Another castle, another Eastern European capital
I might not be doing justice to Serbia’s capital here, by this stage suffering from a severe case of Eastern European Capital Fatigue, but I guess in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have spent 75 percent of the time I was in Belgrade at Zara. The third ‘B’ capital on the banks of the winding Danube river, where I learned that the word confluence is not in fact a dietary issue, is actually a vibrant place with darned good Christmas decorations, if you’re around that time of year. Pack your layers, though: it may not be Siberia, but the temperatures sometimes seem one and the same.
Knez Mihailova Street: This is the main pedestrian and shopping part of Belgrade, full of cobblestones, plenty of warm, inviting stores and some excellent Christmas decorations (not year-round, obviously). There’s a really good Zara, too. Not that I spent a single minute there when I could’ve been around things with much more historical significance.
Belgrade Fortress: Another hilltop castle (!), Belgrade’s fortress is actually a sprawling suburb almost, from where you can lay back and take in the city and surrounding river (on a warm day). From here you can see where the Sava and Danube rivers meet, or the confluence if you will, and the historic bridges that connect the two sides of the city. The ruins themselves are more or less what you’re going to get in most other European centres, but if you can still feel your feet it’s definitely worth an explore. Besides, afterwards Zara will not provide a nice warm haven for you not to enter and waste precious sightseeing time on.
Bohemian Quarter: A well-preserved hipster part of town with all of the trendy cafes and drinking spots you’d expect from a once ghetto, now hotspot, that are now the heart of most European cities. There’s cafes covered in plants and the likes, just to get your hipster juices flowing.
Nikola Tesla Museum: I didn’t go, because I was too busy spending money I didn’t have at Zara in some grim attempt at rejoining the real world, but I’ve heard great things.
Belgrade Walking Tours: And if you can’t be arsed doing the above all on your lonesome, join up with these merry fellows and have it all planned and explained for you. It’s a great way to see the Republic Square, the National Theatre and National Museum, Bohemian Quarter, the oldest part of the city – including the oldest residential house – the city’s only mosque, confer with the city’s symbol Victor, learn what the word ‘confluence’ actually means, and finally get a good jaunt around the fortress. The best part? Halfway through, in the middle of the street, your guide will dole out shots of homemade honey rakia. And if that’s not reason enough to tip your entire week’s budget, I don’t know what is.
Couchsurf: The community here is large, and there’s plenty of locals or expats who will invite you in. I stayed with the affable Daniel, a friendly Aussie who’s a bit of a couchsurfing stalwart.
To be honest, in Serbia I didn’t even try. By this stage in the trip I was done scouting out the cool places where I was set to get the best bang for my buck and delicious home-cooked treats, and basically just fell into the first restaurant I saw when I heard my stomach rumble. The Ćevapi here is very good, though, as is the Serbian beans and all things stuffed (just food items, you sicko: peppers, cabbage leaves, vine leaves…). If you fancy a nice meal, the Jump Inn Hotel does a good selection of western items (their salmon is to dieeeee for) for a good price.
The refugee situation: Those masses of people hanging around the cheap eateries, or pulling layers of clothing around them as they settle in on a side street for the night – most of them are not homeless Serbians. A lot are refugees, from Syria, Yemen, Lebanon etc, all attempting to chart a route from their war-torn country, to the United Kingdom. Of course, there’s nothing to worry about, it just pays to be wary and, more importantly, to be compassionate.