Our Hidden Niš

We both wake up feeling like shit. Lethargic and groggy, we’re taking our time this morning as the clock tick tocks towards check-out. “Did we get drunk last night or something?”, “Sure feels like it”, “We didn’t really drink that much though. Did we?”, “Well.. we had five drinks at the hostel before we even went out, then three doubles at Three Hats, then…” A quick tally indicates we did in fact drink enough to hospitalize an adult male rhinoceros last night. “Ahhh yeeeeeeah, ok that’s actually a lot”, “Plus that fucking pizza stew right before bed!”, “Ima harf now, don’t remind me!”

We waste some time waiting for showers to free up. Same thing as last night, it seems that the number of beds far exceeds the bathroom capacity. That’s really my only complaint about Reveller’s which otherwise scores top marks for room, location, price, staff, fun and murals.

We’re not sure what we’ll be doing today. Maybe getting another night here in Belgrade or continuing South through Serbia. We decide to stash our bags with the hostel, venture out for breakfast and a coffee and ride out the hangovers a bit until our weary brains are capable of making decisions again.

A chipper hostess at the front desk walks us down to the room that bags can be stored in for the day. We stash our goods and get back out to Skadarlija street. It’s another beautiful day in Belgrade.

We walk towards the modern, fancy district to see what breakfast options there are and end up back at Republic Square near the fortress. We scope a good patio table right on the square at a place called Boutique overlooking the equestrian statue of Prince Michael.

The menu looks healthy which will be a nice change of pace from meat platters and pizza stew. Trying to Hail Mary this hangover, I go for a salad called Vitaminska and a ‘Double Detox’ drink. MacKay goes a similar route. “Must have been a night, eh?”, “Kinda.”

There’s a flash mob in the square beside us with matching outfit styles. They’re breaking into dance while two people weave through them recording it all on video. They’re good. They pause when there’s an out of sync move and restart. But they never seem to repeat a sequence. Interesting. Maybe they’re improving. They have a ton of moves and it goes on for the entire time we’re sitting here. 

The food comes and it’s just what the doctor ordered. This and another coffee and I think we’ll be human again.

We’re chilled out now, taking our time with another round of coffee. With a semblance of sensibilities restored we start discussing next steps. “Too bad it’s a backtrack North to Novi Sad, that would have been a cool place to hit”, “Ya…” the whole time I’m talking to MacKay he’s distracted with something behind me. “Everything alright there dude?”, “Sorry man, there’s just an unbelievably hot hostess in there”, he directs my attention to the Boutique hostess. Pffffffffftttt… unreal.

“I remember driving through Croatia last time and thinking, wow, these women are incredible. Then getting to Niš and being even more floored by the beauties there”, “I guess that’s a place we can get to again. It’s just south of here”, “True. Could hit it on the way to Kosovo or Macedonia”, “That works. Niš was fun as fuck last time..”, “..see if we can rekindle the magic?”, “Exactly.”

Following this thread I look up train and bus times. “I mean.. we could do that today if you want”, “Fine by me”, “These times are a little wonky. Maybe let’s check with the hostel when we get back. See if they have any suggestions”, “No time like the present.” We drop some Serbibucks on the table and bounce. The flash mob is still going. Good for them.

We walk back towards the hostel and along the way come across an older lady unloading flowers from a wheel barrow and potting dirt. James gets out his camera and she smiles at him. I smile back, “That’s nice, the flowers are great.” Nope, he’s getting a pic of the graffiti behind her. Here I thought he was being all sweet and shit, “Homie, at least get the flowers in the foreground”, “Oh I didn’t even see that”, “You’re a piece of work, man”, “Haha guess I douched that pretty hard. It is interesting that they’re not in NATO though”, “Well ya, but… sorry about my friend. The flowers are pretty.”

I don’t think this old lady speaks English. She does seem entertained by our antics though, smiling and nodding at us.

Back to the hostel we ask about trains or buses to Nis. The Reveller’s hostess is very talkative and helpful. She says the buses in the area are way better than trains. Also there’s no point taking taxi or go-car to the station because of traffic. It’s better to just walk. “The bus station is all down hill so I think you can make the 120 bus. The one at 140 takes longer than the one at 2. If you hurry, 120 bus is best option”, ‘It always turns into a race…”, “Ha yes. But that is the fun, ah?”

