A Love Letter to Serbia – Tourists Need This Country in Their Lives!

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (Planning a Europe Trip Consulting)

Serbia deserves really great coverage as a country for its spiritual and hospitality depth but it does take a quick overview at times to pique interest and generate discussion. I was probably unusually fortunate how quickly a warm integration took place. I will quickly describe why I have such warm feelings toward the country but omit names so that participation is… participatory.

Belgrade in 2017 is on the rise as a wonderful spot for nightlife and I suspect it will be a digital nomad hotbed for many years to come.

A long-time social media acquaintance became a friend early in my trip in the UK and was selflessly on board with the intricacies and reportings of my 18-country trek, and when I was in the neighborhood of southeast Europe she became a strong advocate that I would visit Serbia where her son lives in Novi Sad. I really knew nothing about Serbia and it was not on my itinerary. A few months into the journey I was exhausted and really could not fathom taking another country’s psyche in. However, I went from east to west through Romania and decided to soldier through to Slovenia on the ground if I could manage it. Landing on Serbian soil (or clearing the border, more like) started with me hitting a lifetime abstract goal – to visit 40 countries.

As soon as my minibus had a stop in Vršac at a gas station and convenience store, and immediately a very nice girl-lady started speaking with me in English asking about what brought me to Serbia and a welcome and so forth (I don’t remember the exact words). She let me know she is an English teacher and was happy to help in any way. I explained that I really made no preparation for Serbia and did not want to buy anything in the convenience store yet because I forgot one major task I always do before entering – finding out what the exchange rate of the local currency is to dollars and euros! We chatted and exchanged information because she was sitting further back in the bus. I instantly felt safe and like synchronicity was in motion in Serbia.

Meanwhile in London my friend was coordinating her son to meet with me and the social media interaction had begun. I was not sure if I’d make it to Novi Sad yet. I was going to Belgrade and if I felt totally shattered I would fly west at a moment.

The shuttle bus dropped me off at the hostel I was staying at (in the Balkan region there are a few really great shuttle companies that for less than 30 euros will pick you up directly at your hostel or hotel and drop you off at the next door also – much better than dealing with trains sometimes) and when I got in they were full (I had not booked in advance) but I used their wifi to book another one nearby. When I arrived there, my phone exploded with messages from my new friend that she knew some people working at the hostel. I explained that the previous hostel was full but as it happens, she is friends with the owner of the second hostel I managed to book! I related this when I arrived and in doing so, three new young employees were in training and were eager to help and be accommodating. In Serbia, it was my experience that people will take hospitality to an extraordinary level, like their neighbors in Romania, and the very high level of English makes it easy to travel this country.

It goes without saying that Belgrade is very much a place for excellent nightlife and excellent food and drink can be had at affordable prices. Like its eastern Europe neighbors, the food seems a lot more pure and untampered with. I stayed for almost a week to recover from all the movement of the previous months and because I was fast making friends with so many people, as you will find that Serbians will embrace you into their world quickly. I also had three friends I met in earlier travels that were converging there at the same time as I was (they were a few days ahead) and they were people I had profound connections to on a spirit and friend level. When a place makes things like this happen, it is usually because social engineering and spirit forces are supporting it. Many people stay in Belgrade to regroup, for the exciting socializing, and some for medical tourism – and I see it becoming a business meeting hub. For me, it is a base of friends for life! I thank the young lady who took the courage to introduce me to her vast network, her other friend and my new friend who walked me through the city, and to all the staff of Hostel Goodnight Grooves.

I was able to connect with my friend’s son and coordinate a move on to Novi Sad, a very charming and still even more affordable place to the northwest of Belgrade. It was clear he was going to pull all the stops to show me everything, and I am eternally grateful. He has a very original business called Beeraj, and such a networked and more likable person is rare to find – he and his partner see to it that the beer garden is the epicenter of music and social life in Novi Sad.

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Beeraj is a great place to stop in the evening and should you be there in the summertime, it’s great to follow up with a walk to the River Danube, where there might be a movie screening like when I was there! I rested my bones every night at Hostel Nomad and had these wonderful new spirits in life immediately embrace me into their magical world of a simple life out of the chaos taking place in the western news cycle.

