Beograd

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
1
24
35
Trip End Nov 24, 2009


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Where I stayed
Friendz Hostel

Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My first impression of Belgrade was that it's cold! I thought we’d finally be out of cold weather but man was I wrong. We got there from our night train at around 7 in the morning. I was glad our hostel was right across the street from the train station because I think I would have frozen otherwise. When we rang the hostel door, the girl who answered had an impressive amount of mascara smeared all over her face and much disheveled hair- we’d obviously woke her up. She of course ended up being the employee on duty. (We learned later that the employees sleep on the couch in the common room when they work the night shift.) Luckily it’s off-season so there were hardly any guests in the hostel, meaning we could check in as soon as we arrived. (Most of the time, we have to wait until the afternoon check-in time because they are waiting for other people to check out and then they have to clean the rooms.) The first thing we did in Belgrade was sleep for about 3 hours or so. We were exhausted from the night before.

When we woke up and got ready for the day, we walked up to the old town area. Belgrade is a big, busy city but the old town area is kind of nice because there’s a pedestrian-only street that leads to the ancient fortress. There are modern shops (and many book shops) all along the pedestrian street. We had read that Belgrade is a "book town." It’s true- we saw so many book stores while we wandered everywhere. We spent the afternoon just walking all around, trying to bear the cold and enjoy ourselves. We bought some souvenirs for people then found our way to the bus terminal. We had read about the annual Fair of Books in Belgrade and it happened to be the last day of the event. We hopped on the right bus, missed our stop (of course- we had no idea where we were going and nothing is written in English), got off at a random stop, hopped on another bus, and finally (somehow) got to the book fair over an hour later. The fair was in a big two-story venue. It had an incredible amount of book stands (all different themes) and what seemed like millions of books. They were all foreign to us. It was still cool to see everything though. Eventually someone showed us the English book area. This area actually had a decent amount of books. Some of the classics (Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, etc) were only about $1 USD. We didn’t end up buying anything though. We are carrying backpacks that are pretty full after all. I think if a really special, old, used book popped up we might have bought it for a souvenir but most of the books at the fair were new.

We spent our one night at the hostel, somewhat befriending the hostel workers and their Swedish boss (the young hostel owner). We were quickly reminded of the “smoking epidemic” as I will call it in Serbia (and Montenegro). Everyone was smoking inside the hostel. You could not get away from the smell of smoke. I’m sure whatever smoke we’d washed off from Montenegro came back with a vengeance in Serbia.

The next day we weren’t leaving for Thessaloniki, Greece until night time so we had another day to explore Belgrade. That we did. We walked all around the city, seeing the 10,000 person capacity Orthodox St. Sava church (still under construction on the inside), exploring the Belgrade Fortress and its military museum display of tanks and torpedoes, and wandering in and out of random shops. I think we can both agree that the coolest (probably not the best word as you’ll see) thing we saw in Belgrade was these two huge government buildings that looked like they were ready to collapse at any second because huge bombs had exploded in them. The buildings were insane looking. Not only were they next to really beautiful federal buildings looking like that, they were still standing! I don’t understand how the foundation could even hold up the destruction that took place. Bombs had obviously been dropped through the roofs of the buildings and completely annihilated everything inside. Later we learned from our hostel employee friends that the buildings had been bombed in 1999 by who else- us- the United States acting with NATO.

Belgrade was a good city to experience. Even though it was really cold and windy (winter was looming) the city itself was different in a way that’s hard to pinpoint. I don’t know if I’d ever return but I’m glad I got to see what may be considered the heart of Serbia.

We hopped on another night train to Thessaloniki at 10pm. Since it wasn’t fully booked, we had our own cabin area with seats that could pull down into “beds.” It was nice to be able to sleep while laying down and stretching out on a train. We weren’t provided blankets and pillows this time, but it’s okay because that’s why we have travel pillows and light-weight sleeping bags with us. Of course we were woken up by police at the Macedonia border twice (customs inspection and passport checks and stamps), then again at the border of Greece for the same thing. It’s annoying and sometimes intimidating but it’s all a good experience for us.
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