Recent Entries

August 19, 2005


Thursday, August 18 to Friday, August 19, 2005

Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro:

I'd never been as clueless about a destination I visited on this trip as I was entering the capital of Serbia. Arriving at 10 PM on a late train from Sofia, I had no idea what Belgrade would look like, what the people were like, what the culture was like. Was it economically depressed or thriving? Did it bear signs of the war or not? Was there anti-American sentiment related to the NATO airstrikes? What was the political climate like? With only some embarassingly vague recollections of what I'd read about the Balkans, Yugoslavia and the war in the region, I felt slightly unprepared for my visit. Yes, I read a few pages in my Lonely Planet: Europe on a Shoestring book, but there wasn't much there and the coverage was sketchy at best. I didn't go out of my way at the time to try to learn any more. Increasingly tired after coming through six European countries in three weeks, I had basically decided to treat Belgrade as a quick transit point on the way from Bulgaria over to Croatia.

I was pleasantly surprised, however. Large, energetic and modern, its streets pulsating with social and sharply-dressed crowds of shoppers and cafe-goers, Belgrade felt distinctly more Western than Eastern and easy to adapt to. Insomniacs, coffee-addicts and clubbers will not be disappointed. Drinking coffee and shopping at all hours of the night seem to be national pastimes. Cafes stay open very late and a number of barges on the Danube have been converted into night clubs. The pedestrian streets around the central Republic Square are just as busy at midnight as they are at noon, if not moreso and the city is bathed in artificial light from countless billboards, signs and streetlamps.

After arriving in Belgrade at 10 PM on an eleven hour train from Sofia, I checked in at the centrally-located Moscow Hotel, which was fairly luxurious for about $36 per night ( Then I walked through Republic Square and watched crowds ogle $400 shoes and $900 handbags in shop windows. It seemed that many people spent almost all of their disposable income (and then some) in an effort to look like they have unlimited disposable income.

I had dinner at a shizoid establishment called "Plato" (pronounced "Plarto"). A bar/restaurant/bookstore/internet cafe, it also hosts live entertainers at night. While I ate, I watched a Vegas lounge-style show that featured numerous Italian and American pop songs destroyed in many imaginative ways. I quickly got the impression that Belgraders had an infatuation of sorts with Italy, particularly the food and clothing. If my experience was anything to go by, however, they should stay clear away from the music.

I spent the next day walking through the city, seeing the park overlooking the river and the massive old citadel that dates back to the 1200s. I also saw the largest Orthodox church in the world, which was only recently completed after some 90 years of construction. I did not visit any of Belgrade's museums, though I understand it has some that are very worthwhile; the city has a 2,300 year history, having been destroyed and rebuilt approximately 40 times in that period. I had no desire to visit the Military Museum, however. I didn't feel any pressing need to pay money to see the proudly-featured remains of a U.S. stealth bomber that was shot down in 1995. (I didn't stay long enough to get a sense of how Belgraders feel about the U.S. now. A very surprising number of people speak excellent English, however, and my hotel clerk seemed flattered if slightly incredulous to hear that I was stopping in Belgrade for more than the one or two hours it would take me to catch a connection to someplace else. In general, everybody was friendly and nobody asked me where I was from.)

There was only one thing I didn't like about my time in Belgrade: I noticed three or four people, a couple of them children, wearing T-shirts that read, in large bold print:

100% Srpski (100% Serb or Serbian)

Maybe I read into this the wrong way --- and I hope I did --- but this struck me as being just about as tasteful as wandering through Berlin in 1947 wearing a shirt that reads: 100% Deutsche. Particularly so after visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Posted by Joshua on August 19, 2005 02:36 PM
Category: Serbia and Montenegro
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Email this page
Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Designed & Hosted by the BootsnAll Travel Network