My next major goal is visiting the UNESCO site called Felix Romuliana. This was a huge palace that was built in the 3rd Century AD for the roman emperor Galerius.
The emperor chose to build his palace in the area where he was born (and where he intended to die). Since he was born in an obscure village in Serbia, this meant it was nowhere near anything else at the time and is nowhere near any major city today. That makes getting there rather difficult.
Today's goal was to get to Zaječar (pronounced "Zie-shar"), which is the only nearby city. They don't get many tourists out here! As far as I can tell, I was the only tourist on today's train.
This was definitely not an express train. We seemed to stop at every minor village along the way. In fact, one time, when the train stopped, there were no houses nor\roads in sight. Yet, one passenger got off and started hiking up into the hills. Presumably there's a village out there somewhere!
This slow motion tour of south-eastern Serbia gave me an opportunity to see some of the rural areas of Serbia. Often the scene was spectacular: hills and valleys, swift streams, and small villages. Since it's December, there were no crops in the fields but plenty of evidence that they have already plowed their fields in preparation for Spring.
Once we arrived in Zaječar, it was time again to find a hotel. From my previous research, I knew there are only two hotels in town and one of them is closed for the winter. That meant that I had to find a hotel named: Srbija Tis Hotel. There were none of the usual taxis at the train station. So, I hiked out toward what appeared to be the main street. There I found a cab driver and asked him for the hotel. He couldn't understand me. When I showed him the hotel name written in my notebook, he said, “Do you want to ride or walk”. I answered that it depended on how far away the hotel is. He said it was a short walk and pointed the way. I followed the directions he gave but didn't find anything. Every time I got lost, I would ask a passing pedestrian. They won't understand me. I'd show them my notebook, they'd point and describe the way in Serbian. Finally, one guy pointed at the tallest building around and appeared to be saying, “That's it”. Sure enough, it was. So, I must not have been pronouncing the hotel name correctly but must have been very near the hotel the whole time.
The woman at the registration desk spoke English and gave me room 303. I'm getting used to hotels not having elevators and was pleasantly surprised that this one does. But, I soon discovered that the doors on the elevator don't open by themselves. You have to open the outer doors manually, then open the inner doors, then close the outer doors, then close the inner doors. Pushing the button for my floor was complicated by the fact the numbers had worn off. Assuming that I was on floor “0”, I counted up three buttons and pushed that one. When the elevator stopped, I reversed the earlier procedure: open inner doors, open outer doors, close inner doors, close outer doors. New problem. There are no lights and no light switch. Fortunately, room 303 was close enough that I could find it in the dark. When you're traveling in rural areas, you have to expect the unexpected!
After settling in, I ventured out to explore Zaječar. The first building I saw was labeled “National Museum Zaječar”. When I entered, the receptionist immediately sought out someone who spoke English. He explained that Felix Romuliana was closed for the season and would have no English speaking guides. Since he works at Felix Romuliana during the regular season, he offered to show me the relevant parts of this museum so that I could understand what I'd see when I get to Felix Romuliana tomorrow. When we got to a scale model of Felix Romuliana , he explained every building to me. I got a personalized, one-hour, guided tour for free! How fortunate for me that I happened to find him!
I'll tell you more about Felix Romuliana on tomorrow's blog when I've actually been there.