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krisek Belgrade - A travel report by Krys
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Belgrade,  Serbia - flag Serbia
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krisek's travel reports

Belgrade. On the rise but with much to sort out.

  6 votes
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The capital of Serbia still shows its scars from the 1999 NATO bombing quite ostentatiously, sadly. The city has a great potential to become one of the most interesting capitals in Europe. Nightlife is getting there already, but the city needs a facelift.

Sveti Sava Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Sveti Sava Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Technically, Serbia is the 133rd country that I am visiting. I boarded the plane just as Brazil lost their match with Holland. When I landed in Belgrade, Ghana was winning with Uruguay 1:0.

At the immigration desk at the airport, I put the accuracy of the information on the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Poland website to test. And instead of my passport, of which I held two with me, I presented my ID card. Already in the queue, I spotted that the officer must have been new, as she took longer than her colleague next to her. She was a bit unsure what to do and tried to hide it. Eventually, she consulted her colleague, and there was a lot of nodding. So, it seemed that the Poles did not need to carry a passport when travelling to Serbia. The information at the website was correct.

The taxi from the airport was 2,000 dinars (€18). The trip was taking very long for two reasons: a/ there were roadworks on the motorway leading from the airport, and b/ my taxi driver was not a very clever driver at all, took it slow (other cars kept flashing their headlights!) and even lost the way missing an exit.

I arrived at the hotel three minutes before full time of the Ghana v Uruguay match. And then watched to the end in horror as Ghana squandered three chances to score in extra time, as one Uruguayan got a red card for defending at the goal with his hand (this goal should have been allowed), then Ghana missing the penalty for it, and finally losing in the penalty round. Just in case someone did not know - life is not fair! So unfair for the Africans especially.

I went to see the giant church of Sveti Sava, apparently the largest Greek Orthodox church in the world. And I was almost disappointed. It was practically in the middle of a car park and a building site. There was work going on inside the church and building material was dumped just outside the temple. Not a pretty picture at all! Then, I rolled myself towards the fortress. Now, this one I really liked.

Favourite spots:
One of the gates to the fortress.
One of the gates to the fortress.
The large, and very interesting, fortress was definitely my favourite place in Belgrade. There were at least three reasons. First: its ramparts, gates and towers, some dating back to the early 15th century, were well preserved and it was possible to walk around and on them freely. Second: the views from the ramparts towards the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers were spectacular. Third: there was an open-air military museum featuring shooting machinery spanning at least a couple of hundred years. Not my favourite kind of museum, in fact, but an interesting and, I might say, typical for Serbia display of their military ambitions. But there was also a nice leafy park and a restaurant overlooking the rivers.

What's really great:
One of the drinking water fountains in the centre.
One of the drinking water fountains in the centre.
I really liked the fact that drinking water fountains could be found around the older part of the capital. Some of them grand and spectacular. So, one could just fill their water bottle and brave the summer heatwave without breaking the bank. Wouldn't it be great if this was a standard quality of large cities around the globe, or at least in Europe?

One thing I did not like about Belgrade was the negligence of the older buildings or structures, which crumbled or semi-crumbled and were just left standing in the middle of the city, amongst the glamourous new glass and steel buildings. I understood that the Serbs wanted to show off how the city was damaged by the NATO forces, who bombed a few important structures (the Ministry of Defence included) in 1999 when Serbia tried to eliminate Albanians from Kosovo by killing them. But it has been 11 years... I mean all other buildings that have been left to crumble for no apparent reason. This did not make sense to me.

Entry to the military museum within the fortress compounds.
Entry to the military museum within the fortress compounds.
Belgrade was not terribly endowed with a great deal of spectacular sights, but it had a few good spots. The Kalemegdan fortress, the Sveti Sava cathedral, the Kula Nebojša tower were pretty awesome. Belgrade had also some other nice churches, eg: the Alexander Nevsky, the Vaznesenjska, the Ružica, the Saborna Crkva, and the St Mark's. Some of them rather special, too. Particularly the St Mark's. The older and Art Nouveau (secessionist) parliamentary buildings were interesting, too. But when I visited some of them were covered in scaffolding. At least it was a good sign that the capital was giving itself a much needed facelift.

Those, who liked museums, had a good collection to check, about ten or eleven of them, the National and the Ethnographic ones had the best reputation, the very helpful and well informed Tourist Information Office assured me.

