It’s been two years since the coronavirus pandemic began. So much has happened over that time: the world has turned upside down, and so have we. Our lifestyles have changed to different extents, and each of us misses something we used to do all the time, and maybe even take for granted.
What changed most for me was traveling: I used to cross the border at least three times a year, exploring new countries or new places in the countries I’d visited before. However, travel restrictions have changed it all. The pandemic forced me to do something I’d keep postponing – exploring my own country. So, when the lockdowns were over, I started traveling across Serbia and reminded myself of how many beautiful and photo-worthy spots you can find locally. And now, I invite you to share this journey and some of my insights with me.
The early 2020 lockdowns
The first case of COVID-19 was registered in Serbia on 6 March 2020. Shortly after that, we entered a weird kind of lockdown with strict curfews between 5 pm and 5 am the following day. We were banned from leaving homes during weekends as well. This lasted until May, and of course, Murphy’s law kicked in: the weather was perfect throughout the lockdown!
I spent those two months in Belgrade, staying at my boyfriend’s place. We would sometimes use the time before the 5 pm curfew to take walks around the city. I must admit, I wasn’t at my highest level of productivity and creativity at the time, but I still managed to take some photos I liked. I even took a photo walk with my cousin and took some portraits of her. Speaking of finding the beauty near you. :)
After the 2020 lockdowns
The lockdowns ended in May, and I returned to Novi Sad. The number of new cases suddenly dropped, and we also had the elections ahead so everything was back to almost normal. What a coincidence, right? Right? But that’s another story.
I was pretty emotionally drained at the time (who wasn’t?), but I still wanted to get my bum up from the couch and finally go somewhere. Without a car, with the fear of catching COVID-19 in a bus, and with the struggles I mentioned here, I didn’t go far from Novi Sad. But I did walk around the city with my camera sometimes, and I went to Sremski Karlovci, a charming small town nearby. And of course, to Fruška gora, a small mountain and national park near Novi Sad.
In June, my boyfriend and I even traveled to the south of Serbia, to Novo Selo, where his grandparents used to live. We visited the nearby Mt. Jastrebac, too. Needless to say that spending time in nature was calming for my soul and inspiring for my photography.
In August 2020, I went to Mt. Tara with my mom and brother. We couldn’t go to the seaside because that would require us to cross the border, which was near impossible. But hey, Tara has some gorgeous lakes so we took a swim after all.
In October 2020, we were back in the north. Northwest, to be precise. We traveled to Sombor to catch up with our dear friends, and I took some lovely shots of this city and its surroundings. We still didn’t have a car, but we decided to risk it and take the bus. We didn’t catch COVID. Not yet.
I stayed here in the north up until April 2021. I visited Fantast Castle in Novi Bečej, a small town relatively near Novi Sad. I didn’t take too many photos, but my brother and I rode a horse!
In March 2021 I bought my first car. And 13 years after passing my driving exam, I finally started driving. So, my boyfriend and I packed our bags and went to Donji Milanovac. It’s a small town in eastern Serbia, near the Romanian border. Our accommodation was there, but we visited lots of spots nearby: hydroelectric power plant Đerdap, archeological site Lepenski Vir, Castrum Diana, Đerdap National Park… There’s so much history combined with nature’s beauty in this area, that I plan to go again. And again.
In the summer of 2021, the concerts were finally back! Other than travels, that’s another important part of my life that was suddenly taken away from me during the pandemic. EXIT Festival was at the same place as always: in my hometown in July. My brother was one of the performers with his band, and I got to be their photographer for the show. Could it be any better?
Speaking of concerts, Arsenal Fest 2021 was also on, and my boyfriend and I decided to buy the tickets and go. It takes place in Kragujevac, a city in central Serbia (Šumadija district). It’s filled with history, so we visited monuments, museums, and historical sites during the day, and listened to concerts, and drank beer during the night. Weird combo, I know.
When the festival was over, we headed home and visited Oplenac on our way back. It’s a major historical site in Serbia, with churches, museums, and even vineyards of the royal Karađorđević family.
