Lessons Learned in Nis, Serbia

Nis Serbia Military Drills

Lessons Learned in Nis, Serbia

Nis Serbia has enough to keep tourists occupied for one day of wandering and one day of relaxing at cafes. Two days was more than enough and included a fare amount of walking around, exchanging stories with a fellow teacher-turned-traveler and discovering the city’s main sites. Since we are both teachers by trade, I think the best way to compose this story of Nis is to teach you what we learned during our time there.
Ready class? Here are lessons learned in Nis, Serbia

For just 200 Serbian Dinar ($1.75 USD). a multi-entry ticket will allow you access to Nis’s main attractions: a concentration camp, the Skull Tower and the Archeological Hall.

Put ticket stubs in safe places. I shoved a multi-entry ticket into my back pocket in order to take a photograph, and it was never seen again.

Fake it til you make it. The multi-entry ticket I spoke of was both bought and lost at the first of three attractions. In order to enter the others, I was to show this righteous piece of paper. Instead, my fellow Teacher Turned Nis Tourist friend pulled out his ticket while I pretended to dig inside the black hole of a purse I carry. The ticket taker let us both in, no questions asked.

Skull Tower - Nis Serbia
Skull Tower – Nis Serbia
Skull Tower Details - Nis, Serbia
Skull Tower Details – Nis, Serbia
Skull Tower's Exterior Looks Much Like a Religious Building
Skull Tower’s Exterior Looks Much Like a Religious Building

The Skull Tower’s exterior does not actually appear to be a tower. It’s a building that looks more like a small church than anything. But the story is interesting: The skull tower has deteriorated after years of weather and wear, now standing all of three meters high. Originally it held 952 skulls from the late 19th century but over time, families of the deceased have come to collect the skulls and bury them properly. Now just 58 skulls remain, well protected and open for visitors.

Spooky Skulls - The Skull Tower of Nis, Serbia
Spooky Skulls – The Skull Tower of Nis, Serbia
Skull Tower Reflects on a Glass Barrier
Skull Tower Reflects on a Glass Barrier
Skull Reflections - Nis, Serbia
Skull Reflections – Nis, Serbia

That small gate in the distance? Yes, that is the entrance to the Red Cross Concentration Camp: a set of buildings housed together near what is now Nis’s sparsely populated Military base. The size is minuscule compared that of Auschwitz in Poland or Germany’s Sachsenhausen and the tour is quick as you’re allowed only to enter the first floor of the main building. Still, you can see etchings dug into walls from former prisoners, and the ticket taker will graciously tell you how the second floor, where women and children were held, is currently being made into a larger exhibit to be opened “some day” as funding allows. The building’s third floor was at the time converted from a large open space to individual prison cells and utilized to hold members of the Gestapo. To this day, the ground of the third floor is lined with barbed wire, leading restorers to believe Gestapo members were forced to either step on or tiptoe through holes in the wires. The woman on duty during our visit scrunched her face while she demonstrated the agony prisoners must have felt while walking, or even standing, inside their cells.

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Many establishments do not serve both food and alcohol. If you want to enjoy a beer with your meal, you can order take away from a restaurant and bring it to a nearby cafe. The waitstaff will be more than happy to accommodate you, especially if you offer them a sampling.

Everyone’s got a doppelganger: An exact replica of a former coworker sat at the front desk of the hostel and after comparing photos, even he agreed they look similar enough to grant each other free access to either country.

Zastava Garaj
Zastava Garaj

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Want some privacy at your hostel? Book a room in a female-only dorm. Few female travelers during low season means: the whole room to yourself! I was able to tuck away in a corner and felt extra safe knowing I had a key to a locker as well as to the room. Still, I was able to join forces with the other guest staying in a nearby room and take in all the city had to offer alongside good Canadian company.

Stay flexible. So what if you wanted to go to Bucharest from Nis? Sofia is also nice this time of year. Go to Sofia. I returned to Nis a second time on my way from Kosovo to Bucharest. The bus I’d thought was going to take me the intended route was non-existent. Bus station employees denied the route had ever existed even when I pulled up a map that showed in detail what the plans were to be, where we were to stop, and at what time I would arrive. So be flexible and go to Sofia instead. Bucharest can wait!

Nis to Bucharest
Nis to Bucharest: The Bus Journey Which Doesn’t Actually Exist

Chewbacca is real. I saw him at the Celebration of the Army of Serbia.

When someone asks, “Do you want to hold my gun?” It’s polite to say yes. Don’t ask what happens if you say no. (I kid, I kid! Don’t worry!)

Men wearing black masks and throwing knives and hatchets with the precision of a heart surgeon are not always cause for alarm. Most of the time, they are. But not always.

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Listen to the locals. They’ll tell you what’s best: from restaurants to gas stations and even what to do at night. Perhaps the symphony would be a good idea!

Think your jeans and plaid shirts are too informal for a symphony? No one cares! Along with the only other patron staying at my hostel, we went to the symphony for a fuss-free night out. Women were dressed in fur shawls and men in fur caps, and we in plaid. Though their heads and shoulders may have been warmer, we all got to experience the intensity of a dueling piano-drum set performed by brothers in their thirties visiting from Hungary. At 400 Serbian Dinar ($3.50 USD) it was an event not to be missed.

When someone tells you what bus to take from Point A to Point B, kindly ask for walking directions instead. Most places could be reached within thirty minutes of city center. And remember, “Life is a Journey not a Destination” (Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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7 Comments

    1. Oh I didn’t think about that – nobody stole it – that never even crossed my mind, it’s so safe there! It was definitely my fault. I never put things in my pocket because every time I do they slip slide away. That’s what you get for wearing skinny jeans! So don’t worry, no theft 🙂 And yes, it worked out magically to get in to the other sites!

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