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Serbia — Day 7 — Friday

Hi Folks: 

We're just back from a very full day in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia.

Our first port of call was the European Corner, a division of the Novi Sad City Library. This is almost completely the creation of one wonderful librarian, and we were amazed at the work she does, the collaborations she has fostered with all kinds of organizations, and the wonderful things she has achieved. 

We had taken here some of the books from her wish list, and she was delighted with the donations, which help refresh her collection when she does not have much of anything by way of an acquisitions budget. 

It was a short walk down the street to the Library of Matica Srpska (literally the Queen Bee of the Serbians), where we had an introduction to the literary society named Matica Srpska, founded in 1836 in Budapest, but which was founded to preserve the culture of the ethnic Serbians, who at that time did not have their own country. (Many of them were living in various parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the others in the Ottoman Empire. They created their own library and collection of rare books, which eventually moved to Novi Sad in the 1860s (by steamboat down the Danube, and evidently the whole town turned out to meet the boat and escort the crates of library books to their new home.) The library is now a separate entity from the literary society, although hused in the same building, but it was fun to see that the library has been renovated since my last visit in September and looks absolutely wonderful. We saw some excellent design ideas in the new space. 

Next we moved on to the City Archives of Novi Sad, which is housed in a wonderful new building just opened two years ago. The Director of the Archive is a wonderful archivist, librarian and teacher, and gave us a great tour round the current exhibition, some o the treasures from the archive, and various other parts of the building. 

We had some (brief) time for lunch before we moved on to the American Corner, where we met with one of the young volunteers who told us about the Corner and its programs, as well as explaining the importance of the Corner in his own life and development. 

Next a walk over the Danube to the Petrovaradin Fortress - a wonderfully preserved 18th century Austrian fortress, but with a bit of a stiff climb up to the ramparts for magnificent views back across the Danube to Novi Sad (214 steps up to the top.) The reason it is so well-preserved is that, as they say, nothing happened there. The fort was never attacked, as the last battle between the Austrians and the Ottomans took place five miles away.

Back down the 214 steps we went, back over the Danube to the American Corner once more, where we participated in the English Conversation Club, with about 10 high school and college-aged students who were keen to practice their English (which was uniformly good), before we headed back to Belgrade.

The students have a free morning tomorrow before our final meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Everyone is a bit tired, as we have done a lot of walking, a great deal of listening, and have experienced many wonderful things, but we are all still well and in good spirits.

More news tomorrow.

Andrew Smith