This is Serbia

Smells are the first things that strike you. Food is revered, sausage is a delicacy, and ajvar is a culinary delight to be embraced. The scent of cigarette smoke pervades the air. This is Serbia.


Dogs run free, sparring for territory. Lean suburbanites tend impressive gardens, rotating crops with the seasons. Food could be scarce at any time. Friendly locals suggest which brand of bottled water to buy, but smile with crooked grins because they prefer the beer. This is Serbia.

Shopping Mall

Raichle Palace


Modern shopping malls vie with art nouveau treasures and political graffiti to grab your attention.

Refugee tent city

Refugee motherRefugees cluster in tent cities outside transportation hubs, hoping to move north into the EU. Mothers nurse their babies in train station hallways. Sanitation workers do their best to keep things clean. Harried Aid Workers try to help the daily influx of new people.

Waiting for the bus

People go about their normal lives, waiting for buses, shopping the local farmers markets, and loving their cafe culture.

Couples get married, Mothers of the Bride dress to the nines, and young and old dance in the street.

Orthodox priest

Orthodox priests stroll with teenagers.

But the one thing that stands out overall is the people – their kindness, patience, and dignity. Thank you Serbians for this welcoming introduction to your beautiful county. You are Serbia.

Terri & James

Cafe culture


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

59 thoughts

    1. Thanks Alison. With a bit of research, Serbia makes an interesting stop. For years we’ve tried to understand the Balkans war and its causes, and our time here has helped. The Balkans still aren’t the easiest place to move around, but we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here, and can recommend it. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment Cindy and for dropping by the blog. Serbia is getting lots of negative press these days, but we’ve really enjoyed our visit here. Like many places in the Balkans, it seems to be moving on from past difficulties, and trying to look toward the future. ~James

      1. Hi James. Thanks for the update. I love visiting places that have a bit of a danger element. Glad that Serbia is on the way to recovery. Enjoy the week end 🙂

    1. Thanks Laura. Serbia has been a real surprise for us. Coming in, we didn’t really know what to expect, and it’s turned out much better than we thought it might be. Many countries in Eastern Europe were under the iron fist of Russia, and it made a long-term impact on the attitudes of the people. And while the Balkans were mostly communists, they had self rule, and it’s made a big difference in the culture and how they react to foreigners. ~James

  1. Beautiful photos, captions too. Who would have thought, that in a region once so ravaged by war, this country would transform itself into a spot of such beauty…amen for that and for the citizens who survived and picked up the pieces once again.

    1. Many thanks, Amit, you’ve captured it perfectly. It was really gratifying to see the kindness the folks of Serbia are showing the refugees and migrants. I think they have a sincere appreciation of how things were then, compared to now. All the best, Terri

    1. Leslie, the red peppers are delicious! They use them this time of year to make ajvar – an addictive spread that’s great on fresh bread (or just about anything)! And everyone was buying them by the bushel. ~Terri

    1. We felt the same way, Lynn, because we honestly didn’t know what to expect. We were totally bowled over by the kindness of the people. Glad that we could add another perspective. ~Terri

    1. It was our first time to Serbia, too, Nicole, and we were so impressed by the people. We saw the greatest number of refugees in Belgrade and Subotica (very near the border). This was just before Hungary finished its border fence and closed down access, so I think they were making a dash for the border before it closed. We saw the greatest number of children at the train station and Tent City in Belgrade, and I found myself wondering where they would end up and what they would remember. It will be interesting to keep tabs on them. ~Terri

      1. I bet that was really difficult to see Terri. I know I’d be heartbroken. I am sure Serbia would be quite an interesting place to visit as well.

  2. What a wonderful collage of photos and perspectives of a country of which we normally only hear sad things.
    The sentence that jumped out at me was “Food could be scarce at any time.” That sentence alone speaks volumes about the turbulence these people have survived.

