Due to previous experiences noted on this blog about mountainous back roads, the husbo and I decided to take the toll road into Serbia. This meant two border crossings and 15 extra minutes but we weren’t phased. After cruising northward through Bosnia RS and eastern Croatia we zoomed into the very flat landscape and into Belgrade.
Our good friend Ben had been so kind as to treat us to two nights in a hotel totally out of the blue and we couldn’t have been looking forward to it more. When we arrived we did not have to search for a random house or person to meet, we just drove up to the door and were welcomed in (such luxury!). We were even upgraded to a king suite after Justo flooded the shower!
The hotel was conveniently located in the heart of town so we were really able to soak up the atmosphere of Belgrade. Being the first big city we had been in for some time it was a welcome surprise to find that it was a vibrant, bustling place filled with cafes, restaurants and beautiful nooks for us to enjoy. While the weather was as I had imagined (grey) we were still able to get out and about and see the sights.
First port of call, as usual, was coffee. Finding anything other than nescafe is a bit tricky in eastern europe but Justo had done his research! A small independent roastery had recently opened in the industrial area and we were able to sip on filter and yummy espressos to our hearts content (the food and drinks are amazingly cheap in Serbia). We explored the old Ottoman Citadel, the ‘Bohemian Quarter’ and the waterfront and sampled delightful organic eats at a crazy little restaurant that was situated in an otherwise abandoned building. For another dinner, Justin thought he had found the greatest meat dish ever created – chicken, stuffed with beef and cheese and wrapped in bacon. Did I mention breakfast? Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet to rival all buffets, with a selection ranging from bacon and eggs, to blueberry tart and everything you could imagine in-between (thanks Ben-o!).
Justo and I also wanted to get a bit of an understanding of the recent history of Belgrade so wandered up to the former Yugoslav Ministry of Defence. This building is one of many bombed by NATO in 1999 in an effort to force Slobodan Milosević to end the mistreatment of Albanians and the war in Kosovo (if you don’t know about it, look it up). The buildings are side by side and neighbour the current Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Parliament buildings and have been left as is, as a solemn reminder to Belgrade of their darkest days. The more I see of the world, the more I realise how much hatred there is and how much continues to be unresolved, travelling in this area has particularly challenged me on my understanding of world politics and how it impacts peoples’ lives.
On our last day in Belgrade a friend of mine’s cousin had offered to take us around and show us a few of the more obscure sites. Marco drove us through the INSANE streets and crazy drivers to the sights of Avala, the only hill in Belgrade and to Zemun, the old Austro-Hungarian stronghold which stood opposite the Ottoman settlement. It was amazing to have a local show us around and hear his perspectives of life in Serbia.
We departed Belgrade having gained more understanding of the intricacies of the politics in the former Yugoslav states and tummies full of burek, meat and cheese. Next stop – Skopje, Macedonia!