At times I have to pinch myself to remind myself of what we are doing and arriving in Belgrade was one of those moments. Hard to believe that we have cycled the whole way from London to here!
Belgrade or Beograd as it’s known here (which means white city, because of the white stones used to build the fortress overlooking the city) was 80% bombed in World War 2 and then rebuilt by the Communists; so it’s everything we expected in terms of dull grey graffiti-scrawled walls… in a grubby Camden Town sort of way with a dose of Orwell’s 1984 thrown in…and we like it. Mind you it can very difficult to navigate when following a map written in the Latin alphabet when a lot of the street signs are written in Cyrillic!
Our accommodation is in the Kensington equivalent of the city – which is still full of old grey communist buildings, but there is a great buzz in local bars and restaurants (“kafanas”), which are plentiful.
Apparently tourism is still pretty new here and it’s only in the last couple of years that they have seen many tourists, so it’s an interesting time for us to visit.
As is normal for us we did the walking tour of the city on our first morning, which was very good and interesting…but got a bit uncomfortable when Natalia, our guide, talked about the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo war and said “everything was a target for NATO including schools, hospitals and churches”. Obviously that’s what they have been told and reading about it on Wikipedia this view is understandable as Yogoslavia saw NATO intervention as a war of aggression as it wasn’t sanctioned by the United Nations. But it still a little uncomfortable to hear – especially after seeing the damage inflicted by the Serbs in Croatia, albeit much earlier in the 90s.
We also learned that the kafana that we had dinner in the previous night was the oldest in the Bohemian district. Apparently Tito the Communisit leader of the former Yugoslavia had entertained Tina Turner there! That might explain why it looked like the most popular place on the street….and it’s was nice to hear that although lots of tourists visit this area, it’s also where locals hang out.
The highlight of the tour for me was the Fortress, which is set in a huge park overlooking the town, with great views over the rivers Sava and Danube, which meet here.
And it’s literally a few minutes from our accommodation so we went back to visit it again on our second day.
We also indulged in the local fare, which although is tasty, I would not be recommended if you are on a diet OR a vegetarian! The Serbs love their meat and portions are HUGE as you can see from the size of this burger…I felt like I was in my own TV series of Man v Food…..and I ate most of it!
Bakery specialities include burek filled with potato or mushroom, which are different to the one I had in Croatia and very greasy; tasty to start, but you end of with a mouthful of grease at the end of it. And pastries of course were very good!
But we agreed that both eating experiences were a case of “tasty at the time, but I wouldn’t do it again”.
We hummed and haaed about whether to stay in Belgrade for a couple more nights – we could do with a bit of rest. As we got the touristy thing out of the way in our first day or so, it meant that if we booked a couple extra nights we could relax without ‘fear’ of missing out on anything – so that’s what we decided to do.
Luckily we managed to find new accommodation just around the corner from our first place. We had a couple of hours spare between moving accommodation, so we found a cafe to while away the time on Strahinjica Banca aka Silicon Valley because of the ladies with cosmetic surgery who hang out here! 2 guys beside us started up a conversation asking about our bikes and our travels, which turned into a really nice hour. They were father and son, Nikola and Slavonski Djokovic (not related to the famous Djokovic who apparently also lives in the area!) who run a family bakery nearby and live on the street. They were out for a coffee to celebrate Nikola’s 27th birthday. As they were leaving after our “photo session”, they said “your coffees have been paid for”. Amazing spontaneous generosity from complete strangers. How nice was that?!
Not that we completely took the time off as we used it to visit the Turkish Airlines office in the city centre and book our flights to India for the end of November. We now have a hard stop to aim for and our exit out of Europe to the sub-continent. Not sure it’s sunk in quite yet, but as we approach Turkey I’m sure we’ll get a bit more excited/nervous.
All in all though we have really enjoyed Belgrade and would recommend it as a place to visit if you fancy somewhere different. Lots to see and do whatever your taste – and plenty of eating, drinking and clubbing options.
Back on the road tomorrow heading towards Romania, which we reckon should take us a few days to get to the border. It will all get a bit crazier from here on we reckon….