Niš Fortress

Across the bridge by the Nišava river and we spot a sign in an alley leading to ‘Sweet Hostel’. “It is a Sweet location..” right here on the river just a minutes walk to the fortress. We’re on the case…

Down the alley we find the door to an apartment building with a little green sign that says Sweet Hostel. There are buttons to buzz in. “Might as well, eh?”, “Ya, go for it.” Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Some guy answers on the other side in Serbian. “Ahhhhh… Do you speak English?”, “Er ahh no. Resa.. Reservation?”, “No. No reservation”, “Ok… moment.” We get buzzed in.

We go up a few flights of narrow white steps following the Sweet Hostel sign. A fit looking older dude in track pants and a liberty rock shirt with the status of liberty holding a guitar and giving devil horns comes down and finds us on the stairs. He doesn’t speak English. He points to a room and guides us over.

He opens the door to a nice apartment with an open kitchen and lounge area and multiple bedrooms off of it. Looks like he took a three bedroom apartment and just turned it into a hostel. He opens the first door on the left and motions inside towards three beds. “Yep, perfect. It’s nice in here”, he nods in thanks. It’s green themed and cozy. Should do nicely. He writes ’20’ on his pad. “Euros?” Nods. “Ok sure”, “Ahh you.. number or..” We give him our passports “Ya. Yes.”

He says “Mange?” and I assume he means food. Maybe he speaks a bit of French. “Yeah local food would be good.” He doesn’t understand. “Serbian food?” He still doesn’t understand. He dials a number on his phone then hands it to James. “Hello”, it’s a lady’s voice on the other end, “Yes? Ahhhh I’m not sure what’s happening”,  Did you want something?”, “I’m sorry, I’m confused”, I whisper, “Maybe ask her for a recommendation?” and MacKay nods. “Do you have any food recommendations?”, “Just up the street, 5 minutes, there are lots of options”, “Ok, thank-you”, “<some Serbian word neither of us catch>. Traditional. Very good”, I’m chuckling, “Marshmallow vodka? Did she say marshmallow vodka?”, MacKay is barely holding back his laughter, “Ok we’ll find it. Thank you.” He hangs up, “Haha It did sound like marshmallow vodka.”

The owner seems happy with this exchange. He gives us keys, nods and liberty rocks his way out.

There is a bowl of puff snacks on the central table. They’re like cheesies but kind of peanut butter flavor. “Kikiriki cheesies? Whoa, these are amazing”, “This is a fucking game changer, dude.” We scarf em back like vagrants.

This is a cute place.

We take turns getting showered up in the only bathroom. On my way over, one of the doors opens and I catch a glimpse of an older gentleman with no shirt on. He spies me and hastily shuts the door. Probably thought he was the only one here.

All clean, MacKay’s turn. “There’s an older gentleman in room 3 by the way”, “Fucking party hostel!!!”

Bus grime erased, we take the white steps down to the alley and back to the river. A pleasant evening is settling in.

We cross the bridge hoping to re-pimp the dream of having sunset beers in a jazz bar of a Serbian fortress for the second day in a row. Shouldn’t be too hard since this was the place that originally spawned the concept. 

Whoa, a whole parade of old folks is geezer-peddling in through the Stambol Gate. Wonder what’s happening at the fortress tonight.

Haha fuck off. Ok, we got one-upped with this nonsense. They put a whole Jazz Museum in here since the last time we were here. You win again, Serbia.

There is a bar, restaurant and sweet patio here still in the same place we remember. Seven years ago we got plastered here while a live jazz band played. Everyone was dancing, it was great. We met a girl from Chicago that was visiting distant relatives that were all locals. They showed us a good time. Fond memories of this fortress.

Only a bit of sunlight left though so we’d better investigate a bit before the jazz beers.

The Niš Fortress is what remains of Ottoman Turkish fortifications build here in the early 1700s. But those were built on ancient Roman fortifications which were in turn erected over structures from the middle ages. So, like the Belgrade fortress, it’s been around for millennia and it’s true origins may well be unwritten. It remains one of the most significant and best preserved fortresses of it’s kind on the entire Balkan peninsula.

A little ways from the entrance we find the remnants of an old cathedral and other building foundations.

Aside from the initial crowd of old timers around the entrance there isn’t many folks in here. The grounds stretch to walls far off in the distance. “Looks like there’s something over there that requires adventure detection”, “Ok, let’s go check it out.” MacKay posts up by a tree to take a leak. Ahh ok. That’s how we’re defining it these days.

We swing over to the fortress walls and take a look over the North West side of the city.

This looks like as good a spot as any to grab a fortress brew. We walk up and are greeted with jazz.

We grab a seat, there’s a menu on the table. Beer. That’s easy. “Continuing our tour of sunset jazz bars in Serbian fortresses then”, “Beers are a buck fitty. That’s silly”, “No entrance fee to the fortress either”, “Nope. If this were in North America they’d be milking the fuck out of it with a 10 plus dollar entrance fee and 10 dollar beers”, “Aaaaand we’d be getting hassled by postcard and bracelet vendors. Ruining everything just chasing tourist bucks”, “Yeah, the Serbs know how to do it”, “Well, I think they just do it and don’t realize they could not do it right”, “Maybe that makes sense.”

A pregnant server comes around to see us. “Two beer, please”

Mean mugging.

It’s nice and relaxed in here. Seems like the other tables are just local friends out enjoying a pint together too. We chill for a couple more rounds until it looks like the majority of people have split, including most of the servers. Maybe they start closing up shop around dark. Probably time to find some grub anyways, “Marshmallow vodka?”, “Haha fuck. That was funny. Ya let’s find that marshmallow vodka place or whatever.”

We pay up and make our way through the trees back to the entrance. “We’ll have to come back later with some beers”, “It’s tradition at this point.”

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