James Went To Croatia – Last Year

All this extra time I have thanks to my new job and getting home at the more human hour of around 6pm (or so) has led me to think that maybe I should try to catch up with things on my to-do list.
Some things have been on there for nearly a year, such as writing a blog post about my holiday to Croatia last year.

I’m not sure that I would have been able to remember much in the way of details had I written the blog when I got back home, let alone nearly a year later.  It was one of those kind of trips – and as a stag do, very much a what goes on tour, stays on tour kind of thing.

Yeah, I went on a stag do.  I was pretty apprehensive before as stag groups of 30+ guys are not exactly my kind of thing, but I was expecting (correctly) everyone to be sound, and that as we were going to Dekmantel Selectors – a festival in the little resort of Tisno in Croatia, that we’d have a pretty cool larger audience too.
Believe it or not, in large groups of drunk people that I don’t really know, I can be a bit overwhelmed.  This was the case at times.  Whereas you might know me as someone who is quite large of life, quite vocal in conversation and often willing to cause some eye-bulging when in small groups…in large groups I often just let others take over and do the entertaining.  And boy, was the holiday entertaining.

The festival is held on the same site as many other small “boutique” festivals in Croatia, in what looks like an old communist Butlins, replete with faded mini-golf course and of course, chalets.  We were staying off-site, a short taxi journey away in the only place that would allow such a large stag group.  Basic, but good enough apartments.

Part of the reason that I am choosing to write the post is because I have spent some time recently listening to the DJ sets that have been posted on line (I recommend trying I-F, Raphaël Top-Secret and A Good Christian if you want to get a feel), and they have brought back such good feelings.  I don’t think everyone appreciated the music as much as I did – and I also struggled at times, I have memories of some particularly nasty EBM played at red-lining levels on the first night that just utterly frayed me mentally.

The festival site was split into different stages, with the main area next to the beach being the main attraction for me, playing mostly disco and 80’s, some house and then a wide range of other rhythmic music, be it samba, latin or well, anything else vaguely danceable.  This is where I most felt at home, at least once I settled into the festival.

Some other person’s video

Then there was a techno stage hidden away – but not normal techno, a mix of broken beats, offbeat techno and EBM – basically anything other than your straight-up, boring plodding 4/4 techno.  But styled as techno.  On the last night it held a closing party with…oooh…erm…was it Object?  Or Call Super?  Or both?  Or neither?  Yeah, it was a long time ago, but was probably the most interesting DJ set.
Also there was a little hideaway dancefloor up the hill, which wasn’t that interesting, then a little shack on stilts on the sea, which was open until around 4pm…I never made use of it.  Nor could I be bothered with the boat parties which were apparently lots of fun (they sold out within 10 minutes of tickets being released), or trips to the nearby open-air nightclub, Barbarellas…way too old…I need my sleep, or my attempted sleep anyway, at my age.

As a festival, it was a cool concept, mostly pulled off very well.

I didn’t see a lot of Croatia, but I did rather like the place.  The people were friendly – they seem to actively want tourists which is refreshing when compared to places like Ibiza that seem tired of us.  Taxi drivers were always willing to engage in conversation (though this meant the most sober had to sit in the front on the way back from the festival site…yikes).

On the last day, I had a few hours to spare between arriving at Split airport and getting the flight back, so had a little wander around Split old town and a few beers.  Alas, I couldn’t get a bus back to the airport as they were fully-booked so had to tap up the services of Uber and a bloody expensive trip to the airport, along with my driver’s Trump-ish thoughts on Asian people, and on his passion for Hajduk Split (football team) – I just nodded in agreement as that wasn’t a time to go all liberal.

I’m currently missing that festival site.  Dancing, or chilling to music that I wouldn’t normally encounter, on the edge of the bay, watching the sea and just enjoying the good vibes of the place.  Maybe I wouldn’t go back to that festival, but I’m definitely open to going to that site again, if I don’t totally retire from partying before the next opportunity.

James Went To Belgrade

Why did I decide to go to Belgrade? Because it was cheap.

Why was the flight so cheap? Because it was at 5:55am in the morning.

Who’s fucking idea was that? It wasn’t actually that bad though, just needed to set my alarm for 1:30am (thankfully I had a stonking hangover the day before so going to bed early was easy), get a taxi to Wembley Park station, then get the night tube to West Hampstead, then get the Thameslink train to Luton Airport parkway, then get the bus to Luton Airport. Simples.

Originally it was just me and my sister, but we’d added two friends to make it a foursome.

Yes the airport beer happened at 4am. Don’t tell me you’ve never drunk at 4am.

I’d heard about Belgrade, I had heard a rumour that it was a pretty cool place to visit, a good city for partying in – though that is less my priority nowadays. However I didn’t know much else about it – the old Yugoslavia certainly has a fair amount of history, but it isn’t as if the story of Belgrade is anywhere near well as known, as say, Paris.

We stayed in an apartment right next to Skadarlija, which is probably one of the most famous and beautiful parts of Belgrade – an old, cobbled street with lots of restaurants and bars…and boy it was noisy at night! The bedrooms were hot, the one air conditioning unit (by Tesla, of course), having little effect in the bedrooms. Opening the window meant a party. Closing the window meant being hot and sweaty. Even at 6am I could still hear a faint beat coming from somewhere…though not from the local street.

