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?

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