So as I previously mentioned, my friend’s family very kindly took me under their wing while I was in Belgrade. I ended up not being able to travel the rest of Serbia and I didn’t get to visit everything I wanted to see in Belgrade, but it gave me the chance to meet and hang out with a bunch of really awesome people and I ended up seeing and doing things I wouldn’t have even thought of doing. Life is full of little trade-offs.
So the first day I arrived in Belgrade I was completely exhausted. I slept an hour or so on the bus from some random border town to Belgrade and arrived at the ridiculous hour of about 8am where I was picked up by Ilija and Goga. When Ilija took me back to their apartment I crashed for a couple more hours since I was exhausted. I think Ilija was glad of that because he’s not exactly a morning person either! When I finally managed to drag myself up to join the world he told me we were going to meet up with his mate and then go check out Kalemegden Fortress, which is basically a giant ruin complex thing. Within the old city fortress walls is a couple of bars, a zoo, an art walk and a giant park. Apparently there is also a military museum, but we missed that. We spent ages just having a drink (I think I met the only Eastern Europeans in the world who aren’t very big drinkers) and walking around, checking out the fortress, the views and walking along the art walk exhibition while the boys pointed out different parts of the city, told me their names and why things were called what they were (like the River Sava, named after a very important saint who was martyred in Beograd).
After the fortress we walked around a little bit more in Old Belgrade, but didn’t do a lot of sightseeing as it was beginning to get dark and I was still exhausted from the mornings travel. Instead we went back home where we decided to go get another drink at a hotel within walking distance of the flat so that Ilija didn’t have to drive. It seemed to be a hotel mainly for business people because it was a bit out of the way but they had a lovely rooftop bar where you could see an almost 360 degree view of the city. That was made a touch more exciting by the fact that we seemed to have caught the eye of some random drunk Croatian guy. He decided to join our table while Dimitrija (Ilija’s friend) was in the loo and kept asking us what we were doing in Belgrade in either English or Croatian pending on whatever his sodden mind fancied I suppose. Dimitrija and Ilija kept responding ‘We live here’ (I didn’t speak at all) and he would nod his head and say “And how long have you been visiting for?” Eventually a waiter came and told him to go back to his room, but it made for an interesting first day in Belgrade nonetheless.
During the rest of my time in Belgrade we visited the old town and just walked around, we walked through the ‘Bohemian Quarter’ which very largely caters to tourists now. Though it did look to be a fun and happening place regardless, we walked all over places I probably never would have walked on my own (I would have gotten so lost), I had my first taste of kaymak (a cheese-like spread that is heaven on a sandwich) saw their parliament building and we walked all the way to Sveti Sava, which is the Orthodox Cathedral I mentioned earlier. It is INSANELY huge, the largest Eastern Christian cathedral in the world and one of the 10 largest church buildings in the world. And it’s still a shell. The outside of it is beautiful though. You would look at the outside and never guess that it wasn’t finished on the inside. I walked inside and was very much reminded of the Hagia Sofia in size and shape, though I think the dome may actually be higher here than the Hagia Sofia. It’s a construction zone with no massive iconoclast yet (partly finished), though you can find pictures of religious figures littered throughout which many a worshipper stops at to pray.
One of the reasons it is taking so long to finish is because it took them a good quarter of a century to agree on plans in the first place (if not longer). After they finally agreed, wars and what not kept it from happening. Once they were recommitted to building, World War II came about and Hitler’s regime put a stop to the building of an Orthodox Church so they could use it as a car park. It has only really been worked on regularly for the last 28 years, is entirely funded by donations and they don’t have the benefit of unlimited slave labour like Emperor Justinian did. After a long day of walking we were all pretty exhausted and ready to head home. Only problem was that we had to walk ALL THE WAY BACK to the car. Oh well, it’s good for me I reckon.