In late September this year, I finally crossed out a place to visit from my bucket list. Again with my boyfriend and my new car, I finally went to Uvac Special Nature Reserve. Us being us, we visited plenty of other places that are relatively near: waterfalls, monasteries, fortresses, churches, lakes, mountains, viewpoints… Our accommodation was in Nova Varoš, a really strange little town in the southwest of Serbia – but strange in a good way. And we went everywhere from there: to Zlatibor, Uvac, Prijepolje, and their surroundings. Once again, I felt like I want to come back there again and again, and I sure will. I’ll leave you with the warmest recommendation for this part of Serbia, and with some photos to try and tell the story instead of me.
Finally, I went to Fruška gora again throughout the year. I spent the most time there during October and November, considering that the fall was beautiful and the forests looked magical. I took some photos, but I mainly just enjoyed the scent and sound of the fallen leaves.
Why I needed these local trips and what I’ve learned
Just like all of us over these past two years, I needed a breath of fresh air in my daily life that was awful during the first half of 2020. I’m adventurous and curious, a nature lover, and I enjoy discovering new places and learning about them. All of this is what I get through travels, and I realized that there were so many places I still didn’t know much about. And yet, they were just a few hours’ drive away from me!
I’ve learned a few things during these short trips and mini-vacations, and these are:
You don’t have to go far to be surprised and amazed – most of us dream of remote locations, often very different from our own country. Some of us can afford it and they visit these places in search of adventures, stories, and of course – great photos. But you don’t have to go to a remote or exotic location to enjoy and to take splendid shots. Sometimes it’s enough to just go to the nearest forest, mountain, or town that you still haven’t visited. This brings me to the next point:
Don’t take your country for granted – I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve taken Serbia for granted. I did visit some of the places from this story before, but Uvac was on my list for ages. Still, I’d always choose foreign countries over my own, thinking “oh, there’s time.” It took me 32 years of my life to finally visit this magnificent place, and everything about it absolutely blew my mind.
I think most of us tend to take our own countries for granted, and it’s normal. Locals always see their area with different eyes than the visitors. But don’t wait for something like the pandemic to “force” you into exploring your own country.
Set your priorities straight – this is particularly applicable to Serbia, but I think you may find it useful too. I can’t say that this country’s tourism is in bloom. In fact, nothing is in bloom here, and it’s especially obvious in small towns and villages that we mainly stayed at during the last year and a half. So, you can’t expect five-star hotels, gourmet meals, perfectly flat roads, and so on.
But you can expect super-nice, helpful, and hospitable people. You’ll find plenty of hidden spots and viewpoints that will take your breath away. You’ll stumble upon a small local restaurant with the best food you’ve tasted. And of course, you’ll see a bunch of photo-worthy places along the way.
Plan ahead. Well ahead – the places we stayed at are often god-forgotten. This means that there won’t always be Wi-Fi or even a mobile network. Heck, you probably won’t even find an open store or a restaurant on some days. And yes, we learned it all the hard way. So, other than planning your shots and the gear you need to bring, make sure to pack enough food, download the maps of the area, or bring a good, old paper map. Remember those?
Revisit – I’ve already discussed why revisiting the same places is good for your photography. Other than coming back to your favorite places in your town, it’s great to plan your mini-vacation in a part of your country that you’ve already visited. For example, if you just go during a different season, it will be a whole new experience, and of course – a lot more fantastic photos on your memory card.
With this article, I wanted to do two things: to invite you to explore your own country, but also to present to you some of mine.
If you can travel without too much fuss, I invite you to visit Serbia and the amazing places I write about in this article. For many reasons (and you can read some of them here), I’m not too thrilled to live in this country. However, I think that it still has so much to offer, and plenty to be proud of. There are bumpy roads that take you to the most stunning viewpoints. There are old, shabby where you’ll find the nicest, most hospitable people. And there’s so much pure beauty of nature, or complex history of this country wherever you go. There is so much to inspire you and amaze you, that I’m sure you’ll come back home with a gazillion stories and equally as many images.
Depending on where you are, there may still be travel restrictions for going abroad. If you’re an avid traveler, you may still miss this part of your life a lot. It’s become much easier with vaccines now, but it all still depends on where you live and where you want to go. So, I invite you not to lament over not being able to travel abroad. Instead, embrace your own country, pack your gear, clothes, and food, and explore everything that it has to offer!