Balkan Adventure Stop 2: Belgrade

Belgrade Fast Facts:

  • Country: Serbia
  • Official language: Serbian
  • Currency: Serbian Dinar
  • Population: approx. 1.7 million
  • Famous for: Novak Djokovic, Rakija (very strong fruit brandy), ‘splavs’ (floating river nightclubs)
  • Fun fact: Belgrade’s name translates to “White City”
17c
A cute umbrella covered cafe in the heart of Belgrade

Day 4
We got up bright and early to make our journey from Budapest to Belgrade and were lucky to have very smooth and efficient border crossings (both out of Hungary and into Serbia). We arrived in Belgrade around 2pm and checked-in to our hotel, Belgrade City Hotel.

The rain that had followed us all day eased as we headed out to meet our local guide, Ivan, and start our driving/walking tour. As we drove, I was struck by how grey and grotty the city seemed (especially in comparison to beautiful Budapest), with its prevalence of Brutalist Communist-era architecture and graffiti epidemic. I also found it incredible how visible Serbia’s turbulent history remains to this day, particularly the damage from the 1999 NATO bombings.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_13c5

16
Visible wreckage remaining from the 1999 NATO bombings

We arrived at the outside of the Museum of Yugoslavia and Tito’s burial place which, again, was not the most picturesque venue, however Ivan was very entertaining and educational (if somewhat biased) and I learnt a lot about Serbian and Yugoslav history.

IMG_8382
Museum of Yugoslavia

Our next stop (after a terrifying drive through manic Belgrade traffic ft. steep hills and  impossibly narrow roads) was top of my Belgrade to-do list, the Church of Saint Sava. The outside was gorgeous and I was expecting an equally beautiful inside…

85AQm%xRRAKLHhndVNnChQ_thumb_1baf
The enormous Church of Saint Sava

… before learning that despite construction starting in 1935, the inside is not even close to being finished!

IMG_8397
The unfinished inside of the Church of Saint Sava

Fortunately though, the crypt below the Church satiated my desire for beauty – dripping in gold with stunning mosaics and chandeliers.

15d

15b

We then drove into the city centre and started the walking component of the tour. We walked to the Kalemegdan Fortress and explored there for a while, where we saw the ancient walls, lots of tanks and weaponry (including the cannon that ‘started’ WWI), the victor monument and views over the Sava and Danube rivers.

17a
Stambol gate to the Kalemegdan Fortress

IMG_8420

17b
View of the Danube and River Sava from the Kalemegdan Fortress

We walked back to the bus, said goodbye to Ivan and drove back to our hotel. After freshening up, we walked to an adorable little restaurant near our hotel called Zavičaj  for a group dinner.

IMG_8460

At the recommendation of our trip leader, Laura and I both ordered what was like a chicken schnitzel roll stuffed with bacon and cheese and a salad on the side. While perhaps not the healthiest, it was delicious and the value for money was unreal – we could have easily shared one and it was crazily cheap. The drinks were also fabulous value – my Somersby pear cider cost ~$2.50! Being the eve of my Birthday, our trip leader had organised for a piece of cake with candle to be brought out to me and had the whole restaurant sing happy birthday. I was highly embarrassed but also touched that she had gone to that effort. From there, we went to a cool hipster bar for drinks before heading home to bed.

Day 5 – My Birthday!
Woke up to lots of lovely Birthday messages 🙂

Went to the hotel’s restaurant for the buffet breakfast (which appropriately included cake!) Laura and I walked into the centre of the city which took only around 10 minutes from our hotel. We wandered through the city, visiting Republic Square, Student’s park, Prince Michael Street, the theatre and lots of fountains.

IMG_8494
Republic Square

We sat down on benches by the main drinking fountain, people watching, listening to some excellent buskers and then using the free wifi to FaceTime Mum. After exploring the city a little more we walked to the Bohemian Skadarlija area of the city for lunch.

Hilariously and by total coincidence, we chose the sister restaurant to the one we had dined at the night before which happened to have an identical menu! Still, knowing what great value it was, we weren’t deterred and shared the grilled chicken shish kebabs and a Serbian burger (which turned out to be a beef patty). For dessert we shared some delicious baklava.

17d
Cheap food = happy campers

Very full, we wandered back to the hotel and chilled out there for a couple of hours (napping for Laura, journalling for me). After a few games of Head’s Up, we organised to go to dinner at a highly rated Opera theatre themed restaurant called Little Bay. We invited a few others (which then turned into half the group!) and made our way there.

The restaurant was very accommodating and obligingly made a ‘super table’ for us so we could all sit together. The food was delicious – Laura and I shared two dishes; slow cooked beef cheeks with celeriac puree, glazed carrots and caramelised onions, and chicken and mushroom filo triangles. For dessert Laura had a white chocolate cheesecake with lemon ice-cream and berries and I had a slice of chocolate ganache tart with orange mousse and vanilla ice-cream.

We then walked back to our hotel (splitting ways with some of the group who went out clubbing) and went to bed.

18b
My birthday dinner at the opera-themed Little Bay Restaurant, Belgrade
fullsizeoutput_fb1.jpeg
My delicious dessert

Overall, Belgrade was a big surprise and a reminder of how important it is to not judge a book (or city) by its cover. While it looks like a grungy, gritty city from afar, if you look a little closer you find pockets of beauty, like the cute little umbrella street, hanging flower baskets and some lovely classical buildings. The locals were friendly and welcoming and many seemed delighted to have tourists who were interested in their country’s history. Finally, it is an incredibly affordable travel destination and the food was outstanding – how I wish you could get meals of that quality for that price back home!

Top 5 Things to Do in Belgrade

  1. Visit the Church of Saint Sava (including the crypt)
  2. Explore Kalemegdan Fortress at sunset for lovely views
  3. People watch on Prince Michael Street
  4. EAT – good, affordable food is everywhere, but the Skadarlija district is particularly renowned
  5. Party on the ‘splavs’, floating nightclubs, lining the river. We didn’t as it was a Monday and Tuesday night while we were there and we were still a bit jetlagged, but they look amazing.
floating-nightclub-belgrade-640x426
Image: FamousHostels.com

 

Enter your comment here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s