Posts Tagged With: Belgrade

Goodbye Belgrade

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.

The sign confused us at first–it is way too similar to the “No Smoking” signs we are used to.

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.

I’m not sure Phil would even fit in this thing!

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!

–Brooke

A snafu with our tram ticket was cause for great concern. Ever since seeing the ticket checkers in Sofia, Phil is terrified of them!

When inflation was at its worst, Serbia had bills with a 50 billion dinar denomination! It is a Guinness World Record.

A final beer at ? Cafe. After arguments over its name, people now just refer to it as Question Mark Cafe.

Categories: Bars, City Visits, Diversions, Eastern Europe, Friends, Landmarks, Museums, Serbia, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Great times and full days in Serbia

Hello again from Belgrade! The Serbian capital continues to be a surprising gem of our trip. Particularly considering that we didn’t expect to even be in Belgrade as recently as two weeks ago. We keep harping on it, but the weather in Eastern Europe has been as close to perfect as you could ever want. In New Zealand and again in the Baltic states, we were a bit chilly and bundled up. Visiting Asia in August left us predictably sweaty and hot. But in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia? Perfection.

One of favorite hobbies in Belgrade has been spending time in the inexpensive outdoor cafes between visits to museums and self-guided walking tours. There are endless amounts of cute cafes with abundant outdoor seating where curt, hurried waiters bring you an ashtray long before they bring you a napkin. And you know that long, slow meals are the order of things when the hostess warns you before you sit down that “the restaurant is closing in about two hours” and questions whether or not that will be enough time.  Thanks, but we’re not expecting another dozen people to join us. We should be able to wrap up dinner in under 120 minutes. And no matter where we go, we are always only handed a single menu for both of us. Perhaps the union of menu printers is on a long-term strike. We’ve enjoyed coffee drinks, lemonades and ice cold Staropramens (not all at the same time) all over the city. Yesterday, Brooke finally was able to enjoy the hot fudge brownie she’s been seeking since Estonia. Although we’re a bit befuddled that clerks, waiters and cashiers repeatedly do not have any change on purchases. And this is when we’re paying with the equivalent of a $10 bill. We get exasperated looks and shrugs when they can’t cough up some small Dinar. Quite strange.

On thing we’ve really enjoyed is the fact that the city has an elaborate network of sensational parks including Kalemegdan and Aja Ciganlika which have something for everyone. Kalemegdan has provied us overlooks of the scenic confluence of Danube and Sava Rivers and more uses of the world confluences than I’ve encountered in my life. One park had Cable Water Skiing. That was a first for us. Cable Water Skiing! Ah, I see something new, novel and interesting every single day on this adventure.

We started our day with a trip to the Belgrade Military Museum inside Kalemegdan park. The museum has a stellar and massive collection of swords, knives, guns and uniforms spanning hundreds of years, but not much history…nor many exhibits in English. After getting burned a couple of times, we’ve learned a good rule of thumb is to always ask at the ticket booth how much of the museum is in English before forking over your cash. However, the museum improved with several rooms dedicated to WWI and WWII with good chunks in English. One highlight and notably eerie exhibit was the blood stained outfit that the Serbian King Alexander was wearing in 1934 when he was assassinated in France. Yowza. We also learned that Serbia is the first country we’ve visited in Eastern Europe who did not align themselves with Germany during WWII and, while quickly succumbing to occupation, can boast an active war time underground resistance. The unfortunate result was a brutal bombing by the Germans in 1941 and then the Allies a few years later. The massive museum provided some interesting highlight, but I would argue that it was a bit too large.

The highlight of our day was a four hour bike ride through a company called “I Bike Belgrade.” A two-wheel tour that took us over a flat, scenic easy course with a pair of exceptional guides. It was nice to be on bikes and the ride was almost exclusively on bike lanes,  away from traffic.  Judging by the looks our group received, I think biking is a somewhat rare affair in Belgrade. The ride took us along the river, over to New Belgrade and back through the parks and waterfront. New Belgrade, built during the 1960’s, reminded us that no communist construction of the 20th century is ever going to win any awards for beauty. This was our kind of tour! An interesting way to see parts of the city that we never would have stumbled across otherwise. Combine that with knowledgable, easy going guides who give pertinent, interesting information at every turn. We learned that bombings from the 1999 Nato campaign were announced and targeted in advance. We learned that several bombed out buildings from ten years ago were left that way as a tourist attraction. We learned that communist leader Tito wanted to build a whole new Belgrade, so he filled in swamp land in the 1960’s. Brooke and I are innately curious about our new surroundings (to learn as much as we can has been one of the primary points of this whole trip), so it is wonderful when we find local people who love to talk about their own home city and answer all of our questions. Brooke loved chatting up our guide and getting the history of Belgrade and his opinions on regional politics.

The perfect shot from our night tourThe same company who organized our bike tour also has a “Nightlife Academy” which comes highly recommended.  Unfortunately, we were exhausted and thought a 4 hour pub crawl just might kill us.  Instead, we took a leisurely walk home, stopping for drinks and then separately for dinner.  Without realizing it, I essentially ordered a plate full of meat, and it seems almost impossible to order a meal here which isn’t 90% meat, 9% onion and 1% other.  Don’t get me wrong – the five different samples of pork, steak, chicken, lamb and sausage was delicious. I think tomorrow we will prepare a home-cooked vegetarian meal at the apartment where we are staying.  That will be a refreshing change!

