Back in November, Miloš and I took a trip to Serbia to visit some of his friends and former colleagues from past cruise seasons. I started writing a blog entry on the trip shortly after it happened, but it was right before we headed back to the USA for the holiday caroling season, so my writing time was limited.
We were invited by friends Niki and Robi to come for a visit in their town of Subotica, Serbia for Rakija Fest. Rakija (pronounced “RAH-kee-yah”) is essentially an alcoholic beverage made from the distillation of fermented fruits. Think of it as brandy, schnapps, or better yet, moonshine. It’s very strong, having anywhere from 35-70% alcohol content. The most common rakija (called šljivovica) is made from plums, but you’ll also find rakija in flavors of apricot, quince, grape, and many others too.
At the festival, we got to try ALL kinds of rakija and liqueurs. I have to say that I had several favorites, including cherry and the medica (a popular honey rakija. Medica is super popular in Croatia as well.)
The festival was held at a farm just outside of town. Our host set up rooms for all of us in the large farmhouse building so that we could stay as late as we wanted and not have to worry about anyone driving anywhere. Upon arrival, each person pays for entry and you are given a shot glass. Your shot glass acts as your ticket and method of drinking all in one. There are booths set up all around the large yard, with different families and businesses showcasing their homemade rakija offerings. You can go up to all the booths and try their many flavors of rakija and liqueur. Have as much as you like! Because of the high alcohol content in the drinks, Robi and Niki prepared us by passing out water bottles before we entered the festival. After each shot, we drank water. This helped us from getting too drunk.
The festival went on for hours, with awards being presented to winners in various categories. We bought a few bottles to take with us: several full size large bottles, and a number of small travel size bottles – all in different flavors. We couldn’t take everything we bought to the USA with us (we were leaving just a few days after to head overseas), so we gave some to Miloš’ mom and grandmother while we were in Miloš’ hometown in Croatia for the few days before heading to America.
They also had a few food options for festival-goers. There was a big grill area where they were serving up different kinds of meat options, and a stand that was selling tasty sweet baked goods called chimney cakes.
In addition to the drinking going on, there were also horse carriage rides being offered.
The festival continued as the sun went down. As it got dark out, most of the crowd thinned out, and our group remained to enjoy some more food and great conversation. (Albeit, at this point, we were all feeling the effects of several hours of rakija drinking…)
Once it got rather late, our group headed in to the farmhouse where we’d be spending the night. Before turning in, we gathered in the large dining room area and were serenaded by a local traditional musical ensemble.
Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Festival. Miloš was able to reconnect with good friends (Robi, Niki, and Vania – all of whom I met on that same cruise when I first met Miloš back in 2011), and we got to have yet another wonderfully authentic travel experience to a place I’d never been before. The whole time we were there, we were made to feel so welcome – just like family. And we couldn’t wait to take home our own bottles of rakija so my family back in the USA could also try it!