 

Ahead of arriving, I asked him where he knew of great people to stay with in a hostel. Even though he was prepared to host me or link me to a place to stay I nearly always prefer to stay in a hostel for the autonomy and networks that emerge – it is like a story unfolding every day. He told me the place to go is Hostel Nomad (booking). I came in just as they were preparing to leave for the night because by some fluke originally no one else was booked for that night. It was stunning that they dropped everything and got me totally secured and comfortable and gave me a total rundown when many people would be somewhat resentful of having their evening gatecrashed in this way. All facilities are totally new and even at full capacity it would be very comfortable with lots of space and convenience to get anything you’d want for food, drink, entertainment, and infrastructure. Novi Sad has very cheap hotdesking business incubator sites and in my opinion is a nascent place because of the high education level, general English aptitude, low operating costs, quality of food, and natural beauty with the Danube and castle nearby. My new friend, the son of an existing friend, lent me a bike to follow him on and I was able to see every corner of the city and the many vehicles for a happy, balanced life there. Guys traveling from other countries also love Serbia for the “hot girls” both in the body sense and mental integrity generally found there.

What truly blew me away finally was when I was preparing to leave the country by bus, I got into the waiting area and the co-owner of the hostel that I made friends with was soon there – at 10 p.m.! – waiting for me to make sure that I was not alone. It is not by any stretch a dangerous place to be but not only did I meet the best people Serbia has to offer but the country’s flag should sprout guardian angel wings because that is the kind of support this culture gives.

On one and only disturbing note, I did not realize that the NATO bombings of 1998-1999 were as extensive in Serbia as they were. Even the most versed American, Canadian, European, and Australian tourists do not know the full extent of the violence that takes place to hold their power in place and how wars are often not more than testing missions for new weapons. The Clintons, fairly or unfairly, are extremely unpopular in Serbia. Keep political views under your hat and do what we are all supposed to do when traveling – listen and consider what is being said.

The Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade with an area focusing on Tito as well as his grave was food for thought and makes one want to research that era more. There is a strong sentiment here that Yugoslavia was the good old days, and indeed all personal stories I learned of made it sound like a highly functional era of tolerance and of a strong middle class lifestyle.

Further, I would advise this is a country where you want to get a read for the humor of your company and surroundings more than some other places. People may not appreciate or understand sarcasm or joking around and if alcohol or an evening are involved, one should be aware that that something can easily be misinterpreted. Stay polite and not super boisterous – actually, this is good advice anywhere and has kept me out of trouble in my travels.

As one of the young ladies in training said to me the first day I was in Serbia, “I can see it in your eyes you love this place and you will be back!”

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (Planning a Europe Trip Consulting)

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Topeka, Kansas, USA Parks Do Not Suck

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

I am in the midst of keeping my head in the books in preparation for some business maneuvers and occasionally, with gratitude, slip away to a park area or two in Topeka, Kansas. While this city has pretty high per capita crime and an overall downcast vibe going on (some reflected in numbers, some purely abstract and of a self-loathing nature), the park space is phenomenal and well-maintained while possessing true wildlife, such as hawks, deer, snakes, birds, and any fauna attracted to the man-made swamp and wetlands. It is so strange coming from Europe where there are pedestrians everywhere to have many hundreds of acres virtually unused.

I would further argue that this part of the world has some of the best rent yields you could ask for with two-bedroom 640-800 square foot (around 55-65 m square) houses a few blocks from this park as of 2017 selling for $45,000 to $60,000USD and attracting rents from $450-750+ per month.

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Veer off your programmed path by even a few blocks and you will find sacred and underutilized spaces to regroup.

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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Hauntings and Romanticism in Unexpected Corners of Romania

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

To get a strong feel for the country, I selected images that should rouse some kind of feeling if you expand them.

I went to Romania expecting Transylvania to be the place with the strongest psychic forces jumping on any stray electric spark they could harness to this world but instead the region that really held the most strange energy was Moldavia in northeastern Romania. I did not allow for an appropriate amount of time for this region because Romania is slow and cumbersome to cross and I was not aware of the uniqueness of the region but in the future I would spend more time there. I am not entirely sure of if the other world activity is positive – there was sort of a heaviness to the prayers and energy of the Orthodox churches here and in my opinion people overdo their crossing themselves here and in the region nearest Romania in Ukraine.

As I heard and saw people praying intensely (final image in sequence), I felt something very severe and as though they were inviting evil rather than repelling it. I wished to intervene but you cannot do this as a visitor in a country especially.

Suceava, Romania was the main entry point and then I stopped in Piatra-Neamt, which was a rough town but the gateway to the Carpathians and quite authentic. Lots of wild dogs were there including two that jumped out of the brush and wanted me to take them. Apparently there are still not animal rescue and shelter operations in place.

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Over Brasov in Transylvania.

I was very struck by the generosity and efforts to help of people throughout the country, but particularly in the center and western areas. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the capital Bucharest yet, but did manage to make some wonderful friends from there and plan to return.

Piatra Neamț was where the dogs popped out of the brush. The railroad tracks were probably one my favorite scenes of a months-long trip.

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This was a mountain divide with some local summer and weekend cottages with massive gardens tucked in between. These properties would surely sustain Romania in a time of energy crisis and I often joke that the grandmothers of Eastern Europe will save humanity from extinction one day.

