I decided to do a day trip to Sremski Karlovci [Сремски Карловци] on my second day in Novi Sad. It was, unfortunately, a Sunday and it felt as if the town had been abandoned – there was virtually no one around, and I wondered whether it was a ghost town.
I took the bus from Novi Sad and had no idea where I should get off the bus, and eventually the driver waved at me to get off as he was turning around and heading back. I asked him which direction the centre of town was and he pointed in one direction and said ‘One, one and half kilometre’. So I guess I missed the logical place to disembark. Within about five minutes I was glad of this.
Heading down the road he pointed to, I shortly came across a small museum behind a mud brick fence – the Museum of Beekeeping and Wine Cellar. I wasn’t sure whether it was open, but as I headed up the driveway I saw a group of men talking and they waved me up. I waited for them to finish, and for the giant bucket of honey to change hands. The old man greeted me and I asked if the museum was open. He nodded and in quite broken English apologised for not speaking English, and invited me in. I asked about a ticket and he told me not to worry, ignoring the sign about the ticket price. Perhaps it had been a while since someone had visited; perhaps he simply couldn’t be bothered. Either way, I’m not one to complain about saving a bit of money.
He took me into a room with a smaller room adjoining it. Both rooms were covered, floor to ceiling, in old photographs, framed diplomas and awards for winemaking and honey, and nineteenth century anatomical diagrams of bees. He pointed at different photographs, telling me names and explaining ‘grandfather’, ‘father’ and so on – the pictures were all of his ancestors, who had been pioneers of beekeeping in Serbia. He pointed at photos of himself as a much younger man, and told me his name was Zarko Zivanovic. Around the rooms were models of different beehives over the last two hundred years, with pointy cone-shaped mud plastered hives beside hives that appeared to be made of boxes from the 1930s, to modern box style hives – distinctly less attractive but more practical than the older ones. He explained to me that his grandfather, Jovan Zivanovic, was responsible for the invention or development of modern, economic beekeeping in 1880, replacing the old simple hives with modern boxes with easily removable honeycombs – basically, with what we see today.
Also on display were old machines that were used to extract honey or melt beeswax, as well as old smokers and more. I know little to nothing about the process of making honey, and although Zarko was obviously becoming a little frustrated with himself for being unable to explain things as well as he would have liked to, he managed to explain quite a bit too me – breaking into Serbian and using his hands, he conveyed a lot of information. It’s not his fault I don’t speak Serbian! At some point he got on his mobile phone and called his son to come over – his son, he explained, speaks good English. Zarko told me that he is the beekeeper and his son is the winemaker.
The highlight of the collection though is this:
What is it, you might ask? Why, it’s a beehive! An incredibly awesome beehive, if I may say so. The beehive, in the shape of a very beautiful church, was constructed in 1880 and after years in the garden has been moved indoors for its protection. Zarko lifted up the top and showed me the pieces inside that were used for the honeycomb. I thought it was lovely. What better gift for a family of beekeepers than an intricately designed and painted unique beehive?
After looking at all the exhibits, Zarko invited me to try some of their honey. They had two different types to taste, and both were unbelievably delicious. I do like honey, and was hard pressed to stop myself from eating it all! As I tried the honey, his son arrived and introduced himself. He gave me a brochure about the museum and explained in greater detail some of the machines while his father Zarko interrupted to ask whether I preferred red or white wine. A moment later I had in my hand a glass of sweet red bermet from their cellar. He insisted that I also try the white bermet, and the riesling, and then another red. By now we’d moved to the balcony into comfortable chairs, enjoying beautiful wine while they quizzed me about my travels. After a while, however, it was time for me to keep moving. I bought a bottle of the red bermet to take with me though – it was far too wonderful not to.
The next few hours were spent wandering around the town, where almost everything was closed and people very scarce. I took a few pictures – the town is quite pretty, and in summer or when there’s actually people around I imagine it would be rather nice. After walking around for a while I headed to the bus stop and waited for about half an hour for the bus back to Novi Sad.
It was a nice afternoon, but the highlight [clearly] was the Beekeeping Museum. I’d highly recommend going there – if only to buy some delicious honey and a bottle of wine! My last day in Serbia proved yet again that Serbian people are friendly, welcoming and hospitable. I thought it was a lovely last experience in the country.