But bridges are an obvious headline theme for Novi Sad’s Capital of Culture program. Unlike some of the naval-gazing concepts championed by previous recipients, the structures have relevance and meaning for a city that has a fair bit to talk about. Sitting at a crossroads of Europe, Novi Sad was a trading post, a refuge for migrants and the first line of defense for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, forever embroiled in a religious war with the Turks. The battering and bruising continued through two world wars up until 23 years ago, when Novi Sad bore the brunt of NATO’s campaign against Serbian aggressor Slobodan Milosevic.
“Novi Sad means new plant,” tour guide Ljiljana told me as we strolled through Dunavska Street’s jolly, 19th-century pastel-hued buildings, built after the place was flattened. “If the roots are healthy, it can flourish again.” Mustering a population of less than 300,000, it’s hard to call the place a city. Too small to merit an airport, its international gateway is Belgrade, an hour’s taxi drive away – which will double the cost of your Wizz Air tickets. But tiny means easily navigable; so easy, in fact, you could risk doing it all in less than a day.
Fearing I’d struggle to fill a weekend, I stretched out activities by doing everything on foot, abiding by the Vojvodinia mantra of moving slowly. On a stroll to the ‘drunken’ clock, the Novi Sad mascot found on T-shirts, magnets and mugs, Ljiljana proudly explained why the hour hand is uncharacteristically long. “Here the hours matter more than minutes,” she mused.