During our one month stay in Serbia we visited Belgrade, or Beograd as the locals call it, checking out the touristy vibe of the central area and the ancient fortress that looks over the confluence of the Danube and Sava. Compared to many of the other European cities we have visited, I found it had less to impress. But there’s a very good reason for that. Beograd has been razed to the ground due to hundreds of years of having conquerers pass through on their way to “greatness”. Belgrade has been described as a “grey city” because it lacks many of the architectural marvels that exist in most other major cities. But when you factor in how recently it was (possibly unethically) bombed (twenty years ago) and before then, during World War II, it’s impressive that anything still stands.
On our way from Novi Banovci to Beograd we saw many abandoned or run down buildings, we caught outdated and cramped public transport and we noticed a population that have not been cared for. It’s hard to skip the struggle that is prevalent in Serbia.
We did stumble across young people that were living, what appeared to be a more cheerful life, than their older compatriots: drinking and dining in hip, stylish, smoke-filled cafes and restaurants. But those were small pockets compared to most other areas we saw. I’m not sure how to put my finger on it, but the Serbian life appears to be a struggle.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of helpful and friendly people that a tourist will encounter as they fumble with “Hvala” (thank-you) and “Dubro Jutro” (good morning). But the general outlook is bleak. People I bumped into had stories of fleeing Croatia for being persecuted, due to the dreaded disease Nationalism. And yet, ironically, none have stories about the persecutions of Albanians from Serbia due to Serbia’s own Nationalism. This is another symptom of nationalism, denying the wrong-doing of a nation and writing it out of history books.
Many blogs I have read about Beograd claim it has an amazing party life, and I’m sure it does. But as a travelling family, who have been on the road for ten months, I didn’t see the partying side of Beograd. What I did see were parents working two jobs to pay the bills, retirees who had rotting and toothless smiles because there isn’t adequate health care, refugees who had escaped Croatia and, not to be racist, but a country that significantly lacks ethnic diversity.
For this reason, I am glad that we stayed a month in the outskirts of Beograd, outside of the tourist zones, where we could familiarise ourselves with locals and with the lush natural beauty that Serbia has to offer. But getting back to Belgrade!
Our highlights in Beograd were not so much about the buildings, the squares, the fountains or the fortress. It was the people we were with as we explored the highlights of Beograd.
Our dear Australian friend from Novi Sad took the two hour bus to come show us around. He took us to places that he knew we would appreciate. We wondered down the cobble stone pedestrian street Knez Mihailova Street which is full of shoppers and tourists. We were warned about pick pockets here but the area felt very safe to wander through.
There were many alluring cafes, restaurants and book shops as well as street art to admire and buskers to entertain. This street is probably the prettiest central street we came across in Beograd. It should definitely be on your must-see list and you can find it in the historic centre.
The National Museum and National Theatre are just off Republic Square (where the big horse is) and was under restoration when we were visiting.They definitely looked impressive in the upgraded state.
One thing I love about eating out in Serbia, is that they have a great variety of layered desserts and they have really nice bakeries. Beograd’s Hleb and Klife is one such bakery that we stopped at when we had family visiting with us.
Each of us calculates how much weight we can handle for our next adventure and sometimes have to drop items that cross the airline’s weight limit. Therefore, books a rarity for us and usually we enjoy them in a bookstore or in an Airbnb if available. But sometimes, we pick a physical book and carry it with us. This is what happened in Beograd.
Although the Serbian bookshops mainly have books in the Cyrillic or Latin alphabet, they also had English books. This was a bonus for our kids who picked up some interesting reads that they didn’t want to read on Kindle. Our favourite had a cafe upstairs where we could escape the summer heat outside.
A settlement has existed on the site of this fortress for about 2000 years. The surviving fortress is a blend of all the different kingdoms that conquered the area and inhabited the city that lay within the fortress walls. The fortress itself is very grand and picturesque.
It can be seen from the other side of the river when you are in Novi Beograd dining on one of the restaurant pontoons. And from the fortress is the tranquil view of the confluence of the Danube River meeting the Sava River.
There are lots of green areas for picnicking and escaping the summer heat under the shade of some pretty trees. This was definitely the highlight of our visit to Beograd.