky is and how blazing the sun is.  I hastened up to the monastery, since the ride took roughly 30 minutes, and I don’t want to leave the monastery without having “seen it all.”

This is the biggest and most important monastery in Serbia, and indeed it serves as the “mother model” for many monasteries in Serbia.  As I was peeping into the souvenir shop (“souvenir” written in Cyrillic; luckily I can read it), a monk with long beard appeared.  I smiled at him, and he returned the smile, saying “konichiwa,” and then opened the door.  I wasn’t keen on souvenirs, but since he opened the shop especially for me, I humbly took a look of everything.  After asking how a certain illuminating device works, I picked two postcards.  To my surprise, he simply smiled and gestured to me that I don’t have to pay.  (Because I wear Mickey Mouse? Or because I’m Japanese?)

Most of monasteries here forbid photography in their churches I suppose.  As I walked into the main church, I looked up to revere the interior, which needs repairs I suppose.  When I was turning to leave, the guard in jeans leaning against a wall asked me in Serbian whether I speak Serbian.  And then he switched to very fine English asking whether I speak English.  He then said, “if you have any questions, you can ask me.” And of course I asked a lot of questions.  For example, how come quite some murals in this church have chiseled holes in them? He explained that in nineteenth century a second layer of wall painting with concrete was made on top of the murals I saw, and in order to make sure the newer layer sticks to the wall, they made the holes.  The newer layer of wall painting, however, was not of very good quality; some of it probably fell off, and then what I see now is the first layer.

He’s such a wonderful guy, both warm and enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and love for the monastery, but I secretly checked the time, a bit worried whether I would be able to catch the bus at 13.10.  I asked him some questions about the other two smaller churches, and he told me that in one of them I can see the king who founded the monastery and the queen; the king holds the globe in his hand, and the queen is a legendary beauty, whose eyes (in the murals) were destroyed by the Turks.  That church is supposed to be a microcosm of the world.

Shortly after I arrived, the sky cleared up, and after checking everything, I had to hurry back.  From a distance I saw that the bus was already waiting there, and it was the same driver.  Well, and of course he knew me – after all there aren’t many Asians who visit!

After getting off at Usce, I waited patiently at the booth, and then a young man who was also on the bus from Studenica to Usce approached me, asking in serviceable and pretty clear English whether I was going to Belgrade, since he and his friends were going and were wondering whether I needed a ride.  That was very kind of him.

After returning to Novi Pazar, I tried to find a taxi and showed the driver three destinations on a pad book I carried:

  • Sopoćani Monastery;
  • Crkva Petra (St. Peter. Church);
  • Đurđevi stupovi (St. George Monastery)

LP says that a round-trip taxi ride to one of the sights should cost 800RSD.  Since the latter two seem pretty close to each other, I approached a cab and offered 1600RSD.  The driver, who spoke no English, called his “chief” and offered 20 Euros or 2200RSD, so I said thank you and left.  Within a couple of seconds I heard him honking behind me, and turning back I saw him gestured me to return – it was a deal.

Not long after we set off, we came to a grocery store near the beginning of an uphill climb, and he gestured for my permission to stop for some drink.  I don’t mind at all, of course.  And then he gestured to ask if I want anything and tried to convey to me that it was his treat.  Well, there was mainly coke, and not even any Coke Zero was within sight, so I thanked him and declined repeatedly.  Eventually he found Schweppers, so I said ok.

After some initial silence he broke the ice by using his almost none-existent English.  Well, he “said” he understood some German and Italian words, but frankly that wasn’t much more than his English.  Even so, he managed to understand (or I managed to understand that he came to understand) where I am from, what’s the capital of Taiwan, and the population of Taiwan, even though at first he confused Taiwan with Thailand (not a surprise) and motioned that he likes Thai boxing.

Sopocani Monastery is the farthest destination, and we went for this one first.  As we departed from this site, I saw from the road that some families in some settlements somewhere lower in the valley were dancing in a circle holding hands to some energetic Arabic Pop dances.  What a different world.

Sopocani Monastery is more interesting than the other two sights.  And by the time we reached the very tiny 9th-century St Peter’s Church it started to rain a bit despite the prominent sun.  Before we reached this church the driver started to say “Frau” and “madame” to me, and at first I thought his wife just called him, but I soon realized that he was trying to share his enthusiasm for pretty women passing by.

As we came down from the hill top where St Peter’s Church is located, two men stopped us and tried to get a ride.  The driver motioned for my opinion and I said ok.  One of them probably had some beer earlier and spoke some English, asking whether I am from “Kina” and how I liked Serbia while poking me to get my response.  At one point I raised my voice to tell him that I am NOT FROM CHINA.  Not that it matters very much in this context anyway.

The driver probably also didn’t like these extra passengers as well, but he got some extra 30 Dinars anyway.

After finding the post office (thanks to a tall sturdy guy who came back here for a vacation away from his current habitat Denmark; it was also rather interesting that the post office clerk managed to tell me in very clear English the price) I tried a place that LP claimed to have “magic” in their kitchen, and maybe the weather was so hot that I was soon more than full; besides it was really tiresome to have to wave away the flies when eating.  I took the rest of the bread to go.

Returning to the hotel, I was a slightly dismayed that in the place of the two previous ladies, at the reception is an older man who doesn’t really speak English.  Gosh, if it were this guy that I met upon first coming to this hotel, I would have walked away for the cheaper Hostel Kan.

Last night the pop dance music was very very loud; tonight it was no longer so, but wild laughters could still be heard.  I think there is some tiny recreational park out there.

8/2記帳:(1RSD = 0.317TWD;1TWD = 3.184RSD;1EUR = 117.91RSD)
公車:250+ 80+ 80+ 270= 680
咖啡=  30*2= 60
休息站零食:30
郵票郵資:50*2= 100
三景點計程車:1600
住宿:2500
午晚餐:330
超市:180
總計:5480RSD,約1723TWD

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