Ultimate Adventures: What Happens in Belgrade…
Which of the following is not true of Belgrade?
a) A mammoth was discovered under the main shopping Boulevard of Belgrade.
b) Donating blood is very popular in highschools because kids who do get a full two days off.
c) Wives used to lose their husbands for days in the “Bermuda Triangle,” three main taverns which formed a triangle. In a similar vein, traditional taverns always have two exits so you can slip out if the wife comes looking.
d) Pizza is served with ketchup.
e) Traditionally, rich donate their houses to the poor when they die.
f) Kiev had the same urban designer, and both cities have similar layouts.
g) You can rock climb on the walls of a Medieval fortress.
h)All of the above are true
As you’ve probably already guessed, the answer is H. In Serbia, anything is possible. It was my first time visiting a city that had been a war zone within my memory, yet the reminders of it are few and far between. Instead, my few short days that I spent here were filled with exploration and fun and adventuring and learning, far beyond what I imagine the typical tourist experience to be. As usual, this was thanks to the locals I met who gave me so much insight into their lifestyles and their city.
My first introduction into the Serbian way of life was, surprisingly, through my hostel. Hostel Zetska 5 is probably the best hostel that I’ve ever stayed in–and I’ve stayed in way too many! Part of it was probably the cleanliness, as it just opened a month ago and everything is brand spankin’ new. Part of it was the location, as it is situated on a quiet street yet just a ten second walk from the main Bohemian street of Skadarlija. Mostly, however, my stay there was defined by the family that runs the hostel. Snaezan, along with her husband, son, and daughter, have created an environment in which travelers feel more like they are in a home than an impersonal hostel. During my three day stay there, I came to think of them as my Serbian family. I had typical lunches with homemade Serbian food, went grocery shopping with 11 year old Bratsa, played darts, watched footy, went on ice cream excursions, got taught how to make instant coffee “the right way,” learned that vegetarianism in Serbia doesn’t exist, and so much more. Hostel Zetska 5 is so much more than a place to crash for the night, it’s a crash course in Serbia in Serbian culture, food, and traditions. Thanks to Student Universe for helping me find such a fantastic place!
My stay in Serbia was further enriched by my day spent with Jelena on a Viator Tour. It started out as tours do, with lots of beautiful architecture, interesting history, and scenic lookouts. Unfortunately, photography was banned in many of the most spectacular places; google Ruzica military chapel for photos of chandeliers made of bullets and swords, and google St Petka chapel for images of the interior, which is covered in the most intricate mosaics I have ever seen. For lunch we chose to go to a Serbian tavern, described by some to be to Serbs what squares were to the ancient Greeks. No surprise then, that lunch was a lively affair. There were small stools and old photographs and lots of Serbian chitchat and delicious delicious food (for videos check out Triptrotting TV). The best though, was yet to come. Jelena and I had had such a good time that she agreed to meet me again that afternoon, where we continued with the tour part 2. We strolled along the waterfront and up cobblestone streets in the old Hapsburg district, checked out the beach, tried Turkish coffee, and rode around in double-decker busses happy as school kids on vacation in London. By this time I had a fair grasp of both the geography and the history of the city, having criss-crossed it and learned about it on an intense all day one-on-one tour.
Yet somehow I feel like I learned even more about Serbia that night, on an unofficial tour with Jelena and her boyfriend Milan. They took me to a cafe hidden in the garden of the basement of an unmarked building, somewhere that I never would have found on my own but that I fell in love with immediately. It’s a cafe with great coffee, and an even better concept–they fill the walls with decorations and artifacts that travellers have brought them from all around the world. Good luck finding it though, those who know it love it, and hide it from the hordes of gawking tourists. I was further spoiled by them taking me to a Kafana (the typical tavern/coffeehouse again), one which was so typical that the owner still ives in the other half. When we got there, we knocked on his door and he emerged from watching TV long enough to grab us drinks from his fridge. Quite cool, especially considering that this kaffana is in the heart of the tourist district yet no one knows about it, or finds it. If you’re ever in Belgrade, shoot me an email and I’ll send you directions! Or just book a tour with Jelena or Viator, because you seriously will have one of the best days you can imagine. Jelena, (and Milan) thanks so much for such an incredible and informative experience.
Belgrade is not a city that is immediately likeable–it’s not visually striking, many buildings of historic interest were destroyed, and there’s traffic and pollution everywhere. Yet it’s a city that will suck you in, a city to live in and to experience rather than to look at. Do your best to do as the locals do. Grab an ice cream, bask in the park, check out the buskers, hang out in a kaffana. Serbians are wild and wonderful people, and if you are ready to step a little bit out of your comfort zone and enjoy life the Serbian way, you’ll be amazed at how much the city has to offer.
Posted on September 2, 2011, in TTTV, Ultimate Triptrotter and tagged Belgrade, Eastern Europe, Serbia, summer vacation, triptrotting, Ultimate Adventures, Ultimate Triptrotter, Yolanda. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.