For most people our age, a trip to Europe is an excuse to up their Instagram game. They’ll spend a few sun-soaked weeks taking photos in Positano before returning home tanned, terrific and talking with an accent.
But Gather Co’s latest jaunt was less about pretty pictures and more about snapshots of the past. We were headed for Serbia, not the kind of place most travellers make a beeline for, but a country we’d soon learn was full of surprises.
Once we touched down, Serbia’s seduction was fast and furious -- it’s hard not to fall in love with a place that offered such a generous glimpse into its history. Belgrade has been through the wars and the scars of battle were reflected in its architecture.
We were desperate to see the beauty of this city from above and in exchange for a six pack of Jelen Pivo beer, some local Belgrade lads took us to an inner-city rooftop. From high above, the city really began to reveal its secrets and there was one thing we all noticed straight away - eye-catching terracotta tiles.
We’d seen the tiles earlier, scattered throughout Belgrade, all different parts of the same story. But from this view, they came together, each one a different size, shape and colour.
It was exactly what we were after.
After an agonising Google search in Belgrade’s slowest internet cafe, we learned that the tiles originated in an area one hour north of the city.
We hired a van and while it lacked the typical mod-cons - like power steering and air-con - it did have the important stuff, like brakes and wheels. As temperatures topped forty degrees our sweaty search for these magical tiles continued.
Piling out of our sauna-on-wheels, we were greeted by Mishko, a boisterous Serb who spoke rapidly and loved to yell. Born and raised in Belgrade, he knew the history of his city back to front.
We liked him immediately.
An apricot farmer by trade, Mishko also had a second job - a Serbian side hustle, if you will - which involved visiting dilapidated buildings and repurposing terracotta tiles. A proud man, Mishko recognised that these relics were not ready to be cast aside, but in fact, they were as ripe as the fruit being farmed around us.
To celebrate our new partnership, Mishko invited us back to his house for a traditional feast which involved eating hundreds of apricots and drinking rakija. Rakija is a homebrew and it’s beyond potent.
Not a minute went by without Mishko raising his glass, smiling at us and yelling...
TWO HOURS LATER.
The rakija has really kicked in and while Mishko’s wife has been giving us the side eye, he seems content to talk business under an apricot tree. Despite the fact Mishko barely speaks English and our Serbian is non-existent, through a rakija-induced haze we hammer out a deal.
By the end of our ‘conversation,’ Mishko’s Malina tiles was now a part of the Gather Co story.
The Malina Family – Antique European Terracotta
It was time to go, we piled back into the van and surrendered to sleep. Waking up on the bumpy road back into Belgrade, we wondered if Mishko had all been a dream.
But as the city skyline appeared and the tiles - our tiles, Mishko’s tiles - came into view, we smiled. Departing Belgrade with the building blocks of Balkan history, even a crippling rakija hangover couldn’t dampen our spirits.
Живели to you, Mishko!