“Serbia 🇷🇸 ~The Ethno Wood Town Called Kustendorf”

There was no way we were leaving Mokra Gora, without taking a look at this unique setting. The story behind this wood town is captivating, as well as the visual joy of seeing it for ourselves.

Kustendorf is an ethno town with around 20-30 buildings, all made of wood and representing the traditional style of old-world Serbian villages. The complex has everything a real town would have: a main square, a church, cinema, a pool with spa center, gym, two restaurants, and even a jail. But Kustendorf is much more than this simple description.

On a Sunday, the day off for many locals, there were many, many people also visiting, so it was good that we went early. We walked around and then enjoyed some breakfast, at one of two restaurants. It was a great visit.

It felt like we walked straight in to a fairy tale, but at the same time this was real! We walked through the main street of the town, looking at the beautiful wooden houses, neatly arranged in a few lines, with narrow alleys between them. There was plenty of grass and flowers around. There are no two houses the same, each one is unique, but fitting perfectly within the whole picture
The Wood Town, also known also as Mecavnik or Drvengrad, was built by the film director Emir Kusturica. The Wooden Town is located in western Serbia, in the Mokra Gora Natural Park; a few miles from the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mokra Gora is a beautiful mountainous area with green forests, sunny hills, with numerous trekking paths, which offer up tranquility, and fresh air.

Emir Kusturica is best known as a film director and musician, but his town proves he is much more than those qualifications. Originally, this town he built, he built for just his family and closest friends to come and stay in. I tried to get an understanding of how the place became open to the public, but I could not find info.
Nicola Tesla Square
This is the center of the town with the main public buildings around it. The main house is a big two-story building just next to the pastry shop where Kusturica and his family members live, or lived. (again, not very clear on this) It features the Stanley Kubrick Theater and a helicopter pad in the back yard. On the opposite side of the square is the national restaurant offering traditional Serbian dishes
The water and stone mill
The Wood Town is located on a sunny hill named Mecavnik. Kusturica first noticed the hill whilst he was filming “Life is a Miracle” in this area in 2003. (We have not watched the film, but we want to).

Kusturica noticed this hill with nothing on it, but with plenty of sunshine and he decided that he wanted to build his own village there, someday.
“I lost my city [Sarajevo] during the war. That is why I wished to build my own village. It bears a German name: Küstendorf. I will organise seminars there, for people who want to learn how to make cinema, concerts, ceramics, painting. It is the place where I will live and where some people will be able to come, from time to time. There will be, of course, some other inhabitants who will work. I dream of an open place with cultural diversity which sets up against globalization,” once stated by Kusturica in an interview.
The Jail of the Town
At the end of the square is the church. It is a a small wooden Orthodox church with a pretty interesting 4-level roof. It is called St. Sava Church 
If you want to learn more about the famous filmmaker. Here is a link to his information I found interesting:
https://royalfamily.org/crown-council/emir-kusturica/

and
https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001437/
Also inside Mokra Gora National Park
The old, and original Wooden Church near the Sargan Eight Train
A newly paved road will make getting to this ski resort much easier, when the snows come. It was a beautiful sight to see, as we rounded the corner. The lodge looked new and the property is gorgeous! This was also on our drive around the Mokra Gora National Park
Also for the movie, mentioned in this blog; “Life is a Miracle,” the director (Emir Kusturica), as part of that movie, built this train station for the set, as well. It can still be seen along the vintage train ride route.
Here is a link about the Sargan Eight Train Ride, if interested, as we enjoyed that, too.

https://2gypsiesinthewind.com/europe/serbia/serbia-sargen-eight-train-ride-in-mokra-gora/

“Serbia 🇷🇸 ~Sargan Eight Train Ride in Mokra Gora”

We had a fun day, indeed! The weather started out with a storm, as we waited for the train to arrive to the station, but in the two hour ride, we would see some sunshine. It all made for some interesting photography; very challenging, in fact, but regardless, we had a very nice time. It was scenic, very clean, and well laid out. There were many tunnels, as well, which surprised us.

Not hat hair this time.. wet head, instead, from getting rained on

The train cars were full of people; mostly families with children. We had a few stops to stretch thy legs and get photos, or buy icd cream. Daryl was in heaven as he found a few English-speakers. One from New Jersey, and the other from Sweden. I have always enjoyed watching Daryl visit with others. It was one of the things he does, that drew me to him, before we had met. He laughs, and jokes, and has fun. He is very social and comfortable with strangers, especially those he speaks to who love to travel as much as he does.