Mostly Transylvania and a bit of a Suceava monastery at the top. I was impressed by the monastery having solar panels. I also did do the requisite Vlad the Impaler tour stops but felt nothing there and a lot of it really diluted by exaggerated commercialization. 

I recommend Romania as a place to feel an energy that is quite different from other places – very mysterious and heavy. The people are potentially the most hospitable as a collective that I have ever encountered and you will make meaningful friendships there. I did not get to see it personally because the locations are rather remote, but a growing number of do-it-yourself western Europeans are settling in some areas that are felt to be bargains (many places in the vicinity of €30,000 can be found).

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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Pausing in Ljubljana, Slovenia

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

Ljubljana, Slovenia is hopefully the penultimate stop from my travels though my base may be moving. Slovenia is a deep, intense research trip and the beauty of the people, architecture, and landscape has been a nice diversion from the agenda-driven nature of the trip.

 

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I am staying in a hostel that is normally a special needs residential school. I’m taking liberties here from what I was told but it is maintained by a doctor and I sense that he introduced the hostel idea for summers. Some of the students or clients are able to work here. You can see the beautiful views from the windows. I was exhausted and hid in my room a bit because I wanted to make sure my energy was right in case anyone was here and sure enough as soon as I was going down the stairs I was hit by a group and their facilitator translated all these suggestions they rapidly gave off enthusiastically for what to do here. One must be ready to give a platform when someone has something to tell like this.

 

Strangely when I was converting money to euros for here the first coin was minted in Slovenia and the doctor’s name bears a strong resemblance to mine. At the reception sat a Spanish girl who was at the last hostel in Croatia that I regretted not being able to speak to more so it is very coincidental she is here. We got to visit and will hang out before she leaves. We all had quite the discussion how the special needs population for lack of a better term, and particularly those on the autism spectrum, are actually more evolved gifts to humanity.

Please enjoy these images of a low-profile but treasured city.

UPDATE: Here are some images from a side excursion to the world-acclaimed Bled, Slovenia, north of the city:

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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A Few Romantic Images from Zagreb, Croatia

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

Night views often reveals the most romantic and idea-generating scenes that connect us with our elusive past. These are some images from a very hot July evening in Zagreb, Croatia. This is a relatively inexpensive city that acts as a gateway to the Balkans.

 

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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A Low Cost, Picturesque Creative Re-launching Pad: Chernivtsi, Ukraine

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

Chernivtsi, Ukraine is a city that I meant to pass through purely as a cost-saving measure en route to Romania but it has turned out to be an intensely spiritually charged location with very high vibrations. Wherever the Austro-Hungarian empire went, beautiful architecture resulted and administrations of various nations have all painstakingly restored or enhanced what was made.

I will let the beauty of this place speak for itself. Should you wish to know some specifics of how inexpensive this and some other spots are, I am beginning some processes for travel advising for nominal fees. It’s all about your individual needs along the lines of how much time you have and what your objectives are, but in general if you can stay away longer, that is where the real savings start to accelerate. You can use places like this to get inspired, stay off the radar, and produce your life’s work in relative peace.

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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17 Quick Discoveries in Ukraine

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

I have been visiting Ukraine for the last several days, first in Lviv and now Kiev, and will be finishing out in a small city called Chernivtsi on the way to Romania. Friends and acquaintances have asked me more questions about Ukraine probably than any other country, though I do get a lot of questions about the Nordic countries to do with the social welfare / social democracy states (I can answer one – a Norwegian hostel roommate indicated he is here in Ukraine for dental work since though he says the annual health deductible is only about $140 a year in Norway, this does not include dental, and he is saving thousands of dollars US by getting the work done here). I could go into quite extensive research on what I’m seeing and to try to get it more authenticated, but instead I will include some quick things that I have verified with multiple people but not done extensive research on.