One night we decided to go down to the river bars. Belgrade has a ton of floating bars and clubs along the river. Apparently, some of them are super popular and expensive (and run by the mafia I am told) and you have to call ahead and book a table and are required to spend a certain amount. None of us really fancied that so we decided to go to a quiet little place called Verde Gato “The Green Cat” which allowed us to relax, have a couple of drinks and just chit chat (without the inflated prices of the more popular clubbing places). I was also forced to order a banana split (before going home to have dinner) and it was the largest banana split I had ever seen in my life. Seriously, it wasn’t served in a bowl or on a plate, it was served on a serving platter! I couldn’t even eat half of it, though Ilija had no problem finishing off what I couldn’t eat (and seemed to still be hungry). I have no idea where he puts it all.
One evening Ilija’s parents took us on a bit of a field trip outside of Belgrade to a place I myself would have never thought to go (but am glad I did). We drove about an hour outside of Belgrade (the long scenic way) until we arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Mt. Avala. It’s a beautiful, scenic area in the hills between the valley Belgrade is in and the mountains in the southern part of the country. We spent some time walking around there and you can still see the bullet wounds on the tomb from the Yugoslav War.
After the memorial we went to Avala tower, a giant radio tower rebuilt after the war with a viewing point and spent a little bit of time checking out the amazing 360 degree view. It was a perfect, clear day so we could see for miles and miles. It wouldn’t have surprised me if I was looking across the Romanian border at one point! Afterwards we went to the grounds where Serbian royalty once lived (apparently during a major European war, WWII I think, they ran away to the UK and have been pretty useless since). The grounds were beautiful and the weather was spectacular. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t live there at least part of the year, especially considering they had a fairly beautiful vineyard. On top of that we stopped at Serbia’s original parliament and courthouse in the village next to the royal grounds which I was admittedly excited about! They are very well preserved actually.
Afterwards Ilija’s parents took us to a traditional rural Serbian restaurant (they litter the landscape, you really can’t miss them) which was spectacular! There was soooooooo much food and it was delicious. We ended up taking a bunch of it back home with us and eating it for leftovers. If you are driving through rural Serbia and you pass little restaurants with a spit out front and they are roasting whole lamb or pig on it, I highly recommend stopping and eating. Make sure you have an appetite. You could order cuts of meat, you could order any part of the animal you wanted, you could order these delicious breaded chicken stuffed with who knows what (Goga ordered that) that I very willingly finished off when we had them for leftovers. I really should get the name of those.
We also went to Tito’s Mausoleum which also has an ethnographic museum and a museum with changing exhibitions attached. While we went they had an Olympic Exhibition and an exhibition to the development of Serbia from the 40’s or 50’s until today. They had an English translation on everything which was awesome for me. It was a really good museum and I highly recommend going. I very much enjoyed it.
I really wanted to go to the Tesla museum and the Ivo Andrič museum (a Yugoslav author from Bosnia who immigrated to Belgrade). Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go, but it made for a good trip to Serbia all the same.
I ended up agreeing to go with the guys to Budva, Montenegro which made for a freaking long road trip. We stayed one night in Zlatibor, a national park in Serbia and then spent the entire next day driving to Budva. Montenegro is a beautiful country, and the mountains there are spectacular, but I absolutely hated the beach. It was full of tourists, ridiculously overcrowded (though thankfully not insanely overpriced like the Croatian coastline), the beaches weren’t sand and I find pebble beaches to be an abomination after living in Australia and it was extremely difficult for me to deal with so I spent a large chunk of my time hanging out on the beach reading with the Serbs I was with or drinking on the balcony of my room and contemplating life and all that that implies.
Due to the fact that I didn’t do a whole lot in Montenegro I’m not even going to bother posting anything about it. I think if I had gone to the mountains and visited there I would have liked Montenegro a lot more than I did. Next time I go to the area I’ll definitely pay a visit to the mountains and let you all know how it goes.
What I’m reading now: The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne
What I’m listening to now: The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien
Please vote on my next destination on the poll at the top right hand of the screen!