We had no trouble getting our tickets for the train ride at 4PM. They were waiting for us, just like the nice man on the phone, yesterday, said they would be. The cost was just under $20 for the both of us. Each train car is different, and it was fun to take a peek in a few, after all the humans left the cars and the station. The train cars are all very clean, and have been refurbished, nicely. There are a group of withers who wash the windows on the car, constantly, in between runs. As a photographer, this is really great! Though, today, I put down my window, and nobody yelled at me, and made me put it back up, so I got clean shots, anyway. The route was clean and tidy as well. It was picture perfect!

The entrance to the get to the Main Street Station, everybody walks through the tunnel, then up a few flights of stairs
The tunnel shows old photographs layer out with some Serbian writing for explanations
Coming up there stairs, all of a sudden we came out of this adorable wood structure, to the train track level.
Main Street
The little ticket office
Here comes our train!

A ride on the Sargan Eight Railroad will take you on a trip, into the past. While sitting on the wooden benches, we had a chance to observe the incredible landscape of this part of Serbia, to learn about its history and the incredible engineering accomplishment it once represented.

Sargan Eight was a part of a narrow railroad, which was to connect two main railroads constructed by two countries: Serbia; from Belgrade to Mokra Gora),and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire; from Dubrovnik to Visegrad. The construction of this connecting railroad started during the First World War, by the occupational Austro-Hungarian forces, only to be abandoned soon afterwards. The construction began in in 1916, Sadly, during the construction of one tunnel, it collapsed killing 200 Russian and Italian war prisoners (prisoners who were forced to work on the railroad).
In 1922, when the work on the railroad continued, engineers were faced with a huge problem of bypassing a large altitude difference between the two railroads. For this reason, the authorities turned to an Austro-Hungarian war prisoner who was sentenced to life and to whom liberty had been promised, if he managed to solve the problem. Even though he managed to solve the problem; one day, two teams in charge of digging a tunnel failed to meet as expected and distraught war prisoner committed suicide; though the very next day, those two teams we able to meet up the difference, the very next day.
Sargan Eight railroad is considered an engineering masterpiece of the time, since it managed to connect two railroads and bypass over 984 feet of altitude difference. The unique solution was to use rails that would form a shape of the number 8 (a figure that allowed overcoming the altitude difference).
Daryl waiting for the train to depart. We always wear a mask, when inside a structure of any kind till we understand the rules. No masks required, or social distancing
As we leave the main station and make o our way around the loop
Golubici Staion This was built for the movie set, and can still be seen on the route
The old wooden church and cemetery
Back at the Station
Interesting Facts:
This small section of railway tracks passes over five bridges and through 22 tunnels, which makes it a unique railway track in Europe.
During the shooting of the film “Life is a Miracle” by Emir Kusturica, a special train station was built, called Golubici. Today, it has became a regular station stop of the nostalgic train.
The building on the left had rooms for rent. It looked like a small hotel, but no name.
There appears to be accommodations on the hill Beni d the Main Street Station. I do not know how much, but I’m sure they are pricey. They are good size, too.
More rentals
We stayed at the station, after the train ride and ate dinner in restaurant there. It was good.

Does anybody remember having an electric train set as a kid? Well, my brother had one, and he let me play with it once in a while. My dad got him a big piece of plywood, and then my brother and I spent hours painting the green grass area on it, adding roads, then he put together track, and the lay of the town, with miniature stores, water tower, churches, farm animals in a field, train tunnels, trees, and a station. Our ride today, had me thinking back to those days when I was so young. I felt like I was on that play train and going though a perfect little village with all the miniature decor, yet I was on a real train, in a real place. It was super cool! I totally recommend, if you are ever in western Serbia!

“Serbia 🇷🇸 ~Drive Day From Belgrade to Mokra Gora”

We had to make a decision, once I learned from the American Embassy in Belgrade, that our COVID19 tests would cost about $300. The results would come back quickly, but what wasn’t clear was how fast we could get our test, and we had to pre-pay, then wait. What if it took a week for our turn? Nobody could say how long. It was a wait and see situation.

Since we have already been to Bosnia, (but just want to see more of the country), we decided to pass, and spend that money down the road, when we try to get in to Bulgaria. to get into their country, it will require a negative COVID19 test as well. We have not been to Bulgaria as yet, so it will be better time and money spent to do that, after we are done in Macedonia.