On the first day we settled into some drinks and watched some people in traditional Serbian costume do some dancing, which seemed to be being filmed for something. It was hot, humid hot, but the cheap beer was very welcome. Lunch followed – I chose something that was supposedly traditionally Serbian, and had food envy at one of my accomplice’s mixed grill. Yet mine was tasty and relatively low calorie. Shockingly I didn’t actually put weight on during the holiday.

In the evening we headed to the fort, which is where Belgrade’s two (polluted) rivers meet – the Sava and the Danube. The Sava actually looked dirtier than the Thames – it was refreshing how Serbia seemed to be taking no notice of the idea of recycling, with absolutely no sign of any environmental terrorists demanding your guilt for breathing.

The Sava was also where all the nightclubs and tourist-style nightlife was, on barges of various states of upkeep. I thought that I had photographed them but apparently not – anyway, we only went to one during our last afternoon as the old town had enough really cool bars to visit – places that were more us, rather than what I assumed was a Serbian version of Romford.

So the fort was cool with a great view over the other half of Belgrade from where we were staying – one assumes that it would have been an awesome sunset but, alas, too much cloud when we were there. Apparently there was a small zoo as part of it, and we wandered through some stray tanks and past a court area holding a hip-hop led basketball tournament.

Overnight we had the treat of a passing thunderstorm too, though given that we had all woken up between 1am and 3am, we were all in bed long before midnight, and long before the storm arrived.

On the Sunday, we were determined to do some culture. Well, I was anyway.

After eating breakfast at the charming, if boiling, Passengers Bar (they had top drawer craft beer there, which is always a win) I persuaded my accomplices to head to the Nikola Tesla museum (no, there are no cars there). We took a long walk as we hadn’t figured out the bus network – neither had Google Maps so don’t blame us. And there was no Uber. How did people order taxis before Uber?

Entrance to the museum was about £2 – it was not much more than an enlarged house, and we had the guided tour for an extra £1 or so. This consisted of a video and some electrical experiments, which was a little shocking. Plus we got to see Nikola Tesla’s urn of ashes.

It wasn’t exactly fascinating but we had ticked the culture box. I think the fact that toilet was translated into a Hull accent was more interesting:

We intended on going to the Museum of Yugoslav History, but after stopping for another excellent and cheap cocktail in a really damn cool bar, and reading that it was a 30 minute uphill walk we decided against it.

Instead we went to some nearby church thing so I could admire someone doing some hoovering.

Cue a walk back via a bar, when we realised that we were still 20 minutes away from our apartment and it was about to pour down.

Sexy

Just as we made it back to the street where our apartment was, the heavens opened and we enjoyed watching a truly torrential downpour turn the street into a river.

Give it to me, rainy

It looked like it was set in, and after valiant efforts of keeping the rain out, our hosts told us to go inside, where it wasn’t long before we were on the liquid cocaine.

Which I can confirm had no cocaine inside. And possibly no alcohol. Not that I know what cocaine would taste like in a drink, obviously.

The rest of the evening consisted of yet more excellent food – this time sampling the gorgeous Serbian burger (Belgrade is not exactly vegan friendly) in a rather excellent restaurant right on our tourist strip – said strip is the kind of place with pretty young ladies trying to tempt you in for dinner that one would normally avoid like the plague in most places, but everywhere we tried down here was spot on. Following that I think we had over-exerted ourselves with the liquid cocaine and the night drifted into a slightly drunken mess – the occasional downpours still occurring not persuading us to be any more adventurous.

For the last day, we decided to cross the river, on foot, to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Via breakfast. And cake/ice cream. Our original plan was to get the bus to Novi Sad, a town in the north of Serbia, but none of us were particularly keen on the 90 minute bus journey each way…and apparently trains in Serbia are a disaster…actually slower than buses.

The museum was surprisingly good. There was some art by vaguely recognisable names from my trip round Vienna last year – nobody too well known.

There was opportunity to help create art too, created by a performance artist who seemed to enjoy having pencils thrown at him – we just had the opportunity to throw pencils at the wall. I duly obliged.

Maybe I need to go on a diet?

Again, I thought I photographed more, but the only one I can find is this masterpiece:

Overall I was really quite enchanted by Belgrade.

More so than Bucharest and Budapest. Maybe not quite to the standard of Vienna.

I guess it reminded me of what Berlin would have been like just after the wall came down. A kind of raw spirit to the place, very much undiscovered by the tourist masses. Probably only Ibiza has more bars that are playing house music – that seemed quite omnipresent.

I’m not sure I would recommend visiting Belgrade in winter. There isn’t a huge amount of things to see and do – Belgrade is more about the feel of the place. It’s about enjoying yourself with very few tourists, even in the most touristy areas, drinking cheap beer, eating really good food, conversing with the locals and trying not to trip over the unfinished pavements.

It is a bit of a mess in places, there are unfinished buildings aplenty, abandoned roadworks from vague attempts to prettify the area in the Old Town, where we were based (“money washing” was how the roadworks was described to me by one local) – this is a city at the beginning of it’s modern journey.

Having spent 3 days there being thoroughly charmed by the ramshackle nature of the buildings, the delicious food, the random yet really cool bars and the seriously nice locals, I can say that Belgrade really is one of my favourite cities that I have visited. It is very “me”, it is the kind of place that I enjoy visiting.

And super cheap too, rarely did we pay more than £1.50 for a beer, maybe £3 for a cocktail – dinner for 4 would come to less than dinner for 1 in London. Plus if you can brave the 5:55am flight from Luton, flights are super-cheap too.

Where next?