I have just recently returned from a 10 day Scout Jamboree in Belgrade, Serbia. This is the 10th Jamboree for them, the 3rd for me and by far one of the most enjoyable I’ve been on.
Phoenix Archer Explorer Unit has been travelling to the Serbian Jamborees since the 7th in 2008(I think). I’ve been to the 8th (2011), 9th (2014) and now 10th (2018). I even have the passport stamps to prove it…
Ada Ciganlija is a gorgeous place. It is a river island that has artificially been turned into a peninsula on the River Sava. A popular recreational area, you can partake in many outdoor activities there – swimming, kayaking/canoeing, high ropes, artificial climbing wall, volleyball, fishing, SUP, bike riding, skating – there’s even an option to bungee jump over the water!
The temperature all week was in the low thirties, around 33 degrees Celsius – so, combining that with the water, cold drinks, tasty food and beautiful views, one couldn’t complain!
Our flight transported the group into Belgrade late into the night, so after an hour’s bus journey we pitched our tents up in the dark and slept.
For those that don’t know or understand about a Scout Jamboree let me explain; Scout Jamborees have been around since the early 1900s (1920 to be precise in the UK, just learnt that!). They are defined as being “a large gathering of Scouts who rally at a national or international level”, usually a camp, but there are “Jamboree Days”, such as Jamboree on the Trail/Air(Internet) where Scouts, internationally, partake in one activity (hiking/amateur radio/web chatting) in their own group/county on a certain date or dates.
They are all good fun. Some countries only run one every few years (such as Serbia) whereas others, such as the UK or US, run several small ones annually around their countries. The idea is that groups from overseas join with that countries group/units and partake in a Scouting programme, usually with a shared purpose/theme, over a week or so together. The theme of the Serbian Jamboree was “Scouting for all“.
We also had ten Explorer Scouts out on their Explorer Belt Award visiting other towns and villages around Serbia to find out about the local culture and history of the county.
They spend 10 days exploring a minimum of 5 towns/villages whilst trying to complete 10 mini projects and a major one. The teams visited Novi Sad, Ruma, Bačka Palanka, Pančevo, Belgrade and Stara Pazova. I’m not convinced they explored Serbia to the best of their ability and they weren’t very forthcoming with information about its culture, nor did it seem like they spoke to many locals, but they are delivering their presentations in September at the district camp so they might have experienced more than they talked about in their debrief. It would be good to think they’ve appreciated this wonderful country and the heard the struggles of the locals, but we shall see!
Not to bore you with a day by day account of the ten days (I couldn’t if I tried, I’m not very good at remembering things), I will talk about the highlights and interesting things I found out though.
The Jamboree was poorly attended this year compared to the others. They had planned for approximately 3,000 turning up but due to Serbian Scouting politics, only 800 (including foreigners) showed up. There were various reasons why we were told; Belgrade Scouts have an annual camp so didn’t want to attend this one as well; this Jamboree was too pricey for many; many groups travel across the border to the Macedonian Jamboree etc… The cost of this camp, excluding flights and insurance, was €90(?), which is very cheap for UK Scouts for 10 days (we did contribute more to cover equipment donations to the Serbians etc. £220 in total) but for Serbians it’s costly.
But it was worth every penny I thought.
I did think it was a shame that more could not attend, for whatever reason, as I felt the programme, layout and information was well planned in comparison to the other Jamborees I’d been on. BRAVO to the organisers for doing such an excellent job!
Even though the weather was in the low thirties all week (which is HOT for UK people) there was some occasional rain… when it rains in Serbia IT RAINS. The thunderstorms are loud and unpredictable, but as soon as they arrive they are gone and it’s back to the hot weather again. I recorded a video to show what the rain is like (the video starts off with thunder!). I love it when it rains in Serbia; reminds me of the normal UK weather.
Once it had cleared, I was able to get back to the hammock to relax and read the research papers I was sent as prior reading for my course at uni in September…
Some animals did wander on site. I thought I would include them as Serbians have an interesting relationship with stray dogs – it is illegal to harm or kill them under the Serbian Animal Welfare Law 2009/Serbian Criminal Law, Article 269 but it is horrific what some will do to them (graphic content on webpage) if they know they can get away with it – I saw a dog who was missing part of his tail, yet the bone was still sticking out, it didn’t look like the animal had it done professionally. Nearly every dog that came near us shied away from being touched, it was clear to see they haven’t had a friendly pat on their head often! Organised dogfights are commonplace and, sadly, the police turn a blind eye to it – the punishment of 6 months is not enough IMO.