  1. Whistling is considered bad luck. It is meant to only be back luck in an indoor setting but even today I saw people very unhappy when someone was doing this. The superstition is that people or the institution around the whistling are going to lose a lot of money.
  2. The national pension scheme or disability starts at 1,074 hryvnia per month, or about $41USD/£32/€36. You can imagine what kind of battle one would have against inflation, even if it is very cheap here. (Government social protection website)
  3. Most hostels are between $4/£3.25/€3.70 and $9 a night, the latter often just being a higher rate for the weekend. You can see hostelworld.com or booking.com to see rates as low as 90 hryvnia per night, or still less than $4USD.
  4. Ukrainian and Russian are both spoken, and in general Ukrainian becomes more dominant the further west you go. English is increasingly spoken and there are major efforts to push it since tourism is now more open.
  5. Check your own country’s relationship with Ukraine for the visa programs, but in the US, right now there is an automatic 90-day visa granted at the border, a program that just began early in 2017. If you are reading this after 2017, this could change at any time and one should always check immediately before entering.
  6. The war is to the east and south and these areas should be avoided. I did see a report that Ukraine is supposedly the 9th most dangerous country in the world and Kiev the most dangerous city in Europe but in a week I have never felt in danger – just kind of cumbersome experiences dealing with the language barrier and differences in process – essentially what western people would consider inefficiencies.
  7. There is a fair bit of sex tourism going on. I think this has been the case for a long time and personally I find it pretty repugnant. It is not on par with say, Thailand, but more than western Europe. If you have dating applications such as Tinder you’ll find as a heterosexual male that the response rate from local women is extremely high compared to other countries. The reasons for this are probably numerous – a friendly culture, locals wanting more international contacts, an opening of the marketplace, a perception of wealth of western people, a desire to work in western Europe in higher paying countries, and so on. If you are Ukrainian and reading this and disagree, feel free to add your reasons below.
  8. In the places I’ve stayed, except when there were other Ukrainians staying for local festivals, among the international visitors, I would estimate that they have been 70-75% male. I would estimate that this is a combination of a higher risk tolerance for this kind of travel and perhaps principally related to dating and sex prospects. Remember if you’re here for romantic purposes, you’d better be respectful and not throw around your money or objectify other people.
  9. I would strongly advise keeping political views to yourself at least until you can
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    Biometric passports are relatively new here. You will see a lot of advertising and propaganda promoting them for visa-free travel to the EU. It is likely an added source of friction with Russia. They cost something under $40USD. Note the EU flag and stars implied in the background. It is not ironic to me that the promotional information calls it a “visa-free regime.”

    assess the dynamics at play with people that you are speaking to. I see a number of people who think they’re not being offensive but who have crossed some line, or at least created that perception. There are Ukrainian nationalists, Russian-speaking Ukrainians with mixed feelings, and all kinds of factions that you cannot always see or understand as a visitor.

  10. Unless you’re really going for top dining, you probably won’t exceed spending 250 hryvnia on food and drink in a day if you’re going to humble, modest establishments. A latte is between 17-31 hryvnia for instance (approximately 65 cents-$1.20/50-90p/60 cents-€1) and I typically can eat a few items for a meal for 100 hryvnia. A girl from New Zealand I met spent about €11 for a rather extensive Georgian meal that included beer and sides in Kiev.
  11. The buses and trams I have seen in cities are from 2 to 6 hryvnia, or less than 25 cents US.

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    These notes are worth 4 cents, 8 cents, and 21 cents USD respectively.

  12. Be very reverent, calm, and quiet around churches. This is a deeply religious country. I have never seen people cross themselves so frequently. All the same, some contacts have told me that in moments of desperation the superstitions of the population make many people seek psychics, the occult, and other magicians for solutions.
  13. I think this is rather quiet society, so for respect and to not put yourself at risk, I advise speaking quietly and not drawing attention to yourself.
  14. The people seem to very much appreciate visitors and want to be helpful, to a much stronger degree than I have seen many places. I have done my best to show gratitude and smile a great deal – in my opinion they need this in unstable times.
  15. A lot of what is reported to the west is distorted or exaggerated, though there are
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    Older women who were both severely disabled singing traditional songs. Most of the people walking by handed them some small value notes because the songs and their situation was so compelling. If they worked in rural areas and lived through Soviet times (the latter for sure), their disability pensions may only be $41 a month.

    some serious problems here and a war where people are still dying and territories essentially off-limits or not governed by Ukraine. Over the last few days, there was a large-scale cyber attack, but the Ukrainians I talked to did not know about it, in spite of western media indicating that the country was “crippled” (Newsweek, Popular Mechanics). Finally when talking to one local, she said that they have been through so much worse that it was not really an issue.

  16. As with anywhere, I recommend having a smartphone and taking screenshots or pictures of any accommodations, tickets, or bookings of any kind that are important. On the train, I was told that the official for each car would take the printed ticket and give it back at the journey. I took a picture of the ticket and sure enough, twice, the same lady operating guest services on my car asked for it, and I showed her the picture of the ticket since she did not think she had it.
  17. The internet is excellent almost everywhere but locals say not to drink the tap water.

I cannot idealize the situation here or tell you to come packing to visit immediately but so far I am pleased to have visited and it has been a very friendly country both in interpersonal relations and for budget purposes. Should you run out of days on your 90 days in Schengen, Lviv in particular in the west might be a good place to regroup.

Show every place you visit exemplary behavior and make your country the model of impeccable manners to put all around you at ease and to show your gratitude.

John Lett (About) (Sessions) (tarotworldtour YouTube)

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