Two weeks ago, a friend and I went to Belgrade (and Novi Sad) for 5 days. Since Serbia is not on everyone's tourist radar, I wasn't really sure what to expect.
As it turned out, it was quite interesting, not for any spectacular monuments or tourist sights, but simply wandering around, stopping in cafés and people watching -- in other words, my usual kind of tourism.
We also had beautiful weather. Our hotel was right in the old city, a few minutes walk from the main pedestrian/café/shop street. Unless you want to shop at really fancy shops, where prices are almost like in W Europe, it's really a cheap place to go. Whenever we went to eat something, we calculated the price afterwards and realized we had had a good meal for about 3 or 4 euros.
We got there about 6 pm, went for a walk and the first thing we found on the pedestrian street were some French musicians.
Further down the street, were these older local guys playing.
In fact it was hard to hear much because all the shops were open till 9 or 10 at night, and had loud music blaring out of their open doors. Plus all the people walking up and down -- of all ages: old, young, couples with little kids in strollers, teenagers.
This is the street in daytime -- at night, all the cafés are full
And during the day, ladies like these crochet and sell their wares
I'm glad to see this because I never know what to expect in cities like Belgrade either. I'm glad that the photos were able to reply to one of my principal questions: "Is there still any war damage?"
While a lot of the things look like "generic European scenes" I thought that the street market was interestingly different with its use of those rectangular enclosed boxes. I haven't seen that anywhere else, since as you know, everything is usually displayed everywhere on open tables, sometimes with a tarp on the front side.
Well, I think much looks "generic" only depending on where you have been. The war damage is being left on purpose, although it's just being surrounded by a fence makes it look like a construction/destruction site. I think they don't emphasize it too much because they would like to join the EU, but don't want anyone to forget either.
This is coming from a bridge crossing the Sava from New Belgrade. The city buses mostly end just to the right behind the buildings, the old city is just to the left.
The guidebook my friend bought (le Petit Futé) didn't have much to say about Belgrade (or Serbia for that matter), so we mostly explored on our own. The book occasionally mentioned "typical" neighbourhoods of small houses, although our impression was that the most typical was apartment blocks. There were however a few areas of little houses. The one in the next pictures was just beside the river, to the left of where I was standing to take the picture above.
And this is a former palace of the Princess Ljubica. You can reserve to have tea and cakes with an actress dressed-up as the princess.
We walked into all the churches we came across, although none dated from earlier than the 1930s. Belgrade is an old city, but has often been occupied and destroyed.
They are building the biggest Orthodox church in Europe, St Sava, but it's not finished yet and there were kids playing outside. It's monumental in size and the domes make it look like a mosque (to my eyes).
Inside St Mark's Church
Outside St Michael's Church
There is also a cathedral but it's not very large. From the river, you can just see the spire.
One thing that comes to mind about the Balkan countries is that when I was young, basically nobody where I lived in the US had any idea about what these countries were like -- if they were lucky enough to even know the name "Yugoslavia." And of course, I didn't know much more than they did, even if I had a little extra information about Europe in general.
But in any case, nobody had any positive notion of the area, and the indigenous population was obligatorily "swarthy." As we all know, anybody who is "swarthy" is generally not a good person.
I was very pleased in later years to find that these people look "just like us." It is really disgraceful when you think of how so many prejudices are just based on total ignorance and a desire to be superior to "those people," no matter who they are anywhere in the world.
Last year when we went to Budapest, my friend had expected that the Hungarians would all be dark-haired and southern-looking. As it turned out, she was darker in hair and skin colour than most of the people we saw.
One thing that does strike me repeatedly in those central/eastern European countries is that the young women are much more attractive than the young men. In Belgrade the women were really tall, long-haired and generally nice looking. The men tend to look rather thuggish -- short hair and a lot of beer might be the explanation. (Or just my prejudice against really short hair on men. ) But they were all really tall.
Oh, Bjd ~~ this is a wonderfully interesting and very surprising thread!
Had your friend been before, or was this a travel whim for both of you? It's certainly not a place that was ever on my list before, but that's changed since seeing your report. I'd say the most surprising things to me are how much less damage is showing than I'd expected and how very cheerful the place seems.
I love all the smaller or quirky details you captured. As always, your photos are excellent. The people look reasonably prosperous -- was that your impression?
I am interested in knowing how easy/difficult you found it to communicate and read signs in cyrillic.
My background is Serbian and I can speak the language so I have a head start when I play tourist but there are some instances when I've had poor experiences and I wonder how a visitor with little or no local language skills would cope.
Hi everyone -- I'm back and will answer your questions (and post more pictures in the coming days).
Bixa, we decided to go to Belgrade because we were running out of travel destinations in Eastern Europe. About prosperity -- people definitely looked more prosperous than in Ukraine, for example. Generally well dressed and all the cars were pretty nice. A lot of the apartment buildings looked ratty, but my guess is that they are rentals so nobody is really "responsible" for keeping them in good condition. Lots of people in the shops and cafes too.
Mez. I can read Cyrillic because I studied Russian at university. I also speak Polish so between the two languages, I could guess quite a few words when I saw them written, although I had a harder time with the spoken language. In any case, very many young people, and quite a few middle-aged ones speak very good English, with an American accent. Furthermore, the written signs were either in Latin or Cyrillic in Belgrade, and only in Latin characters in Novi Sad. So coping was really not a problem.
I generally found Serbians more friendly than Croatians, but maybe that's because they get fewer tourists. There were a fair number of tourists from the other former Yugoslav republics and the receptionist at the hotel was from Montenegro.
On the Saturday we went for a day trip to Novi Sad, about 100 km north of Belgrade. This part of Serbia was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so the architecture is slightly different, there was no Cyrillic alphabet, and a saleswoman in a shop ( she was from Belgrade) said the mentality was different too.
In the central pedestrian area, full of people enjoying the sunshine, the cafes and the shops