I’ve been in Pančevo for three weeks now. The trip to get here was a disaster and a dream at the same time. When I left Sanremo, Italy I wasn’t sure where I would go after that, all the way up until the VERY last minute. I met a Swiss couple hiking near the yurt and invited them over for coffee on my last day and they suggested to me Bolzano, Italy, since it is the nearest town near the Dolomite mountains. They said they could give me a ride to the bus station in an hour and I said sure! So I speed-packed my bag and hopped in their car, barely jumping on the bus just as it was pulling out of the station. When I arrived in Bolzano the hostels were completely full everywhere and I felt like the virgin Mary, knocking on doors in the middle of the night and being told there was no room for me at the inn. I had to settle for a hotel on the edge of town which didn’t have wifi… so basically a stable. The hike in the Dolomite was totally amazing, which made the stress of my situation completely worth the trouble. I slept in the mountain in my hammock and woke up to one of the most incredible views of my life. It was a perfect day and night away from any troubles, away from worrying about where I would go the next day, and away from anything but the little marmot that tried to eat my raisins.
I decided to go back to Serbia since it was December the last time I was there and everything had been covered in snow. I wanted to see it all in the light of the summer sun. The bus ride included an overnight, an all-day and a one day stop in Zagreb, Croatia. On Airbnb, I found a rental in a small town outside of Belgrade, which caught my fancy and I decided to stay there instead of in the capital. When I arrived in Pančevo, I slept for two days straight.
I have been so pleasantly impressed by this place, which is pretty small (my google search says the population is 77,087 people) but also really homey. I can easily walk into a bar or coffee shop and start talking to the person sitting next to me and immediately have made a new friend. The girls I’m staying with are amazing; we cook food and drink coffee and they introduced me to all their friends in town as well. From the first day that I arrived, I have met so many artists, musicians, activists, and smart people. The room in my Airbnb is full of artwork by local people. I’ve had many conversations with my friends and have become newly inspired for my own projects and fascinated by theirs.
A lot of people speak to me about the local living situation in Serbia. Almost everyone I talk to, whether it’s for many hours or just a few minutes, tells me that people here are very educated, but it’s hard to find a job at all, much less something in their field that they are passionate about. At Exit Festival, I met two girls, one psychologist and one environmental biologist, and they explained that the country is not receptive to those fields at all. When people do find a job it usually doesn’t pay enough to live. The cost of living here is quite a bit cheaper than the U.S.A or some western European countries, but the average salary is only 400 euros and many people make less than that. So the idea of saving for travel or other things for the future is practically impossible. As a result, many young people do not want to stay here. Most are actively trying to leave for the European Union to get residency there. They make a life for themselves and then don’t come back. Others find working remotely for non-Serbian countries or starting their own outsourcing companies to be a solution. Though eventually, these trends can also lead to problems because the political and economic situation is not getting any better, and in the meantime, the majority of young people are no longer living in Serbia. One of my friends here in town remarked that she used to love living here, but now everyone is leaving and life is starting to feel slow and without action and she’s considering moving too. Everyone I speak to expresses these problems to me. My friend Filip said it’s because it’s what’s on people’s minds. People seem to want me to be aware of it when I ask what life is like here in Serbia, so I want my writing to reflect that.
on the other hand, I’ve had so much fun with everybody I’ve met in Pančevo. I’ve started to explore techno music, which I had never really been into before. There are some great DJs in this area and I’ve danced my face off a few times. One night I was at the club Galaxia, and a guy leaned over to me and said, “I really like the mature beats they’re playing.” I honestly had no idea what he was talking about but I nodded my head and tried to be cool. I just came back from Bela Crkva lake where I swam until the summer rains chased me home. I went to see The Cure at Exit Festival. I’ve sat in Narodna Basta, the local park and drank beer with strangers-turned-friends. If you’re just hearing about the town for the first time and thinking about visiting, you should get your ass over here.