Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
It was a particularly long bus ride from Vienna, but I was able to get some sleep in once Nick put the Serbian phrasebook away so I could stop stressing about what the locals made of us. I wasn't really sure how four native English speakers would be received in Serbia given the recent conflict, so I was quite happy to try and remain as inconspicuous as possible
We arrived in Belgrade shortly after 4am, and realising the taxi drivers at the station were trying to rip us off we decided to find our hostel on foot. We found a map of the city near the train station, but it didn't match up with mine so we decided to flag down another taxi who luckily didn't want to rip us off. Almost 48 hours had passed since each of us had lain down in a bed, but shortly before 5am we got that opportunity in the small hostel we had found in the centre of the city.
After a few hours sleep and some lunch the four of us made our way up Belgrade's pedestrian thoroughfare, Kneza Mihailova, to the city's premier site, the Kalemegdan citadel. Fortifications were started here during Celtic times, and over the centuries some 115 battles were fought over it and on 44 occasions parts of it were destroyed. The highlight was not so much the fort itself, reconstructed by the Austro-Hungarians in the 18th century, but rather the huge park around it where people sat, talked, danced, drank, played chess and simply gazed over the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers as the sun set
Later that evening Chris and I split up with Nick and Jess so we could meet our Hospitality Club host Veckey. Before we did that we got some dinner at a small authentic Serbian restaurant simply called '?' which provided us with more than a few laughs. No sooner did we enter did a drunk man sitting by the door start berating us, capturing the attention of everybody in the small room, including a table of three particularly attractive young women. We stayed and had a great meal, and the smiles coming our way from the three women left us feeling less concerned about the drunken man's claims that he was ok with us being there but his friend would fight us if he was with him.
We met Veckey later on in Skadarska, a cobbled street which was once a bohemian hang-out of poets and artists. Veckey amazed us with her stories of participation in demonstrations against the former government, and really raised our eyebrows when she told us she was arrested on one occasion
The following day was a Monday, meaning Veckey had to work so Chris and I met up with Nick and Jess again. Before we met them to compare stories about our evenings we wandered past the Ministry of Defence buildings, destroyed by NATO in 1999. We were both quite shocked by what we saw here, as some six and a half years on the buildings still weren't repaired, left standing as a reminder of NATO aggression, or so I thought. For all the footage I'd seen of buildings destroyed by bombing campaigns in Lebanon less than six months earlier, I never could have imagined how disturbing it would be to see a destroyed building with my own eyes. The precision bombing must have held some purpose, and I wish I'd known more about it than it simply being in retaliation to Serb aggression in Kosovo
We met Nick and Jess and spent the next few hours wandering past the painted townhouses along Skadarska, Parliament and the city's two enormous Orthodox churches, Sveti Marko and Sveti Sava, stopping for coffee and snacks along the way. After thanking Veckey for letting us stay we grabbed a late lunch and met another girl I contacted through Hospitality Club, Katerina. I contacted her hoping she'd be able to host us in Montenegro, but she was studying in Belgrade at the time we were passing through. Nevertheless she met us for a drink with some friends and gave us invaluable information about Montenegro. Before I met her I wasn't even sure if Chris and I were going to get the train or bus to Montenegro, but after two hours with Katerina and her friends we knew exactly what we wanted to see. Our train to Bar departed at 10.10pm, giving us time for one last beer with Nick and Jess before we went our separate ways. We did however make plans to meet in Sarajevo the following Monday to celebrate my birthday.
All in all, our two days in Belgrade were fantastic. The city had a real vibe I hadn't really encountered at any of the other cities I'd visited in Europe. The many small cafes and bars we visited had a friendly atmosphere, warm and welcoming without the pretentiousness or tourists I'd seen in so many other places. Belgrade and Serbia were really just a stopover for Chris and I, as our main destinations were Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia, but I'd seen enough to wish I had more time to explore Serbia. I could only imagine what the city must have been like a decade earlier, as I read about 'Serb atrocities' in the morning paper. Probably not too different, with young people meeting friends and chatting over a coffee or beer as they were today.