-Phil

Home of the Military Museum

From our bike tour: this office building/apartment in New Belgrade was a coveted building in the 1980’s, now it’s a bit of an unoccupied eye sore.

As mentioned above, the blood stained clothes of a slain King from the Military Museum

Our reward for a long bike ride- the complimentary beer that comes with our tour! Bonus: this is the 200th photo of us with beer on our RTW Trip!

Categories: Bars, Beer, Differences, Eastern Europe, Eating, Museums, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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

From Bulgaria to Serbia

This morning, we packed up our bags and left scenic Sofia just before sunrise. We took one last tram ride to the bus station where we prepared to trade in one Eastern European capital for another. We’re pumped to see Belgrade, Serbia and learn all about the former Yugoslavia republic. What do we know so far? Belgrade has a long history with several episodes of conflict that include three months of Nato bombing not so far back in 1999. Serbia is home to the top ranked tennis pro whose name I can never say or pronounce correctly. And also home to electric innovator Nicolai Tesla. To get here, we boarded a 7:30 coach bound for Nis, Serbia and then a quick change would take us onward to our next destination: Belgrade. Since the buses we’ve seen in Bulgaria and Romania have ranged widely in age and quality (and that’s being polite), we sighed in relief when our particular bus pulled into the station: Comfy, clean and modern. Nevertheless, a universal truth is that traveling a good seven hours by bus is rarely boring. Or routine. Or lacks a good story for our blog.

During the ride, we battled mightily (and lost) to keep our eyes open to enjoy the scenic countryside.  At the rare awake moment, we met Katarina – a native Serbian student who was just returning from a study program in Siberia. Katarina was full of insight and some solid general information about our next stop. Also an enthusiastic traveler, she’s part of a team that runs this great community website: Serbia Travelers Club.  We are already using it as a resource and it’s worth checking out.  We had a quick set of dual border checks that gave us two shiny new passport stamps as we exited Bulgaria and entered Serbia. It was when we landed in Nis that things got interesting. Initially we thought that we could stay on the bus to continue to Belgrade. It was only after everyone else exited that we realized we had to transfer our old ticket to a new one and get on a new bus. Our Serbian is jussst a bit rusty, but we managed to muddle through interactions with the ticket clerk to find out that our next bus that was scheduled to depart in ten minutes. As a bonus, without knowing it, we had lost an hour and experienced a time change at the border. Hmmm..it might be wise for us to look at a time-zone map in detail since throughout this trip we’ve never been quite sure when and where the time changes. That might eventually bite us in the rear.

The kicker at the Nis station was the bathroom. The three hour bus ride thus far left both of us with the need to use the restroom. No problem. But it is a small, busted up station that looks stuck in the 1950’s and the only facilities are pay toilets. This wasn’t too surprising, except the clerk at the pay toilet only accepts Serbian Dinars. Which we did’t have. And the bus was leaving in five minutes. And there was no toilet on the next bus. A glimmer of hope lay on the horizon where we spotted a currency exchange, With deft speed and a full bladder, Brooke set off to convert some leftover Bulgarian Leva to Dinar. Amazingly, the stern, unyielding change maven refused to accept the paper bills from the bordering country. While I wasn’t there personally to witness the exchange regarding the exchange, I’m told there was begging, pleading and a request for sympathy. At the last moment, Brooke found an American dollar stuffed somewhere in her wallet and the conversion bought us a pair of trips to the toilet. Quite a way to spend your first Serbian Dinar! Soon, the bus pulled out of the station and all was well. Needless to say, our brief time in Nis did not leave us with the most positive impression. But its all part of the joys of traveling.

Our travel reward and pay off awaited in Belgrade in the form of our next AirB’nB stay located right in the middle of town. Brooke did it again and found us a phenomenal place to stay. We have a full, private apartment to ourselves for the next four days with bedroom, bathroom, clothes washer, kitchen and living room. Even a welcome bottle of wine. It’s the nicest, roomiest accommodations we’ve had in quite a while. I know it sounds minor, but a place like this during a four month trip is rejuvenating, comfortable and does wonders for your state of mind. Plus, we have the greatest variety of cable television since…well…perhaps ever on this trip.

Our somewhat final European itinerary as planned at a Sofia cafe a few days back. Flexibility is a great thing.

We went for a short walk around the neighborhood to get some groceries, snacks and dinner for the evening. It is warm in Belgrade and the city is lined with small cars and pedestrians moving from place to place in a hurry. We were once again reminded that just because a cross walk signal says that you CAN cross the street, doesn’t always mean you should. Some European drivers have interesting interpretations of pedestrian rights and can be bullies. But we’re saving most of our Belgrade discovering for tomorrow. Today, we have passed an official resolution that we’re not going to do much of anything. We broke out some  Baileys (the official drink of relaxation and comfort) that we had picked up in Sofia and settled in. A nice dinner around the corner, some e-mails sent, some pre-research on this new country and then an early bedtime to catch up on some sleep. Kind of a non Day. How did I end it? By enjoying some New York Mets baseball shown through ESPN America where I watched R.A. Dickey punch out 13 to become the Mets first 20 game winner since 1991, and to top it off, it was their last home game of the season. Quite the taste of home. Awesome. Just awesome.

-Phil

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Eastern Europe, Hotels, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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