Yet, on the other hand, I saw many Serbians with tea-cup sized dogs (Yorkies, Chihuahua, Maltese and other small dogs) dressed in dog clothing and being carried around by their owners. Many stary dogs looked well fed and Serbians seemed to ignore their presence without hostility. Conflicting.
This beautiful dog wandered on to our site, he didn’t stay long but reminded me of Bailey. I wish I could have taken him home. At night, many dogs – especially puppies, roamed the Ada area seeking food under the concealment of night time when fewer people were about…
I’m a girl who’s not afraid to say she loves her food! Maybe I love it a bit too much at times! Haha. One of our hopes for this Jamboree was substantial meals; the Serbians have always been gracious hosts but they do like their cabbage! The food on the first Jamboree I visited in 2008 wasn’t much – it was my first introduction to a large hot lunch in the early afternoon and a very small dinner as the Serbians prefer to eat well during the daytime (when it’s hot!!), whereas us Brits do love a large hot dinner in early evening… anyway, the following Jamboree saw the money for the food go missing from a corrupt company so the organisers had to bring in another company at the last minute… the saving grace on that Jamboree were the burger bars around a lake nearby. I think on this Jamboree they wanted to make sure the foreigners (especially the fussy eaters) had access to alternative food if they didn’t like what the Serbians were providing so probably chose this location, especially for that reason!
So, with apparently nearly 70 outlets around the Lake, there were a lot of choices – burgers (Gurmanska pljeskavica – in the picture), kebabs, chips and my favourite – Palačinke! A crepe pancake with a filling, such as Nutella or Eurocrem, wrapped in a triangle shape. As the conversion rate was so low one of these would cost about 80p! A burger would cost around £1.60 depending on where you went – bargain!
I loved the food at this camp as each meal was different! Of course, some items, such as the yoghurt drink, was repeated but the whole meal wasn’t the same as the last; so we got to experience a lot of different meals and snacks the Serbians would also enjoy. If the organisers had intentionally planned this then BRAVO again – our young people enjoyed the anticipation of finding out what their next meal would consist of and several did want to try some of the ‘snacks’ again (they enjoyed the pizza margarita snack.
Many meals did contain a lot of bread…
We also visited a couple of restaurants whilst exploring Belgrade. At one such restaurant, the Mala Gostionica, we wanted the Explorer Scouts to experience a traditional Serbian meal. So, out came the bread and salad (cabbage!!) followed by the plate of various meats for them to enjoy! This was followed by a type of doughnut cake with a walnut inside which was delicious – the name escapes me and I haven’t been able to find it online since sadly.
I found the prices very reasonable (conversion was great); as with any city the closer you are to attractions and the city centre the prices do increase but the food quality was always great…
Of course, no trip to Serbia would be complete without trying the Rakija (pronounced RA KEE YA)- a fruit brandy that’s popular in the Balkans. This is the national drink of Serbia and is generally homebrewed with an alcoholic content of about 50% (can be as high as 65%!) and comes in many flavours (i.e. what’s available to the Serbians to make it out of) – plum (Slivovica), grapes, apple, peach, fig, cherry…
As the households homebrew the stuff you’ll expect to be offered some – more so if you’re an adult male – at your meals. There is a joke that a Serbian breakfast is “Rakija, coffee and a cigarette”. Serbians are well known for their hospitality and will keep giving you Rakija if you empty your glass… so to let them know you’re done just leaving some in the glass shows you’ve finished or they’ll keep magically producing bottles until their entire stores are finished with!
(They also have a “drink” called “Concrete“. It’s where you drink Rakija, then a pint of larger and repeat. Why is it called “Concrete” though? It’ll be where you’ll end up after a few of these…face first!)
