What the hell are you doing in Jagodina? Belgrade is 136 kilometres north you know. Wait, you’re looking for Niš? Keep heading south for around 90 kilometres. Oh, I see, you’re looking for somewhere to stop between the two? Jagodina is the place my friend, Jagodina is the place.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Serbia the chances are you’ve heard of Jagodina. I don’t mean that in a ‘if you’ve spent time in Britain you’ve heard of Wolverhampton’ sort of way either, as Jagodina is a Serbian city that engages foreigners more than most. It has an ex-mayor who some refer to as ‘eccentric’, with others preferring words such as ‘insane’ or ‘criminal’. To most, he is simply Palma (as in ‘palm tree’). His mother probably refers to him by his real name (Dragan Marković), but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if she called him Palma too. Marković is one of those depressingly hilarious Eastern European political caricatures, a thug in a suit making outlandish claims and building things that shouldn’t be built, such as the highest artificial waterfall in the Balkans. He looks like a thumb.
The town was first noted way back in 1399, and during the years of communist Yugoslavia it was called Svetozarevo. Humans have been in the parts for a preposterously long time, with Europe’s oldest sanctuary found nearby in the village of Belica. The Ottomans came in 1458 and liked it so much that they stayed, building mosques and baths and the rest. Travellers in the 16th described as a ‘beautiful settlement’, a caravan town in the centre of the Serbian lands. This geography meant that heavy fighting during the Serbian Uprisings in the early 19th century was inevitable, but the town became a site of strategic importance for the victorious Serbs. Communist Yugoslavia saw the town industrialised to high heaven, a state of affairs that had initial gains but has left it in the dirt today.
Which brings us to today, the Palma Era. Palma left office in town in 2012, but his fingerprints can still be found all over town. Even the most passionate of Jagodinite will tell you that it isn’t a pretty town, but in a region full of pretty towns this could be considered a strength. For the tourist Jagodina actually has a few points of interest, enough to impress a mind free of Serbian political opinions. What are these points of interest? Read on, young Padowan.
Readers with impressive memories will remember the mention of the highest artificial waterfall in the Balkans, and this strangely pretty structure sits in the middle of Potok. Potok means ‘stream’ or ‘brook’, but in Jagodina it means ‘rather pretty park with waterfall and french fries vending machine’. If the weather is good then Potok is a delightful place for a stroll. It isn’t unlike the parks found in theme parks, all expertly-placed flower beds and paths, but whilst this might encourage groans from park purists the relaxation of the place can’t be denied. Also, are park purists a thing? The park also hosts events during the summer.
I’ve managed to get 500 words into this without mentioning the wax museum, so here goes nothing. The first museum of its type in the country, the Museum of Wax Figures is every bit as sinister as wax museums truly should be. A range of important figures from Serbian history lie dormant within, and whilst they aren’t exactly the most lifelike of figures that doesn’t diminish the entertainment value of a visit. The lack of life in the eyes of the figures is arresting in itself, and the museum becomes the sort of macabre attraction that brings in visitors for reasons initially thought of as wrong but eventually become right.
Swimming enthusiasts will surely make a visit to the aqua park next to the wax museum, home to an Olympic-sized swimming pool and all manner of slides. It looks like fun, but when we visited it was too cold to swim. Boohoo. On a sunny day you can expect to see hordes of people here however, jumping into the blue water and returning to the ‘shore’ to sip on an ice-cold (hopefully) Jagodinsko.
Yep, you may not be aware but Jagodina also has its own beer. The beer has a 14% rating on ratebeer.com, a rating that is neither fair nor accurate. The light beer isn’t going to turn you into a unicorn or superhuman any time soon, but it is in the same ballpark as the rest of the Serbian pivos such as Jelen, Lav and Apatinsko. Actually, I take that back, it is way better than Apatinsko. The best place to get a bottle is the Etno Konak restaurant above the city, with glorious panoramic views proving that even industrial cities look good from high above. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, look no further.
Jagodina is also home to a zoo, a regional museum, botanical gardens and a number of churches. In truth, the town named after strawberries isn’t going to top many lists titled ‘My Favourite Serbian Cities’, but it doesn’t need to. A trip to Jagodina is a trip into the heart of Serbia, where life continues without the relative wealth of Belgrade and Vojvodina. A former boom town in a time of struggle, where a thumb-esque mayor pumped questionable money into questionable tourist-centric ventures. It is a city that rarely sees visitors, so rarely in fact that its Wikitravel page can be abused and nobody bats an eyelid (check out the ‘don’ts’ section). An afternoon in Jagodina is an enjoyable one, as long as you bring at least a pinch of salt.