When planning our trip, we did not know exactly which cities we’d be visiting. We had our flights and a basic plan, but we did not map out specifics in order to allow ourselves flexibility. If you had asked us before we started whether or not we would visit Serbia, our answer would have been, “You never know, but probably not.” Now, here we are, thrilled to be in the heart of Serbia: Belgrade.
Belgrade has a lot to offer, so we decided to start our day at the Nicola Tesla Museum. Going into this, Phil knew a lot more about Tesla than I did. In fact, if you had asked me who Tesla was, I might have made vague reference to a crappy band who covered the song “Signs.” As it turns out, Nicola Tesla’s inventions changed the course of human history and we all use his technology daily. In case you are like me and don’t know who he is, Tesla is best known for inventing the alternating current (AC) electrical system. You may have heard of the Tesla Coil, his most well known invention which is integral to the AC system. Nicola Tesla was born in Serbia, and here in Belgrade they have a museum dedicated to celebrating his work and his contributions to human history.
The Tesla Museum was a fun, interactive and incredibly informative experience. We were given a tour by a young woman who just graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. Her passion and knowledge for the topic shone through in her presentation of the material. The one floor museum situated in a beautiful old 19th century home was as much about Tesla as it was about his inventions. We learned that Tesla was a legitimate genius level inventor who could never be accused of thinking small. His inventions ranged from Hydroelectricity to a theorhetical global communications array that was never completed. Especially cool was the interactive exhibits like the giant Tesla Coil and a reproduction of the world’s first remote control toy boat that was showcased in Central Park in the early 1900’s. What really helped make the museum, or any museum for that matter, is that the guides were certified experts on the subject matter and sincerely passionate about all things Tesla. After our visit, our head was swimming with fascinating facts and information about Tesla. It is truly a sensational museum!
After the Tesla Museum, we slowly wandered through the city toward the Belgrade Fortress. Our eyes were filled with wonder at seeing bombed out buildings, still in crumbling ruins, adjacent to beautiful, historic structures. The NATO bombings of Serbia, which took place over the course of almost 3 months in 1999, have left evidence almost everywhere you look in Belgrade. At the same time, this city already feels more forward thinking, cosmopolitan and progressive than either Bucharest or Sofia. We were expecting a sort of sadness…or at least the feeling that they were still trying to get back on their feet. Not only are they standing on their own two legs, Belgrade is thriving. There are cafes, corner stores and markets everywhere. The streets are bustling with people and the nightlife here draws visitors from all over Europe. There is a pulse and vitality that we haven’t felt in other Eastern European cities. However, wages are still quite low and the younger population is dwindling as they leave to find jobs in other countries which are unavailable here. The city seems to be growing, but it is not happening at a fast enough pace for to meet the demand of people in need of jobs.
We continued to walk along Knez Mihailova, a pedestrian only street which leads toward the fortress. We happened upon a robotics exhibition and also discovered that Serbians love their popcorn like Romanians love their pretzels. Finally, we made it to Kalamegdan Park, a huge park created on a plateau in front of the Belgrade Fortress. Filled with people, the park is the best place to watch the sunset at the spot where the Danube and Sava Rivers converge. It also houses several public art pieces, including a series of photographs of depicting gorgeous landscapes from each state in America. We got a little misty at both the photograph of the Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio and the view of the city from New York’s Central Park. As we gazed out over the river, talking about all things past, present and future, we realized we are missing some small things about America. This was punctuated by our discovery of several Buckeye Trees. The characteristic seeds lay all over the ground, and I picked them up, dreaming of home and just wishing they were made of chocolate and peanut butter (a popular treat for Ohioans).
We finally found the fortress at the top of the park. Originally built in the 1st Century A.D., it (of course) has been destroyed several times over the years. This is somewhat surprising because the location is the highest spot around and one could easily see the advancing enemy coming in by river. The current fortress has been turned largely into parkland, but also houses the Military Museum, an Entomology Museum and an Observatory. Hunger spoke louder than our desire to see these exhibits, so we plan to head back there tomorrow. As we strolled back through the park toward the tram, we realized that we have had yet another day of perfect weather. With the exception of Brasov, Romania, Eastern Europe has been a meteorological utopia.
It had been such a lovely day, and we were excited to experience our first real Serbian meal. After a recommendation from our Air B ‘n B host, we went to Orasac. Our stomachs growled on the short walk to the restaurant, so we were psyched when we spotted the sign. The man who greeted us warned that they were busy and it might take a while for the food. We decided to stick it out since we were already there and didn’t really have a back-up plan. In retrospect, we should have left when we had the chance. Annoyed that we didn’t speak Serbian, the waiter was brash and rude. We ordered “light domestic draft”, which is how the beer was described on the menu. No brand. No other option. We think it was Lav, but we aren’t completely sure. After being told the first 3 items we asked for were unavailable with a brusque “Ney,” we hastily ordered our meals. Willing to overlook the bad service, dirty tablecloth and crumbs at the bottom of our beer glasses, we finally drew the line. Phil cut into his chicken skewers and they were completely uncooked on the inside. Bright pink. Raw. After the experience we had thus far, we decided it wasn’t worth it to try to explain or argue. Instead we just showed it to the waiter and asked for the check. The message was clear and we soon left unsatisfied. We’ve had some really amazing meals in the last week, so I suppose we were due for a stinker.
Dinner aside, today was really wonderful. We have such a positive impression of Belgrade and we are excited to explore it further tomorrow. We are planning to explore the Military Museum, plus partake in a bike tour which sounds awesome. We’ll let you know how it goes!