Belgrade is the largest city in Serbia and its Capital city. It’s located where two rivers meet, the Sava and Danube. As part of my mini-Balkan tour I stayed there for two weeks at the start of November. Oddly, when I was at a bakery a young woman there asked where I was from of which I replied Canada. Then she asked “why Belgrade?” as if to mean there’s nothing here worth seeing; interesting. I enjoyed the food, particularly the pork wrapped in bacon and then later pork stuffed with bacon, yummy! The tower cake was a delight to eat and is a must-have dessert to try when visiting. Even some locals I befriended didn’t know about the tower cake. Which is surprising because it’s one of the first things I sniffed out when arriving. I love desserts. And what seems like an emerging pattern I did eat sushi there.
Though oddly it was noticed that a few of those who worked in the hospitality industry were anything but. Maybe it was because I didn’t speak the language very well. A communication barrier doesn’t mean lack of intellect but is perceived to be by those who fail to understand that concept. Yet towards the end of my stay a really nice local bartender offered me a unique type of homemade rakija, a mix of honey, cherry and cinnamon. And it didn’t surprise me that this bartender hosts couch-surfers; their welcoming hospitality is in a league of its own.
It was easy to get used to the Serbian currency, the dinar (RSD), where it was about 100 dinar to 1 euro. My mispronunciation of the word for “100” turned into a “what”. So I kept saying “što” when I meant “cto”. Oops. There are no coins which makes handling over wads of paper money to buy one staple item kind of fun but also a little annoying as I have to sort out all the little denominations. Sometimes it was hard to make out the street signs as they used the Cyrillic alphabet yet it didn’t take me long to distinguish the patterns when comparing it to my version of an alphabet.
Getting to Belgrade from Sarajevo was relaxing. Taking the train during the day allowed me to stretch out and nap as well as see the sights of the countryside. Since the train had to travel briefly through Croatia I had to go through customs four times; exiting Bosnia, entering Croatia, exiting Croatia and entering Serbia. The train even had communist toilets. The toilet opened up to the tracks below and so as long as the train was moving then everything’s okay.
In Belgrade the trams are a mix of new modernized ones to what I think dates back to the beginning of the century. Almost all the tram routes pass in front of the train station as their central hub. It’s easy to hop on and get to where you need to go. The fare is inexpensive and requires you to purchase advanced tickets at any of the newspaper kiosks or use a smart card. Transits inspectors will sometimes show up to check your ticket else give you a fine if you haven’t paid your fare.
Renting an apartment using the AirBnb service requires due diligence to make sure you’re not subject to some unscrupulous host. I mentioned this before in my previous post yet will mention it again since I’d rather not be spending my first day having someone renege on a confirmed deal that was booked online. However, I managed to find a gem in the mix and couldn’t have asked for a better place. This particular apartment was close to the centre of the city, the tram lines, cafes and the park, Kalemegdan. The host was helpful and gave me a good overview of places to visit around the city. She even gave me a welcome fruit basket and a nice selection of coffee.
More sightseeing was done during the day and with low-key café hanging and restauranting at night.
Kalemegdan is a picturesque park containing the Belgrade Fortress, War Museum, city Zoo and overlooks the Danube and Sava rivers. It’s a nice place to take a break from the urban city life of Belgrade. The Belgrade Fortress at one point in its history used to be a camp for Roman Soldiers and played a key role in the city’s defence over the ages.
The Military Museum is located in Kalemegdan. Founded in 1878 this museum shows the military history of the Balkan region with over three thousand artifacts from medieval weapons to more current ones including a piece of wreckage from the US F-117 stealth fighter shot down in the 1990’s.
Zemun is a popular and historical area of the city where you can enjoy a nice walk or bike ride along the waterfront trail and choose one of the many floating restaurants and cafes to take a break.
Gardos Tower is located in Zemun and is a military monument where you can take the stairs to the top and to see a beautiful view of the old city.
The Old Bohemian Quarter, Skadarlija, which dates back to the late 19th century now currently full of restaurants and café where you can check out as you walk along the cobblestone walkway.
The Republic Square is the best place to meet if you are going elsewhere around the city. It makes a good orientation point should you ever get lost.
The Nikola Tesla Museum brought out the science geek in me. The ticket to the museum includes the tour as well as a twenty minute video about the man himself. What’s interesting is that his ashes are allegedly on display there. I wasn’t about to confirm that. Yet I imagined a scenario of Ocean’s 14 with the characters from Big Bang Theory pulling of the heist.
I frequented Knez Mihailova Street since it’s the main popular pedestrian and shopping zone in Belgrade. There are many restaurants and cafes to hang out at. And what I liked was some of the outdoor cafes had tables with built in heaters that kept you as warm as the coffee you were drinking in colder weather.
Miljakovac Forest is a much larger park than Kalemegdon where you can hike, picnic, bike and lose yourself amongst the many trails. My starting point was at a cafe that at a distance overlooked the Sava river.
All in all I had a nice time in Belgrade0. I met and hung out with some nice locals, the food was delicious and enjoyed the sight-seeing. Since my visit was in the fall, post tourist season, it was a lot less busier therefore less crowded. The changing fall colours on the trees made my walks in the parks more scenic. It would be fun to come back and see what Belgrade has to offer during the summer.