Published: September 13th 2011
August 30th 2011
Belgrade is described as edgy and adventurous and it is indeed both and so much more… Lively, arty & with a taste for conviviality which made our two days stop in this city, a truly memorable experience. The advices & tips on where to go from my Serbian colleague Dusan did play a huge role & I cannot be thankful enough for the time he took to prepare an itinerary through his city for us to see not only the “touristic part” but as well simply the places where locals spend time.
Getting to Belgrade from Budapest
If I had to choose one word to describe the countryside we have been going through during the eight hours train ride between Budapest and Belgrade I guess it would be corn and more corn…Overall flat the north of Serbia is mostly rural, with a few middle size cities along the way including the famous Novi Sad and its Exit Music Festival (which unfortunately for us takes place in summer time).
The train ride in itself was quite pleasant, going at a slow path across the plains of Vojvodina, we had plenty of time to rest & recover from our five
days in Budapest which had been quite active.
Arriving in Belgrade train station, the Serbian adventure truly started. Asked to three different groups of people how to reach the parliament next to where our hotel was located & received literally three helpful but radically different replies although the overall comment was always the same: “mmm…no direct bus or tram, streets are under renovation” followed by a series of “go up, turn right, then left then second right at the park take the third street on the left …etc”. Did have a map but somehow was not of much help so ended up getting a taxi which as in any place in the world is the last thing you want to do when loaded with luggage and getting out of a train station…
Belgrade is like a coin with two sides to it: the first one is Belgrade in itself, with the fortress, the buzzing pedestrian street and all the main governmental & cultural places. The second one, called Zemun, 8 km from Belgrade on the Southern bank of the Danube, feels more like a village with plenty of café & bars with live music, cobbled streets & tiny
houses lined up going upward toward great view points.
Belgrade, the buzzing & edgy one …
Our discovery of Belgrade city started with a nice walk in the evening across the city center along & around Knez Mihailova with a mandatory stop at one of the “cult” place in Belgrade, the super old café Ruski Car (Russian Tsar) which offers an unreal list of deserts & drinks in a setting that make you feel like you have been projected back into history.
Needless to say that it was Tuesday night and streets were literally packed, chatting, walking around, having a drink at one of the numerous terrace, people of all ages were simply everywhere which is not what you might expect of a middle of a week night out!
We then somehow find our way through Belgrade labyrinth and reached the fortress. Fully light up, it is just like the city center, a place where people hang out, get some pop corn (yes more corn …), a few drinks and seat on the esplanade chatting while enjoying the view over the Danube and its numerous “disco boat” with the local turbo folk music.
Our little night
walk had somehow managed to open our appetite, so we headed to what my friend had recommended as “traditional Serbian food restaurant”.
Our cab driver was chatting & feeling like he was pretty much alone on the road, so full speed on the left or right lane depending of his mood, we reached Zlatar restaurant (9 Preradoviceca)
The place in itself has a beautiful covered terrace which make you feel like you have ended up somewhere in a mountain restaurant, wooden style, if it was not for the live Roma band who played in the background just for us…
A word of advice here (that I wish I had followed…), portions in any local restaurant are simply enormous. When our main dish arrived, we truly wished we had followed the advices of Dusan, stick to the salads and starters, as even with the best intentions of the world there is simply no way you can finish half of the plate, even though the food was gorgeous.
The next morning started with stroll down to Slavija before a mouth watering crepe & coffee at the hotel Moscow located in a beautifully renovated art nouveau building. Followed, a quick stop by
Belgrade Zemun, Serbia
the bus station (next to train station) to get our tickets for Sarajevo and then still on foot we went along the port area where old style warehouses have been turned into urban chic bars and clubs along the Danube.
We then approached the Kalemegnan fortress from the Danube side which somehow gives a completely different feel of the place. Perched high up on the hill & surrounded by thick stone walls, you realize how big the place his and how difficult the place must have been to take over from that side. We opted for the audio tour which was simply perfect, as it truly take you all around while giving enough explanations and historic details to understand what you are looking at.
When asked how long it takes to do the whole tour with the audio guide, the person in charged told us that some people do it in half an hour, right…took us more than two hours, up and down hill, and we skipped some of the far off sites of less importance…
The striking point when going through this site and its history is the number of empires including the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian that took
over the city of Budapest, each of them leaving a touch that can be found in the architecture of the fortress. Destruction and rebirth seemed to have been the destiny of Serbia for many centuries.
The military museum located at the entrance of the fortress is definitely worth a visit and gives great insights into the Serbian history from prehistoric times to present days. The part dealing with the second WW is particularly well documented with lots of photos, maps and military objects. The only regret is the absolute lack of elements when it comes to more recent history, the only recent events which can be found being the NATO bombing on Belgrade. But again, the events of the nineties are still very fresh in everyone mind, so guess it would take some time before ending up in a museum.
We continued our tour of the buzzing Belgrade by exploring further its labyrinth of streets, by then starting to become quite good a reading the street signs in Cyrillic. Managed to find without too much trouble, “little bay” a great place for what the menu refer to as the “anti recession” lunch. Europe meets the Balkans at this
place with an eccentric deco (picture an opera house with the gold touch everywhere you look, heavy red curtains, private opera style box and all this within an extremely tiny space). Food was gorgeous and one of the best value for money we had in town.
Zemum, the slow path charming one …
Only eight kilometers away from Belgrade downtown, is Zemum, a charming area which used to be the most southerly point of the Austro Hungarian Empire during the reign of the Turks in Belgrade.
The houses, church and overall architecture have been greatly influenced by this time & narrow curvy cobbled stone streets add this extra touch that make you feel in a village more than a city.
We headed for the top of the hill admiring along the way the orthodox churches and finally reached the tower of Sibinjanin Janko, built at the end of the ninetieth century to celebrate the millennial anniversary of the Hungarian state. Overlooking the entire Zemum but as well the Danube and on the other side the city of Belgrade, the tower was used by the Hungarian to keep an eye on the Turks. Its narrow spiral staircase was not
quite my favorite part but the view is truly worth it so up we went!
Zemum is as well known for its local cafes, bars and restaurants that line up the street along the Danube, plenty of them some offering live music others a quiet terrace along the water. As for us we headed to a place recommended by Dusan, called Reka. Located at the very end of Oslobodenja street, it has a great arty/ homy feel, with plenty of colorful deco items and paintings, lovely terrace and great staff. Reading the menu in itself is an entertainment as the management has edited it so that it is a mix of the usual drink list and stories.
After the very classic aperitif, and when asking about the local brandy, they offered to put together a special degustation for us and wooowww…
Lined up in front of us, five glasses of Serbian Brandy namely: pear, quince, apricot, red berries & honey. After the fourth glasses we decided that something to eat might actually not be such a bad idea! But this time we had learned from our previous experience and simply order a mix starter plate for two, which was
Layers of colors
absolutely huge and more than enough for both of us! In a word, great drinks (love the apricot and honey brandy), excellent food and a place we would recommend without a doubt.
We have finished the night at a bar called the Federal Association of Globe Trotter, located in Belgrade city center, which was recommended by the Lonely, but contrary to the other places we went for drinks this one was very quiet. The deco is quite unique with different object from a piano to a sewing machine used as table, plenty of pictures and souvenir style objects everywhere but it lacked a bit the Serbian ambiance.
Early wake up the next morning to catch the bus to Sarajevo so simply no more energy to go and experience one of the famous Belgrade disco boat but it will for sure be for next time!
Next entry from Sarajevo but first we are on for a little road trip between Belgrade and Sarajevo: 7 hours by bus across the country side & the mountains, yala !
There are more photos below