Room #614 at the Hotel Excelsior.
Room #614 at the Hotel Excelsior.
The super tiny room (#614) at the Hotel Excelsior, about 60 square feet, with a narrow single bed, no table, no chair but a suspended minute TV set and a petit night stand with lamp was €33. If one counted euros per square foot, this was a rip-off, but they had in fact put a warning at the booking that the room was going to be very small. There was a balcony but I could not open the door because the bed was blocking it. At the other end of the 'space' was the mega clean bathroom. It was modern and had two types of shower heads; a regular one and a tropical rain one. Towels were brightly white and spotless. The room had no air conditioning, so it got rather stuffy due to its size.

The price included full American breakfast minus pancakes plus a range of cereals. Coffee was good, but the selection of fruit was mediocre.

The restaurant featured professional and English speaking staff, but no food available after 10pm.

The Insomnia Lounge & Bar, the outside terrace.
The Insomnia Lounge & Bar, the outside terrace.
Insomnia lounge and bar, which was open until wee hours of the morning, as the name suggested, was an overpriced place for attractive people and definitely a spot to be seen at. Summertime was best. First, the large windows were out and it seemed that the lounge had no walls. Second, people wore less exposing their better parts. Ladies could get away with strapless mini dresses, and guys flexed their biceps in short sleeve shirts. How those dresses stayed on (or a special glue?) and how those short sleeves could stretch this much without being torn was a mystery. Surely Insomnia was not a venue for shy people. One guy liked a couple of very beautiful girls so much that he carried an erection for an hour. He wasn't hiding it at all. He was even adjusting himself every now and again. It looked like it was just a normal thing.

That street, Strahinjića Bana, had other very nice, Bohemian, trendy, stylish bars and clubs.

Plato Bar - tables on the pedestrianised boulevard.
Plato Bar - tables on the pedestrianised boulevard.
The main drag of Serbia's capital city Knez Mihailova pedestrianised boulevard was the place to hang out. Many people did, most of whom were the locals. In the middle of the alley, prasols stood sheltering armchairs, tables and music playing speakers from the harsh sun and eventual shower. When sunrays managed to warm up the Belgrade air to some 33C, I hid myself at one of those spots. It was called Plato. I had a can of Coke featuring the vuvuzelas, and a small bottle of Jelen pivo, Serbian lager. And I studied my map. It was very atmospheric there. The beer was cold and the service was very professional. The smart waiters spoke English and were attentive. It was also a great place to watch people.

Another great spot to watch people was Bar Onza at the fountains near the Tourist Information Office, right at the beginning of the pedestrianised avenue. It had free wifi, a nice bar in the sun, funky 1950s style interior, tables with parasols, and the most handsome and professional staff.

The Potuyuci Glumac restaurant at the Bohemian Quarter.
The Potuyuci Glumac restaurant at the Bohemian Quarter.
Putuyuci Glumac at the Bohemian Quarter lured me with its grand tables and rustic look, which promised a real traditional dining with quality at its centre. There were a good number of people dining there, mostly Serbs but also Russians and a few travellers. So, it seemed promising to me. I opted for a local dish. It was a flat burger called pljastnica, and it came with chips, so not so local. The dish, unfortunately, was not very nice at all. It was over salted and terribly lardy. The waiter convinced me to order a version of pljastnica with cheese and bacon, and I think this was my mistake. I was proud with myself that I was trying a local dish, but my taste buds were crying 'murder!'. Well, I had to sweeten myself with some ice-cream (frozen lard, I know!), which was much better, shame about the awful strawberry, I think, syrup, which I did not order, but came on top. Fortunately, I could wash everything down with a bottle of chilled Lav lager.

Other recommendations:
The fortress in Novi Sad.
The fortress in Novi Sad.
As Belgrade did not appear to be boasting many interesting sights, I would recommend popping into the Tourist Information Office right at the beginning of the pedestrianised zone. Staff there was very helpful, spoke English, had free full colour maps, and could recommend places to eat, drink, party and listen to live music.

Yet, if one exhausted all of Belgrade attractions and wanted more, there was this great little place called Novi Sad, about an hour drive north from the capital. There was a relatively good motorway and frequent coach service. I did that. First, I took the train for 288 dinars (€2.76). Unless one is addicted to long, excruciatingly slow train journeys in dirty carriages, I would not recommend the 2h (theoretically) long trip. There was no air conditioning, and the temperature exceeded 45C within minutes. The train was making 25 km/h on average, and made long stops on stations. I returned to Belgrade by coach for 605 dinars (€5.75), quick and comfortable.

Published on Wednesday July 28th, 2010

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Wed, Aug 18 2010 - 04:54 AM rating by eirekay

Up to your usual high standards! Terrific report but such a teeny tiny room? The fortress looks amazing!

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