I remember the first time I passed by Golubac and into the Iron Gate (aka Đerdap) gorge. I was 14, on a school trip and heavily into Tolkien lore, so the run-down fortress and the majestic cliffs that tumbled behind it into the Danube, seemed like something straight out of Middle Earth. While we we driving in a bus and Avril Lavigne was playing, I remember humming the tune from one of the Lord of the Rings movies and staring, almost not believing that something as beautiful as this can exist in Serbia. As dumb and as that may sound, I think that was my first memory of feeling amazed at something in Serbia. Even when we stopped at Golubac on our way back from Kladovo, only to find the fortress almost completely (and somewhat charmingly) ruined, all the smell of urine and lack of any explanation did not diminish my enchantment with the place.
Ever since then, I used Golubac and Đerdap, as a trump card whenever someone said that there is nothing good to see in Serbia, and I was very excited when I heard that Golubac will be restored. I followed the news about its reconstruction patiently, and even drove up a few times to see how the things are going. When I heard the fortress will be reopened in March 2019, I was impatient to visit again, although my enthusiasm was dampened when I read posts in Serbia’s hyper-critical twitter sphere, that now it is ‘ruined’ and ‘Disney-fied’.
Having read all those many negative takes, I was nervous as I was driving up last Sunday, a week after the opening, to check it out. Prepared for disappointment, I was elated when I saw the final result. Not only did the fortress look pristine, but everyone working there, from the information desk staff to many guards on site, was amazing and visibly proud, sharing stories about the fortress and giving helpful tips on what to see and do. It was also great to see many visitors, happily snapping selfies and reading up on Golubac’s history. I liked the little exhibition about the knights who fought and died there (including Zawisza Czarny, a Polish national hero), and of course , I loved the views from the tops of towers, which made the Danube seem like a vast sea.
On the way back, we also made a stop at Ram, another imposing place on the Danube, which has a beautiful fortress (which, however, is currently inaccessible) as well as the remains of the old caravanserai, whose dark stone walls now encircle church. Standing on a cliff above the Danube, looking across the vas Pannonian plains to the north, I felt elated and extremely happy, that Serbia always finds ways to amaze me.