    1. Thanks Joanne, you have a keen eye. It seemed that absolutely everyone, whether living in the city or country, was growing food. Tiny plots and huge gardens were everywhere. And since the autumn harvest was going on, food was plentiful, so people were canning vegetables like crazy. I remember how much my Mom loved having a cellar full of veggies for the long winter. 🙂 ~Terri

      1. Both of my parents were immigrants who lived through some very lean and difficult times. I know the ritual well of spring planting, summer tending, and fall harvest with all the work that went into preserving.
        Sometimes I look at my typical urban backyard and wish I had my parents’ gardening genes 🙂

  3. The pepper spread on bread looks amazing (I am reading while hungry, but still …)! Your photos and summary are a great overview of Serbia. Did you find it similar to Bosnia & Herzegovina or any other Balkan neighbors you’ve already visited? I’ve been to a small clump of the countries nearby but not Serbia.

    1. So glad that you enjoyed it, Lexie. We are permanently addicted to the avjar. Your question about Serbia in comparison to other neighboring countries is excellent. It sparked a great conversation, and James and I came to this conclusion: the challenge of operating almost entirely in Cyrillic added a whole new twist for us. We hadn’t done that before, so it was a double-edged sword – fun when we were doing it for amusement, but tough when we really needed the information. And we both agree that the standout pleasant surprise was the people – welcoming, patient, kind, and interesting. ~Terri

      1. We don’t yet but I was just talking to Terry yesterday about making a top 10 list. Of course, your website will be invaluable. Would you mind if I email you with some questions when I begin that task?

    1. It is a good time to visit Susan. And actually, it’s warmer than we expected and rain hasn’t been a problem. Re: English, no it isn’t common, and it’s been a bit of a challenge. Our backup languages are Spanish and French, neither helpful in this part of the world. English is much more common in younger folks, so given a choice, that’s who we seek out, at bus and train ticket booths for instance. It’s interesting, I could, and may, write a post on our Cyrillic coping skills. 🙂 ~James

      1. Oh, please write it. I remember standing in front of cyrillic words trying to sound them out only to come up with a very familiar ‘papier tolety’ or ‘ticketu’. Funny how travel surprises you, isn’t it?

    1. After our first trip to the area, we didn’t really know what to expect, but our experience in Serbia was good and we’re glad we visited. One of our objectives was to get an understanding of the causes of all the conflicts, and being there helped. ~James

    1. Marilyn, from what I’ve read, the refugees really see the EU as the place to be: more jobs, and a support system to help get established. From what we’ve seen in the Balkans, each country has its own problems to deal with, and understandably, they don’t appear to have any interest in taking on more responsibilities. ~James

  4. Wonderful piece – and so politically aware. When I was in Serbia, quite a while ago now, there were no refugees. However there were a lot of gypsies and some terrible poverty that led some families to send their kids onto really busy highways to beg for money. It was horribly dangerous.

    1. We did see quite a few gypsies, and had read that they might be a problem, but we didn’t have any issues. Apparently, one of their scams is big groups of kids begging for money, and while you’re surrounded, someone picks your pocket. We had a few beggars, but no big deal. ~James

    1. Thanks Ginette. When we were planning our trip we thought that the refugees might be an issue, but other than transport, we haven’t had any problems. We’ve sweated over a couple of border crossings, but things turned out fine. It was certainly sobering and thought provoking to see it in person. ~James

    1. Glad to transport you, Anita. Now that you’re there in Europe you’ll have ready access to so many wonderful places. I’m sure your wish list is a mile long. 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Thanks so much! Although we’d been to the Balkans before, we weren’t sure what we’d experience in Serbia. It truly exceeded our expectations. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

  5. Hoping our experience proves as memorable… however I think we’ll be leaving without an exit stamp (as we’re headed to Kosovo afterwards)

    1. Hi Chris, I didn’t know you were in this part of the world. Isn’t it fascinating! We weren’t able to make it to Kosovo this trip so I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences. ~Terri

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