This morning, we left Belgrade and made another day of it, driving to Morka Gora, as we want to ride the antique railway line, called Sargan Eight. While in Belgrade, I had tried calling to make reservations, but lack the right phone number and lack of English, made that tough, so we decided to take our chances, and get booked, after we arrived.

“Gate of Podrinje” A wonderful lookout point!
The Gate of Podrinje is the entrance to the magical Drina River Valley and to the beauties of the region of Podrinje, Serbia.

The drive, by half way to our destination, began to turn, quite fabulous! I mean, Serbia is really pretty, but we did highway for awhile and more farmland. We weren’t exactly seeing a whole lot of new or different, scenes for the first part, as we left Belgrade. But then, there was a point on the pass, which was worth a stop for photos, plus to buy fresh blackberries! We were truly enter a beautiful valley
In addition, we followed a river which was half Serbian and half Bosnia Herzegovina 🇧🇦; the dividing border.

The Drina River
The always exciting Drina is created by joining the cool and swift mountain rivers Tara and Piva near Šćepan Polje, in Montenegro. From there with all its strength it curved its path towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and gave the towns sprouting on its banks the particular historical importance.
Once it was an important battle site that divided the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire, later the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, and today the Drina is the border between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Almost along its entire course the Drina cuts through mountain ranges creating gorges, only to enter a valley quite unexpectedly and changes. Its a moody River.

The Drina enters Serbia strengthened by the force of the Lim river that flows into it just before the border creating the Medjedjanska gorge, one of two largest gorges on this river.
From here the river continues to flow along the winding border, through the parts of Serbia in which the beauty of nature is exceptional, flora and fauna are very rich and versatile and the Drina itself is the most beautiful.
Here lies, surrounded with dark steep cliffs, the largest gorge on the Drina, the 23.5 mile-long Klotijevačka Gorge.
Bosnia/Herzegovina is on the other side from where we are in Serbia
The famous Drina House
Since the moment its photograph found itself in the Daily Mail and the National Geographic, the Drina House hasn’t ceased to intrigue the world and attract curious travelers from across the globe. Some may wonder who lives in it, others how it’s been built, while the rest simply enjoy the sight of it (which is all but ordinary).

For the creation of this memorable house, all credit goes to the Drina River, a blazing summer sun and a group of young boys. It all began on a hot summer’s day in 1968, when a group of friends sought refuge from the relentless waves of the swollen Drina on a nearby rock. Exhausted from swimming and “fighting” the mighty river, they lay down on the lonely rock and enjoyed the sun.
After a while they realized that the rough surface and jagged edges of the rock weren’t exactly the comfiest place, so they decided to swim back to the shore and bring a few wooden boards back, which they would continue to rest on. When there had been enough boards for lying on, they started to arrange some of them vertically to shelter themselves from the sun. And thus, an idea was born.

The boards were brought in by Milija Mandić; the young boy who came up with the idea for the Drina House, but his first group of friends lost interest.
However, not wanting to give up on the idea for this “out of the ordinary house,” the following summer, the seventeen-year-old Milija assembled another small group of friends with the intent to finish what was started and build a place they would be able to spend their summer break at.
At the time, of course, he didn’t even imagine his house would become world famous. But, that’s how it all came to be. Plank by plank.
To transport the materials they used boats and kayaks, and the larger pieces they simply lowered into the water, then caught and pulled out at the rock.
A proper house was built, and Drina got a new friend and ultimately, its biggest tourist attractions.

Fifty years, six houses and a bunch of memories later, nobody has managed to tame the moody and restless Drina River. This is why there is a saying in Serbia that goes like this. “Krivu Drinu niko ne može ispraviti“ or “Ko će ispraviti krivu Drinu.” You would use this saying, which roughly translated means “Nobody can set the crooked Drina straight;” and used when you want to tell somebody that they simply can’t fix everything.
But moments in time, along with lovely memories were created, by which even the wild Drina didn’t succeed in taking away. Friendships were made in a place of shade and relaxation, where unforgettable sunrises were been watched. There has been bathing and sunbathing, love and laughter. This is how the small and solitary Drina House, every one of them have come to bee, and will always be a symbol which brought people and nature together in a most magical way.
There were many farmland homes, in this region, where we saw grave sites on property. I think this is a very cherished thing, keep loved ones closer, than a far away cemetery.
A cute display, directing visitors to Sargan Eight (Sarganska Osmica) train station in Mokra Gora
Entrance to the train village, up the hill

Finally, we were also next to the Tara Canyon, which we already visited, recently while in the country of Montenegro 🇲🇪. Tara Canyon National Park also spreads into Bosnia Herzegovina 🇧🇦, (it’s a huge and beautiful canyon).

