Sadly, our time in Belgrade has come to a close. Tomorrow morning we board a north-bound train for Budapest, Hungry and leave Serbia behind. Today was filled mainly with strolling through the city, taking in some last sights, and reflecting on our time in this region of the world. Though we enjoyed previous Eastern European cities, we think that Belgrade is a city we would eagerly visit again. In fact, we believe this would make a wonderful destination with a group of friends, and we are sure our crew could have an amazing time spending a week here together.
After having a delicious coffee at one of the numerous street cafes this morning, we found ourselves walking toward the riverfront. We spotted an old building which looked as though some event was happening inside. Upon closer inspection, we discovered it was an art museum. Kind of. This grand building originally housed the Belgrade Shareholder’s Society. It hasn’t exactly been preserved, but enough detailed remnants of its architecture remain which makes imagining its original beauty fairly easy. Currently, “Good Life” a modern art exhibition is featured within the myriad of rooms. The entrance fee was nominal, so we walked through the exhibits, realizing for the umpteenth time that we are not fans of this type of existential modern art. I try to appreciate what lies before me, but I find I’m often left scratching my head and saying, “Huh?” Like the photographs of gold fillings which the artist bought at an online auction. Or the room with paper pigs hanging from the ceiling. This was way over my head. It didn’t take long for us to give each other the high sign and head for the door.
We continued wandering and refocused on one of our priorities for the day–finding the perfect souvenir for our time in Belgrade. We walked among stands which sell the traditional wares feeling completely uninspired. It is important for us to find souvenirs that closely link with our experience in a city. We want mementos, not just chatchkis to place on a shelf. So, we thought about what would really speak to our time here. As strange as it sounds, we settled on an ash tray! We don’t smoke, nor do any of our friends, but smoking is everywhere here. The first thing you get at a restaurant is not water or a menu or even a “hello”, it’s an ashtray. Businesses don’t just have “No Smoking” signs, they also have “Smoking” signs which we found quite confusing early on. In fact, cafes often sell cigarettes to their patrons who alternate eating their croissant with a puff of their cigarette. For all of these reasons, an ashtray seemed like the perfect memento.
Laughing at our purchase we continued walking. One aspect of Belgrade which has consistently entertained us is the amount of crazy small and ridiculously old cars which still cruise the streets. I didn’t even know they still made the Yugo, but they are everywhere here! And they are tiny. We realize that Europeans drive small cars, especially when compared to Americans, but these are some of the smallest we’ve seen. And really, it is the age that keeps surprising us. Some of these must be 30 years old. How they are not rusted out and falling apart is completely beyond us. Phil thought these relics would be a great subject for a photo journalism project.
After saying our farewells to Belgrade, it was time to head back to the apartment for the moment we have been waiting for since we arrived: Sunday Football on ESPN America. When we learned we would be able to watch live American professional football, we were ecstatic. Although ESPN does not broadcast NFL games on Sundays in the U.S., they must have some agreement with Fox to show games abroad. Our excitement in anticipation of watching football and eating a home cooked meal has been brimming all week. After the requisite 2 hours of pre-game coverage, we watched the San Francisco 49ers embarrass the New York Jets by beating them 34-0. At half-time of the game we went to the grocery store to be met with great disappointment–it was closed. Closed? It was only 8:15 pm, but we did not dismay. We walked to another grocery down the street and it had closed at 3pm today! Sometimes we forget that we aren’t in New York and stores close early, especially on Sundays. Somewhat disappointed, we settled for a couple of sandwiches. Seeing the score of the game when we arrived home immediately soothed our sadness. We are now watching one of the late games–the Saints vs. the Packers, and if we can stay up until 2:30am, we can even catch the Sunday night game.
Late night football is likely not in the cards for me since we will be leaving for the train station at 6am. We have been so surprised by Belgrade and would encourage travelers to include this as a “must” during any trip to Eastern Europe. Tomorrow we head to Budapest, Hungary, the leg of the trip I have been most looking forward to because we will be meeting up with two of our closest friends, Gina and Tom. We haven’t seen a familiar face (besides one another) in about 2 months and the thought of being with close friends is almost overwhelming. I can’t wait!