Belgrade

My one day in Belgrade was not as good as it could have been, and it wasn’t Belgrade’s fault. I was out of sync on several fronts. I had only managed to sleep for a couple of hours on the train getting there so in the afternoon, my power nap turned into an extended sleeping session and I lost a lot of time. Lesson learnt: a one-day city explorer must not sleep on duty.

Trying to get going with my exploring of Belgrade, I started out before 8.00, looking for a place that served breakfast and had WiFi,, the sessential tools of a one-day city explorer. There was nothing open in the Bohemian Quarters where my hotel was. In fact, the entire area was pretty much devoid of any human activity. In short, the bohemians were all sleeping.


I started walking towards the centre of town, but finding a place for breakfast turned out to be impossible. There were lots of cafes and restaurants in the city centre. Problem was, they were all closed. 


After about 45 minutes of searching, I came across one or two cafes that theoretically were open (no people eating there but staff loitering among the tables) but they just stared at me when I asked for tea, bread and jam. I was told they had no bread. The contrast to the previous morning in Zagreb, with its crowded cafes in the morning, couldn’t have been greater. Maybe the Serbs are running on a different time zone? By 9.00, I found a cafe in the main square that would serve me tea and bread “but not jam”. They didn’t do “sweet breakfasts”. However, and crucially, they had WiFi. My travel planning for the day could start.

Googling free city walks in Belgrade, the first one that came up was about to start in a few minutes only about ten metres from where I was sitting. Good timing after a lot of not not such good timing. 

Our tour guide Ivan was knowledgeable and funny and managed to strike a good balance between being open and frank about some of the darker sides of Serbian history while keeping the tone fairly light and interspersed with jokes and interesting anecdotes. We saw many of the main attractions in Belgrade during our walk. 


Some insight into the Serbian use of terms and language started straight way as we were contemplating the equestrian statue of Prince Mihailo in Republic Square. When Serbs are meeting someone at the square, they don’t meet in the square, but they meet “by the horse”, and when they refer to the National Museum behind the statue, this is known as “the horse’s ass”. Ivan added that the Horse’s Ass had been closed for a long time, and a large digital timer board counting down to its opening a year ago had simply been turned off as the National Museum failed to open when the board reached zero.


This language lesson continued as we walked through Silicon Valley, a neighbourhood where the mafia guys used to hang out in the early 90s. The name did not refer to any IT skills of the mafia guys but rather to some key attributes of their girlfriends. Silicon Valley was also abandoned at this time in the morning. 


In the Bohemian Quarters, the sign post indicating the direction to different cities around the world also included a sign for the Moon. That’s the direction you’re looking in when you’ve had a few shots of rakia. However, the bohemians were still sleeping as we wandered through the Bohemian Quarters.


The main attraction in Belgrade, and the one you must not miss, however tired you are, is the Belgrade Fortress.


And the premier scenic spot and the obvious place to get your selfie stick out is the bit of the wall where you can see the confluence of the River Sava and River Danube.


It was after the free city walk that things went a bit pear-shaped and I slept for several hours. When I woke up towards the evening, I couldn’t do much more than wander about town for a bit. I was following some suggestions from my Serbian friends at home, looking at some of the neighbourhoods they had suggested. One gem of a place I found was this record shop & bar. I can’t give you the address but I did drop a pin at the street corner to get the GPS coordinates: 44.82204, 20.45684. 


Republic Square looked much better at night, I thought, with the National Theatre lit up. A nice spot to hang out in the evening.


But if you’re looking for something a bit more lively, the bohemians have woken up by 10PM in the Bohemian Quarters (Skanderia Street), and you get live music with your food there as well.

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