Day 294: Serbia’s Natural Seven

originally published October 20, 2012

Last month I wrote an award-winning* article about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In doing so, I discovered that there are a stupid amount of lists of various Seven Wonders, and decided to see if I could make a regular feature out of it. Today’s kilograph is the first such attempt. Because of my love of the obscure, I gravitated toward the Seven Wonders of Serbia, though even that’s broken down into the man-made wonders (7) and the wonders of nature (also 7 – big surprise). Since last month was all about humanity’s triumphs, I thought I’d let nature have the mic today.

Well, I can see we’re off to a huge start here. It’s the Drina River, forming the border between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s… well, it’s a river. It’s about 346km long, so less than 10% of the Mississippi. It begins where the Tara and Piva Rivers collide, then empties into the Sava. Because of the land around the river is too bumpy and unmanageable for railroads and highways, not a lot of people live beside the Drina.

Alright, I’m getting a bit judgy here, and this is the first ‘Wonder’. Come on, Serbia. It’s a river. It’s a lovely river, sure, but I think if a nation is going to have a list of Wonders, they’d better have seven things that pop off the page of a guidebook. I’m just saying, we have rivers here; I’m not spending $350,000 (or whatever it costs) to fly across the world to see the goddamn Drina.

Up next we have… another river. This one is only 119km long. The Uvac – which sounds like a it should be found in the housewares department beside the Dyson machines – runs through southwestern Serbia. Once a year, usually around the vernal equinox, the Uvac inexplicably bursts into flames. The entire thing, it just becomes fire.

Okay, that doesn’t happen. If it did, the Uvac would qualify as a Wonder. I guess the thing looks curvy from the sky, but it’s still just a river. I can see a river outside my office window. Sure, it might be a little more brown and feces-y than the Uvac, but it’s still right here.

Here we go. Now Serbia is stepping up to the plate, taking a slapshot for a hail-mary out past the three-point line. This is some Wonder-quality nature stuff. Ðavolja Varoš is a wild formation of rocks, spurting like a blowfish’s hide off the Radan Mountain near Kuršumlija.

These 202 towers were formed by powerful erosion after a bout of nearby volcanic activity a long time ago. There’s a natural spring that runs underneath with delicious, fresh water that is so acidic it’d probably singe your uvula down to a fleshy nub. Ðavolja Varoš made the list of nominees for the New Seven Wonders of Nature campaign, which in retrospect might have made for more interesting subject matter. Oh well, moving on.

This is the spectacular beauty of Tara National Park. I won’t deny that this one is quite attractive, though at a mere 220km, roughly fifty of these could fit inside Jasper National Park. I know, we’ve got more space and that’s an unfair comparison. But we’re talking about two mountains and one river.

Also, that river is the Drina, which already appears on this list. So you could experience two Wonders of Serbian Nature at the same time, which I suppose can cut down on vacation expenses. Most of the park is forest, and apparently one of the most well-kept forests in all of Europe. If you’re looking to be mauled by a bear, or slapped silly by a wild otter, this would be your destination of choice in Europe.

Tara National Park is also known for its production of pine honey. It seems that some local Marchalina hellenicas (which are scale insects) suck back tree sap for nourishment, then poop it out. Honey bees collect the poop and turn it into honey. It’s stickier than regular honey, more dense, and it tastes like of like pine sap and bug crap.

Maybe you’re a gorge person. Maybe there’s no such thing. But on the off chance you fit into this category that I just made up, you’ll want to check out the Iron Gates, the largest gorge on the continent. Split between Romania and Serbia, and also between the Carpathian and Balkan mountain ranges, this is a fairly impressive little channel. Back when the Romans ran the show, the emperor Trajan had a massive arch bridge built near the Iron Gates. It didn’t last of course – destroying stuff was even more popular than building stuff back then – but there’s still a Roman plaque commemorating the bridge on the Serbian side.

The Serbs built the Ðerdap dam back in the 70s, which caused the Danube to rise up by as much as 35 meters. This meant the island of Ada Kaleh, which had a mosque, a port, and was looking to get a 7-11 franchise, was flooded. In total, over 17,000 people had to relocate when the dam was built. So I guess this place is a Wonder of Nature that has had its ass kicked by humankind.

Ah, once again Serbia leaps off the high board onto the fairway with a bullseye to break the deuce and something something something about jai alai. The Vratna Gates are definitely Wonder-worthy. Three natural stone bridges, scattered along hiking trails around the medieval Vratna monastery. All were formed by the ancient route of the Vratna river, and they all look like they’d be great sets for a sword battle.

If you’re in the area and looking to check out the monastery, well most of it was torn down in the early 20th century. But there’s still a nunnery on the premises, so that could be fun.

Lastly we have the jewel of Serbia, the “mountain” known as Fruška Gora. I put “mountain” in quotes because it’s about 1500 feet tall, which really just makes it a good hill. Nobody’s skiing down the side of Fruška Gora. Still, do a Google image search for this place (you can use a normal ‘s’; don’t worry about its little hat) and you’ll see some of the most exquisite photos of lush greenery, rolling hills and weeping willows on the internets.

People have lived in the area since Neolithic times. During WWII it was controlled by the Axis powers, but Fruška Gora was the site of a strong resistance movement. Now they grow grapes around the mountain, which means you can sample enough local wine in the area to pickle your liver. Now it’s a holiday.

Well done, Serbia. While some of your Wonders are a little sub-Wondery for me, it’s still a beautiful country, full of rivers,  resistance-wine and bug-poop honey.

*NOTE: I awarded myself ice cream after I wrote the article. That counts.

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