When we arrived at our destination of Mokra Gora, in about found a half hours, with only one wrong turn, we were surprised to see a very different look, then we had seen, yet, in Serbia. What a darling Village! There are a lot of wooden homes, churches and cabins. The architecture is unique and old-world. We feel a German ambiance, here.

It would appear to me, this remote location is beginning to develop even more, as we see additional cabins being built for future guests. I would expect this to become an even more popular destination in the near future. It’s very quaint, quiet and charming. The train is the big draw here for sure.

Steep mountains, covered with dense pine forests between Nt Tara and Mt Zlatibor, was once known as “Markovo polje” (Marko’s field). It was a place where Marko Kraljević, a Serbian medieval knight and a hero of epic poetry, threw maces from one hill to another; according to traditional folk stories.
Today, however, Mokra Gora (meaning wet mountain) is better known for its tourist attractions and breathtaking nature surrounded with valleys and gorges of the White and the Black Rzav and the Kamiška River.
Old mountain cabins are scattered across meadows between streams and numerous mineral springs. Contrastt to them, new cabins were built in the old traditional style on the hill Mećavnik that dominates in Mokra Gora
We had planned to stop here after dinner, but it was raining by then. We enjoy walking through cemeteries and reading about past lives from the area

As soon as we made it here, we went directly to the train station to hopefully get tickets for tomorrow. As it would turn out, the person at the ticket window wasn’t much help. He told me the next available reservation for riding the train was four days away. I asked if there was a “stand-by” option, just in case there were any cancellations, or no-shows (the train runs three times a day) He told us no, and pretty much dismissed us. It was a bit rude, but from the beginning, he honestly was not interested in helping us, anyway. I did see a telephone number taped to the ticket window, so I took a photo of it. Not being easily deterred, we went back to our car and I called this new number I did not have from before, when I tried to call. I finally got through to a very nice person who knew some English. I told him we had come a long way, in hopes of riding the vintage train, tomorrow, and was there any way we could get standby tickets, since we were told there were no reservations for many days. He confirmed with us that, yes, we were already in Mokra Gora, and sounded surprised when we told him we had already been to the ticket booth, and what we were told. He took my phone number, and said he would look into the matter and call me back. While we waited, we went in search of a hotel. The first one we tried had one room left at 20 Euros a night. We arranged two nights. not knowing how long it might take to get on that train. Then, I got a call back from the ticket man, and he informed me he made us a reservation to ride the train at 4PM tomorrow! We are to go back to the ticket booth around 3:30PM to pay for our tickets and get ready for the train. I jumped for joy! It all worked out and we love that!

We had such a great day, and felt very fortunate to have scored some train tickets. Not sure the price, but its either about $20 pp or total. If there are unique train rides in any country we visit, we always seek them out. We love trains, and have never had a disappointing ride, ever!
We are committed to two nights, here in Mokra Gora, as we had a back up plan of being at the ticket booth before each train, hoping for a stand-by situation, till we got two seats. Our hotel is right across the road from the train station parking lot, so it would have been super easy. Now that we got reservations, we get to relax and just enjoy our surroundings.

Our hotel. It has wood ceilings, but brick and plaster walls
Comfy place. We had the windows opened for fresh mountain air. A storm blew in. It thundered and the sky lit up, too! Another romantic night, as we are cuddles and love to chat it up and listen to the storm outside, while so comfortable, inside
Extra bedroom in the living room
Love the flower boxes in our windows
Time for dinner!
Veal Stew
Cucumber and Tomato Salad, under a ton of cheese!
Pork Knuckle and potatoes
Traditional Serbian Meat-Plate

Mokra Gora, will not be our last planned stop and activity in Serbia, since we will continue driving south, and get going, back to Macedonia. We will take just a bit more time and overnights somewhere in Serbia on our way out, as the drive from here to the boarder is over six hours. We have no need or desire to rush.

After we had picked up our rental car in Macedonia, some weeks ago; maybe a month, anyway, we only had visited two places. So we will now have a chance to finish exploring that country, before finding COVID19 testing in Skopje, in preparation to traveling to Bulgaria; before returning our rental car by the end of the month. Whew, it still takes some planning, though we are wining it this summer in Europe, with no hotel reservations and its working out just fine so far

Stay tuned for our train ride!

Our drive, today.
We are below Valjevo and just above Titovo Uzice