Posts Tagged With: Air B ‘n B

Belgrade, Serbia–A Wonderful Surprise!

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!

The light bulbs are being lit by the magnetic field created around the Tesla coil. Phil’s body is the conductor. Don’t get too close or you’ll get a shock!

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!

–Brooke

Wishing these Buckeyes were the sweet treats I love so much!

The fortress offers beautiful views of the Danube and the entire city of Belgrade.

 

Categories: City Visits, Diversions, Eastern Europe, Europe, Exploring, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Serbia, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Brief Run in Singapore

The 2012 Singapore Skyline!Greetings from Singapore! Brooke and I are only in this small nation for two days as we close out the Pacific/Asia leg of our RTW trip. Our initial impression of Singapore? This is the one place so far that has most reminded us of an American city. In fact, and to be oddly specific, its kinda like Chicago. Add in the tropical foliage and location near the equator and Singapore has reminded us of Tampa at times as well. English serves as the official and primary language (thanks to 140 years of British imperial rule), and the city has an udeniably western vibe emitting from familiar looking shopping malls, big name hotels and modern skyscrapers. In short, Singapore has also been our easiest stop in a while.

Singapore is unique in that it manages to be a few different things all at once: a relatively small island geographically, a relatively big city socially and a sovereign nation politically. All wrapped into one happy enchilada. The country is made up of a hodge podge of people represented by four ethnic populations: Chinese, Malay, Indian and, um, Other. Yeah, apparently, that last few percent just gets kinda grouped together. Like many other cities we’ve seen, the city itself is heavily populated, but not as densely jam packed or teeming with bodies. Singapore has worked to keep the city full of open spaces, manicured landscapes that include a world famous botanical garden and even a few cricket fields downtown. In fact, urban Singapore has managed to become one of the world’s biggest exporter of orchids. Who knew?

A Singapore Landmark - Raffles hotel goes way back to the 1800'sAnd how do you get such a lovely, nice, town? By making it gut-churningly expensive. In fact, to encourage a cleaner, less congested city, there are measures in place to make it prohibitively expensive to even own a car. And Brooke and I are relatively certain that Singapore’s national pastime is going to a mall. There were lots of malls. Tons of malls. Endless malls. Many of them on the high end of the spectrum. If I had really wanted to buy Brooke an Omega watch, I had about a dozen opportunities. Cost was a factor when we skipped out on a classic visitor stop: ordering a Singapore Sling from it’s birthplace at the long bar inside the historic Raffle Hotel. At $23 a sling, that one was out of our budget. But the most amazing example of a city that works to control it’s environment through cost measures? The casinos: If you’re a resident of a Singapore and want to visit one of the stunning, new casinos in town, you are required to fork over a hundred dollars just to enter the gaming floors! I’ve never heard of such a thing – essentially an admission price to a casino that only locals have to pay.

In true Kollineiser traveling style though, we’ve managed to keep our visit on the cheap. We dropped a few bucks to grab a set on an open-air double-decker tour bus. Slipped on some sunglasses, sat back and took a guided-tour for a few hours around town. These buses are becoming our preferred method of sight-seeing when we only have a short time to pack in information. The tours can be a little lacking in personality, but are certainly an easy going and quick way to get a crash course on a new town. We stumbled upon Din Tai Fung – a phenomenal, busy Dim Sum restaurant where a team of cooks create dumplings and pork buns right on the spot. This might be a western city, but you can see the influence of the neighboring Asian countries all around. Particularly in the majority of dining options. Last evening, we even took some time to go see a movie. Another little international difference: upon purchasing tickets for “The Campaign” at the box office, we found that we had assigned seats in the theater!

That is a crazy buildingIf there is one gleaming landmark worth calling out, it would be the newly built Marina Bay Sands Towers: three fifty-five story hotel buildings linked at the top by a massive cruise-ship looking Sands Sky Park. From every angle, it looks like the brainchild of a demented I.M. Pei prodigy, but it works. The city really has a sharp set of grand architecture scattered throughout. Clearly, thoughtful efforts have been made to preserve the past by repurposing beautiful old buildings and build intelligently for the future with such provisions as limiting skyscraper heights. Singapore looks at times like one giant playground. We know that’s probably not an accurate representation, but alas. The number of endless water parks that are open year round (since there is just one season around here) doesn’t exactly help that impression. And they too have a giant Ferris wheel downtown – we’re seeing them everywhere.

But one of the best things that we did in Singapore was to take some time to sleep in. Our quality Air B ‘n B stay and comfortable bed allowed us to stay in bed as long as we wanted. After running at a breakneck speed through Vietnam and Hong Kong, we now feel rested and ready for Copenhagen! Overall, we enjoyed our short stint in Singapore. And since we didn’t embark on a major shopping spree or happen into some serious money to blow, two days worked out to be a good amount of time in town. Onward!

One last note: we discovered a piece of boarding genius at the dazzling Singapore airport. Passengers only have to go through a security screening once they arrive at their departure gate. Each gate has its own little security. Brilliant! Are you taking notes on this, America? Also, not one other country has made us take our shoes off while going through security. Just throwing that out there.

-Phil

Enjoying delicious Dumplings and steamed rolls in Singapore!

One last opportunity to buy high end goods in Singapore. This was the hundreth Swarovski store we saw…this one at the airport.

On the clean, cheap and modern MRT (subway) we kept hearing anouncements and seeing signs to Alight. I’ve never done so much alighting in my life.

Categories: Casino, City Visits, Diversions, Flights, Louisville | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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