She takes us down to get our bags. I mention liking the art and she says that a volunteer at the hostel did them all. “I’m glad you are enjoying them. Her name was Lotte. She drank chocolate milk all the time so you see she put her name for the logo of the chocolate milk”, “I like it.”

Out on Skadarlija street with our bags and I’m making sure our directions are sound. “We’ve got 45 minutes and it’s a 20 minute walk”, “That gives us 10 minutes to get lost and then race to the bus”, “Haha yep, exactly. We got this.”

I like this migrating bass player scene

We go down hill through the beautiful cobblestone street. Nope wrong way. “Maybe she meant it was all uphill?”, “Great.” Back up hill. “Let’s cut through this parking lot. Save some time.” Nope dead end. Getting some stank eye from MacKay, “Ok, there’s our ten minutes of getting lost!” Uh-oh we’ve got a potential Hulk smash situation rising here. The heat isn’t helping. “We’re good. We’re goooooood!”

We Crest the hill by the flash mob square again and then it turns downhill as Reveller’s Girl said it would. It’s actually incredibly steep. Things get sketchy fast a few blocks on approach of the bus station area. The backside of this hill is all deteriorating buildings and people in torn clothing with blankets laid out to sell all manner of shit-wares, cords and outdated tech. We stand out big time.

I think we’re looking good on this train time. Can’t really afford another wrong turn though, that’ll cost us hours on having to take milk route bus runs. The ground levels out on approach to some industrial looking piers on the water and a large glass building that looks station-esque. Yep, that’s it. “Still got 15 minutes!”, “I’ll feel better with tickets in hand.”

We get to the window and nab tickets to the bus that arrives in 10 minutes. Perfect! We are given tokens with our tickets that we use to open security gates into the bus waiting area. There are a few armed guards around. This is nice and sketchy. Damn, it’s hot today and there isn’t much shade to speak of. I get us a couple of waters from a nearby vendor lady and some bus Snickers.

“Off to Niš, I’m excited”, “Ya man, me too. Will be interesting to see what’s changed there in the last 7 years.” I’m digging up lodging on my phone, “A 2 bedroom apartment in downtown Niš is 25 bucks”, “Where’s that though? I remember there were two downtowns”, “Oh right, right. I think that’s in the second downtown. We want to party in the fortress though which is 35 minutes from there.” I find some more places on the map by the river. “Ah fuck it, let’s just get there and check into whatever. Hotels are probably cheap too”, “Ya, we found one right across from the castle last time that wasn’t bad. Just get there and check it out”, “What could go wrong?”, “Ya, exactly haha.”

Comfy bus without many people on it. Zero tourists going to Niš. “I miss the Lithuanian Kool Kids”, “Wow, that seems like ages ago.” Bose buds in. Bus chill time with some Lane 8. It’s good background music for writing. I get a post done and settle in for a lil nappy to kill the rest of the time. It’s only two and a half hours to Niš. 

The bus rolls in to the city and MacKay and I are feeling spry again after breakfast, coffee and some downtime. We grab our bags and mosey off towards the bridge across the Nišava river. “It feels good to be back!”, “Yep, I looked up events and it sounds like there’s a local band in the fortress tonight”, “Perfect!”

It’s weird, there’s something about this place. Maybe because we had such a great time here last time. It feels comfortable and familiar. Feels like we found a hidden gem long ago and we can’t really explain why it actually is one. A soothing energy, something indescribable yet tangible. Our hidden niche (pardon the pronunciation pun).

As we parkour across the bridge, scoping for a place to crash on the far bank, our levels are rising noticeably. “Fuck dude, I feel good!”, “Amazing what a few vitamins will do lol”, “Haha, no I think it’s this place, man”, “It does have a good energy to it”, “Let’s get into it!”, “Oh shit, here we go”, “We’re back, BABY!”, “haha ahhhh oh fuck. Noooooooooooo!”, “Ohhh, but YES!”, “Ok fine. Let’s fucking do it then.”

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