Belgrade, the adventure begins.

Trip Start Mar 19, 2008
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Trip End Jul 01, 2008


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Where I stayed
In a train car

Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday:

Let me preface this by saying, don't wander into
shantytowns. Anyways...Well, I ended up waking up at 6:30 to explore the town; it
was completely on accident and far too early. For some retarded reason I
thought that Serbia was one hour ahead. Nope, definitely not. So I wander the
streets somewhat aimlessly, seeing as I have no map and no money. Well, half by
luck I stumble onto the Belgrade Fortress; which I thought was actually on the
other side of the river; awesome. I wander through the parks, fortress, and
around the outside of the fortress zoo for a couple of hours. After reaching
the top, I'm awarded with awesome views of the whole area. Belgrade is huge,
about 2.5 million people. And it's growing quite rapidly; cranes dot the new
city, as do various large buildings. It was about 11ish when I decided to walk
along the river into town. It was a nice walk; families riding their bikes,
sunshine, old men fishing, and a slurry of decaying old boats. I decided to
take a gravel road leading off of the main path thinking it would take me back
into the city; definitely not. I ended up walking into a shantytown. Eight to
twelve houses built out of random materials, extremely uncared or children
riding about on bicycles, and sullen looking people sitting in the sun.
Obviously I didn't whip out my camera, maybe if I had two other guy friends
with me, but alone? I'd have to be retarded. I snapped a few shots as soon as I
was out of sight range; and right was I was leaving, a man in uniform yelled at
me and motioned for me to come to him. He was sitting in a dilapidated concrete
post by the railroad tracks. When I got near, he began talking to me in
EXTREMELY broken English, German, and with hand signals. He made some hand
motions about taking pictures. I tried asking him in three different languages
what I had done wrong. After speaking on the phone with somebody, he tells me
"one moment." Great, what in the world does that mean? So I sit down, and as
I'm waiting I watch one of the shack dwellers working on what must have been a
car at one point. There was no body; just a frame, an engine, one seat, a
steering wheel, and possibly some floorboards. Every ten minutes or so,
somebody would give this thing a push start; it would sputter and then die very
loudly. After forty minutes goes by and still nothing; "one moment" he says.
One thing that keeps giving me an uneasy feeling is this kid who keeps riding
by on his bike, looking like he expects some great show. So of course I get
this mental image of five thugs coming out of the bushes. In case that happens,
my survival plan is to sprint the 50 yards to the river and leap over the rail
into the river. Well ten minutes later a police officer emerges from the bushes
and asks me, "What are you doing here? This is a very dangerous neighborhood."
As we're walking away I hear the "car" coughing up and down the road somewhere.
The officer confiscated my passport and camera as we walked back to the
station; a walk which didn't exactly put me at ease. He lead me through a field,
an abandoned train yard full of old train cars, through some of those cars, and
along the train tracks for some time. I really thought I was going to get
mugged. It only takes a few minutes of talking with the police at the station
before they figure out that I'm not some master press photographer, but just a
stupid American tourist. It's 1:00 by now, I'm stressed out and haven't eaten
in over 24 hours. So I find an ATM, grab a beer, and a slice of Ukrainian pizza
to relax. Calmed down and with some food in belly, I start out to explore the
city. It's actually a pretty spectacular city; I wander past government row,
two bombed out buildings that will not be rebuilt; reminding the, government,
the NATO embassies, and the people what war brings. I see here and there the
unpatched bullet holes still on some structures. They actually have the largest
orthodox church in the world as well; so of course I saw that; staying for a
time to relax and people watch. Having gotten in a good dose of people
watching, I head over to another historic district containing a church,
theatre, numerous student parks, and a large shopping district. This city is
really getting quite a bit of foreign investment, despite its very poor
inflation (nearly 100 dinars to 1USD!) They have bills ranging from 1000 to
20,000 dinars and have coins from 1 to 100 dinars; logically they don't use
cents. As I was walking through a park, I gradually begin to hear what sounded
like a large brass band. A few minutes later and I somehow had managed to walk
into a wedding procession. Apparently Nikoli had a wedding to attend today, I
wonder if this was it..I was pretty tired and there was only two hours before
my train was set to leave, so I moseyed on back to the train station to relax
with a terrible coffee. With about twenty minutes left before boarding, I
noticed that my train still hadn't pulled into the terminal; I could see it
waiting to come in, but it just wasn't moving. It was at that moment that the
police started pouring in. Now, I had noticed a large police presence
throughout the day, with teams of three roaming the city. But now, a dozen or
more police armed in full riot gears, plus twenty or more regular uniformed
officers marched in. What now damnit? I really didn't feel like taking part in
a riot. As soon as all the police were in position, the train pulled forward;
with the police assigning seats and scattered throughout to maintain order.
Well, the train was severely overbooked, and I actually managed to get the last
seat in the train. Resting my backpack on my lap, I tried to get some sleep,
using it as a pillow. However...a good thirty minutes into the ride, every
Serbian male sitting in the isle of the train started spontaneously into song.
I actually didn't mind getting woken up to this, because honestly, how often do
you get the chance to hear 20-30 native Serbians singing loudly and exuberantly
in their native language? They only sang for about 25 minutes or so; and then
they departed, singing all the way. It was right about then that I noticed the
heat in the train cars didn't work, and some windows were stuck open. I put on
my windbreaker, tighter my hoods, and curled up into a ball on the seats for
the rest of the journey; shivering all the way.
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