I am in Belgrade over one week now. I really like this slow travelling. There is no panic to see everything in 2 days. If I do not get to see anything today there is always tomorrow. Belgrade is interesting to me. Some buildings you can see are from Belgrade’s glory days. Other buildings are from less glorious times such as the communist days and look like they are just about able to stand up.
Some of Belgrad reminds me a bit of Dublin in the 1980s. I went to Dublin back then mainly with friends to see rugby internationals. As we got off the train at Hueston station we made out way down the quays to the centre pub by pub. Dublin was not affected by WW2 but if a person did not know that you might be able to convince them it had been bombed. The quays as you walked to the centre looked bad. It is a lot better these days. That said we always enjoyed our Rugby weekends in Dublin. It was still the capital and win or lose we always had the craic. I get the feeling Belgrade is similar. A good time can be had here.
Other parts of Belgrade are really nice. You can see this was a serious European capital. It is one of Europes oldest cities. They call it the white city and it was built at the meeting of two major rivers. The Danube and the Sava.
Belgrade post office
From seeing other Balkin capitals Belgrade’s progress since the fall of communism seems slower. This would be because of Serbia’s complicated history since the collapse of Yugoslavia. The death of the Yugoslavian communist leader General Tito in 1980 began a breakup of the Balkan nation’s federation. Yugoslavia officially came to an end in 1992. In the meantime, Serbia as the largest country had been involved in a number of wars with its neighbours
Belgrade old town
NATO Bombing of Belgrade
It was only back in 1999 during the Kosovo war that NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days. Over 500 civilians died and some key Belgrade bridges were destroyed. After a few NATO bombing raids, local people stood on bridges to protect them from the bombing. Looking around today it is hard to believe that was only 19 years ago.
So far I am finding the Serbian people very sociable. There are 2 million people in Belgrade. You can feel it. These days 1 million is a small city. It reminds me of the time I was doing a tour in southern Vietnam. After overnighting in probably the worse hotel I ever stayed in I longed for a small town experience. Vietnam has 92 million people. You see them every second of the day. I remember once looking from my hotel room as dawn broke at 5 am wondering what all the noise was. When I looked out it was like 5 pm. The street was packed with everyone doing their business. After my bad hotel experience, I asked the tour bus driver if the place we were staying the next night was a small town. Yes yes he replied. It is a small town of just 1 million people. I think that moment has put me off ever visiting China.
Wow wow wow. What an amazing place to visit. Easy to get to as it is just at the end of the main pedestrian shopping street Knez Mihailova and adjacent to Kalemegdan Park. Built-in 297 BC it has seen many a battle and 7 major sieges of Belgrade since. The fortress stands impressively overlooking the majestic Danube river. Considering the forts turbulent history it is surprisingly in good shape. The admission is free and you can spend a good few hours here. Even if it just for the view.
Check out my walk around Belgrade Fortress click here
An old friend
I took a nice stroll around Belgrade on Sunday afternoon. Once I see a cities main sites I like to discover the streets behind the tourist zones. As I walked around I bumped into an old friend. Belgrade’s now closed central train station.
Belgrade Train Station
Back in 1982 as a young man, I crossed the continent by train using the interrail card. Discounted travel for under 26s. On a long journey from Germany to Greece the train stopped in Belgrade. I had to wait 4 hours for a connection. As I walked near the station the memory returned. I have been here before. I remembered going to use the toilet and changing my mind when I saw the state of it. It was a big culture change from western Europe train stations. I looked around outside. My first time in a communist country. It felt exotic. I had a few beers and continued my journey.
Belgrade train station
I also remembered later that night been awakened on the train as I slept. I am not sure where the train was. There was a guy sitting next to me that had not been there before I fell asleep. He got up and left. As I came out of my deep sleep I realised he had his hand in my pocket. I was very lucky that night. I am sure he would have cleaned me out. Money and passport. There was no mobile phones or online banking back then. My journey trough communist Yugoslavia would have got a lot more interesting. Maybe they would have given me a job. Everyone had a job under communism. That toilet in Belgrade did need cleaning.
Belgrade train station
The government say they will put something better here. They won’t. What is better than a classic train station.
Mine is bigger than yours
As I now have visited Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and now Serbia one common theme is present. Everyone says their country used to be 3 times bigger. Especially the in the Balkans.
Bulgarians said Macedonia was Bulgaria.
Macedonians said part of Bulgaria was Macedonia.
Albanians say their country should be 3 times bigger.
Serbians say much the same.
Now everyone cannot be right.
No one really got into the politics of it with the exception of the Serbs.
I don’t think we in Western Europe understand what a major effect 500 years of occupation by the Turkish Ottoman empire has on this part of the world. I am not going to get into in a big way as that would be neverending and who am I to say what is what. It has had a massive effect today.
What many people don’t realise is the Ottoman empire got to the gates of Vienna twice only to be driven back. If they had taken Vienna I am sure they would not have stopped there. Belin and Paris are not that far away.
I decided that this blog would not be political. I want it to be a travel blog with a bit of history and fun along the way. That said the Serbs have been the only people that have I have meet that has spoken with a passion and a bit of anger.
They mention their part in stopping the Ottoman empire getting further west. Also that they opposed the Germans in both world wars. The NATO bombings are still remembered here as a betrayal by former allies. Because of this many here see their future closer to their fellow Slavs the Russians. I am not saying they are right or wrong but they have been the only country that has expressed an opinion.
Politics aside I have found the Serbs to be friendly and chatty. There is something Irish about them. Maybe not a surprise as the Celts were active in this part of the world many years ago.
From BEER to eternity
I meet the guy who owns the apartment I am staying in here in Belgrade. He is giving me the usual what to do and how everything works in Belgrade. I am not listening to him that keenly as I like to find out things myself. Then he says it. Beer is about 0.50 cent a tin in the supermarket and about 4 euro in a bar. I am in shock but steady myself confident in that although he has lived in Belgrade all his life I through my research know more about Belgrade’s beer.
I never have been interested in having a beer at home or in an apartment. I don’t know why but it just has never appealed to me. I like the pub atmosphere. 0.50 cent beer in a supermarket is not for me.
I am more interested in the price of beer in Belgrade’s bars. Since civilisation evolved over time we have had many rulers from Kings. Dictators and various types of governments. Many have ruled by fear but the one thing most have figured out is for society to work people need to have bread and beer at an affordable price. If the price of a loaf of bread or a pint of beer is out of reach of the mob then we get out pitchforks ready and march to the castle gates.
Knowing the standard of living of Serbia before I arrived I know 4 euro for a beer is pitchfork territory.
I am happy to report that I was right and he was wrong. Belgrade local Lav beer is coming in at around 1.50 euro for a 500ml draft. I paid about 1.90 euro in a posh bar. Maybe the other guy is more of a bread man.
Not a usual sight. Me not wearing shorts
Join me on my journey.
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