Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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I waited uncomfortably as our guide prepared to demonstrate the Tesla Coil at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia. Would my hair stand on end? Would I be shocked? He threw the switch, and a lightning bolt split the air, reaching for the copper ball suspended above the coil. The people holding flourescent bulbs in their hands became conductors as the electricity flew through the Read More

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The copper-coiled tower that rose before me was simultaneously fascinating and frightening. I knew the enormous Tesla Coil had the ability to create lightning bolts that could fry a person. Our guide eased my nervousness, explaining that we would be perfectly safe, as electricity channeled through the coil would seek the highest conductive point in the room, a large metal ball suspended directly above the coil. My unease returned, however, when he began handing out long fluorescent light tubes to those in the front row. “This is for the doubters among you,” he said. “When I turn on the electricity, your bodies will become conductors and the fluorescent tubes will light up, but please don’t raise them too high or you will become the highest point in the room.”

Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia

Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia

I was visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia, the city that claims Tesla as its native son. Born in the Austrian Empire 1856, in what would become present-day Croatia, Tesla was an ethnic Serb. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1884, to work for Thomas Edison, later entering into a long partnership with George Westinghouse. Tesla spent the rest of his life inventing technologies that today pervade our lives, including the polyphase induction motor, alternating current, and radio wave transmissions, among others.  Read More

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Local legend says that this geologic formation known as Devil's Town in southern Serbia was created when a furious God turned a wedding party to stone

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Local legend says that this geologic formation in southern Serbia was created when a furious God turned a wedding party to stone. Known as Devil’s Town, the  spires are formed when softer volcanic tufa that lies below a hard layer of andesite rock is eroded by wind and water. Known as “hoodoos” by geologists, there are currently 202 of these pyramids at Devil’s Town, however the count constantly changes as new ones emerge and existing ones erode away.

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The Serbian Orthodox Manasija Monastery near Despotovac, Serbia, was built in the 15th century, includes a church, refectory, and fortress with 11 towers

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: The Serbian Orthodox Manasija Monastery near Despotovac, Serbia, was built in the 15th century. It includes a church, refectory, and fortress with 11 towers, and is still in use today as a church and nunnery.

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“Whatever you do, don’t take the train to Serbia!” my tour guide exclaimed. “The best way to get from Zagreb to Belgrade is by bus.” Unfortunately, I’d already purchased my train ticket. On the morning of my departure, fearing the worst, I climbed aboard a decrepit, graffiti covered train to find a surprisingly clean coach with comfortable seats. I stowed my luggage and settled in for a relaxing, seven-hour ride through the unbroken, green countryside.

With Europe experiencing the worst heat wave on record this summer, I had confirmed that the train was air conditioned before purchasing my ticket. Soon however, the interior of the train started to get uncomfortably warm. By the second hour, passengers began to politely ask the conductor to turn on the air. Word trickled through the coach that the Croatian conductor did not have the authority to turn on the air in this Serbian train. We would have to wait until a Serbian conductor took over.

Hopes for relief after crossing the border were dashed; pleas to the new conductor were met with indifference. Temperature soared to unbearable levels as the sun bore down on our metal coach. Many of us tried to open windows, hoping to at least catch a breeze, but not only were the windows sealed shut, the train began to slow down. We crawled along at 20 miles per hour for the last few hours, stopping completely in the middle of the Serbian countryside for long periods of time. Seven hours later, we finally pulled into Belgrade. Exhausted and drenched in sweat, I followed my soggy fellow passengers out onto the platform.

Bombed out shell of an ex-government building, destroyed during the 1999 NATO intervention to stop the Serbian war in Kosovo

My first impression of Belgrade was this bombed out shell of an ex-government building, destroyed during the 1999 NATO intervention to stop the Serbian war in Kosovo

Manga Hostel had advised me not to bother getting local currency at the train station, as there is an ATM right next door to the hostel. They also advised that the hostel was easy walking distance from the station. With waning energy, I tossed my 22-pound, equipment stuffed backpack over my shoulder and headed up the main street with my rolling suitcase. Three blocks later I turned left at the bombed out craters of two ex-government buildings and groaned at the hill before me. I trudged uphill, kicking myself for not having gotten local currency each time a tram or a taxi passed me. Spent and out of breath, I finally, arrived at the address shown on my reservation, but where the hostel was supposed to be I found only a high metal gate pulled across a dark archway. I wedged myself and my luggage through a small opening in the gate and followed the oil-stained asphalt to an inner court parking lot. At the far end of the lot, a tiny sign marked the Manga Hostel. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Read More

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Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, Serbia stood guard over the Danube River, the most important trading route in Medieval days

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Belgrade Fortress, in Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. These fortifications stood guard over the Danube River, the most important trading route during Medieval days and the major source of income for the city, as it had the right to collect tolls from vessels using the river to transport goods.