Trips out and attractions
One thing I do enjoy about visiting other countries, and this may be very geeky of me, is using the public transport. I like to learn how another country runs theirs and I think it’s a good lesson for anyone to learn; this time we got to experience the trains and the buses (no trams, went on them last time). Since the last four years, the bus passes have gone contactless! Previously before you purchased a ticket at the kiosk on the corner (still do) and it’s ‘punched’ by a machine on the platform or on the bus… by now, you can buy either a day pass (290 dinars) and load it with a day’s unlimited travel (90 dinars approx 70p) for use around Belgrade; purchase a 90 minute journey pass from the driver (150 dinar approx £1.15) which, if you asked the driver for he’d always say “no ticket” and let you on without one; OR the last option was to buy a plastic card for 300 dinar (approx £2.30), which lasts 3 years and you can preload it with cash and use on the contactless machines on the bus. Simples.
At the start of the week, we couldn’t figure any of this out. When we spoke to Serbians they kept saying “no ticket”, Kiosk ladies and bus drivers shook their heads at us so we didn’t bother… we even got told by a Serbian waiter not to bother buying tickets after 7pm as the inspectors all clock off and go home then…! Terry lived in fear of getting caught, I scoffed at him until one of our Explorer Belt teams called up to say they’d been given a ticket for 2,000 dinars (approx £16) each… which turned out they’d been fined for not having a proper one (karma for not attempting to find out how to buy tickets in the first instance!)! So he made sure we all had enough and what happened on the way to the airport? We got asked to see our tickets! *Phew*
The Serbian trains aren’t so complicated. They expected you to purchase a ticket before you board and you will definitely be checked whilst on the train! We planned to visit the Explorer Belt groups in Novi Sad and could have taken the bus but I wanted to show Kelvin, our district commissioner, the joys of the Serbian railways…
It all started easy enough from Beograd Centra station, the tickets were easy to purchase, the station air conditions and we got seats on the train… however, what Kelvin didn’t know was that there is what is called “Serbian time”. This differs from regular time, it’s where the Serbs will leave when they want! The train stopped on the tracks, the driver and train staff stepped out of the vehicle and decided to have a 15-minute smoking break on the train whilst the passengers sweated onboard. Once done, the train then moved closer towards its destination.
On the way back… the train decided to turn up 45 minutes late, in fact, it arrived the same time as the other train, due 2 hours earlier at the station, came in! The Serbians didn’t seem to mind, some even decided to sit on the edge of the platform and eat their dinner and take selfies… why rush?
Our return journey from Novi Sad, which was meant to be 2 hours, ended up being more like 3 (train driver smoking breaks); by hey-ho, with the errors in finding our way back on the buses, we eventually got back to camp 5 hours later! Haha.
After meeting with the Explorer Belt teams in Novi Sad and ensuring they are ok and still on track to achieve we visited the Petrovaradin Fortress (translated as “the town on the rock-firm as faith”) on the right bank of the Danube.
What is interesting and will make you look twice is that the minute and hour hand on the clock tower are reversed, with the small hand showing minutes, and the big hand showing hours! This was created this way so that fishermen on the river can see the time from a long distance but for others, it’s just confusing!
Novi Sad was a favourite place for the teams to visit and, due to the meetings, we didn’t get to spend much time here but have vowed to do so on our next visit.
Throughout the week we visited Belgrade for various sights as part of the Jamboree programme. The fortress and Kalemegdan park on the hill overseeing the Danube and Sava rivers, the botanical gardens, the souvenir markets outside the fortress, the modern shopping centres, the old streets with unique art for selling and various museums.
One of the museums we visited was the Nikola Tesla museum. I’m kicking myself as I had a video of me holding a fluorescent tube near the Tesla coil but somehow have managed to delete it (It was pretty cool)! Here’s a video of the coil in action (and surprisingly the same guide is still working there 3 years later!). Anyway, I would recommend people visit, I found it to be interesting… even, strangely, seeing his urn with his ashes in displayed in the museum; recently the activist group “Leave Tesla Alone” were trying to stop them being moved to the Church of St Sava, the resting place of many of Serbia’s national heroes (even more interesting article about “Satanic rituals” happening at his resting place!).
I have so much more I could write about Serbia. This just skims the information and experiences I’ve had whilst being in such a beautiful hospitable country.
It’s now been several days since the Jamboree and I do miss the easy life that I had whilst there; no worries or anything to do really! Now I’m back I’ve had many things to sort out for the upcoming couple of months and it’s been pretty hectic but the countdown has begun to the 11th Serbian Jamboree now… roll on 2021! Let’s see where life is at then!