Temple of Saint Sava
Impressive on the outside (unfortunately, construction was going on in the interiors)
It was a country (that used to be), which I came to know about from playing erasers with country flags on them. Basically each eraser has a country’s flag and name imprinted on it and the game revolves around getting one’s eraser on top of opponent’s one, thus ‘conquering’ it. That’s also how I got introduced to many countries that still would sound foreign to some. Hah, childhood game with educational value! Anyway, the story would not be about the childhood but about the concretizing and then materializing of plans to visit parts of former Yugoslavia.
I was intrigued by the history of the country that used to be. I was puzzled why that word Yugoslavia was consigned to history textbooks, especially when I grew up with the notion that it is (was) a great kingdom. I wanted to see for it myself.
A plan to travel the main parts of the Balkans before school starts in the UK was ditched for the wanderlust into Andalusia and Barcelona, thus making myself more resolved to enter the lands of the former Yugoslavs, or at least make it to its capital. So I was determined for a visit after the honeymoon
in Austria, Switzerland and Italy ended. After a short getaway into Prague and Budapest, which I thoroughly enjoyed as well in the company of great friends, Jay and I took an overnight train into Belgrade.
I had previously researched quite a bit on the country and the city, getting comments and advices on the travelers’ community online. It really helps a lot, especially fending off common suspicious perception that the Balkans region (perhaps with the exception of Croatia) is still relatively unstable and unsafe for tourists. And man did the trip proved the common hearsays and misconceptions wrong as I honestly felt like Belgrade was one of the safest and most comfortable cities that I’ve travelled in thus far. The streets were organized, clean and litter-free with hardly any homeless people. There were few tourists and no haggling from desperate street-sellers promoting their latest tourist gimmick. More strikingly, the locals were extremely friendly and some just chatted us up along the way. Along with very informative and cordial local guides whom brought us around in the walking tours, we got to form our own very positive perception of the city (and country), embracing and understanding it in greater flavors.
Honestly, there wasn’t that much to look out for in Belgrade. It doesn’t boast the architecture that Florence or Rome offers nor does it have the beauty of nature that Switzerland exemplifies. But it offers something else that the Western European countries don’t. The buildings were distinctly different, with the St. Sava Temple as the prime example, touched with the Eastern European feel (as I will soon come to realize). The way of life was significantly slower and ‘chill’ with the parks flooded with families, as the kids enjoy a day out in the sun. We even tried our hands on the swing too, like big kids in the land of smaller ones, and it was great fun! It did make me miss childhood days, haha.
The main highlights of the trip were the Tesla museum, the Belgrade Fortress and the walking tours bringing us to the hidden underground tunnels and caves-turned-pubs/clubs. Being engineering students, we were pretty much interested in science and hence glued to some of the marvels in the Tesla museum, in remembrance of the great scientist. There were some hands-on experiments on top of the introductions to his inventions, making the experience an interactive
one. I will definitely recommend a visit there, especially for science enthusiasts!
The massive fortress had its charm too, especially in the evening, setting a perfect location for couples to have a romantic night out. We did enjoy a good night out as well, strolling along the fortress, overlooking the river confluence and having a good men’s talk through the night before settling for a late dinner at ? restaurant.
The walking tours (we did 2) were useful for understanding of the culture and history of the city and country. With a visit to the Yugoslavia history museum as well as some insights from the guides, it gave me a more wholly comprehension of life under Tito’s rule and how things changed between Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav days. Every great leader’s rule will always be marred with controversies. Just how this benevolent ‘president for life’ ‘s death eventually cumulated to the disintegration of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia shows his impact on the unity of the states. Some people love him to the core, some don’t and that’s always a debate to contest on. That’s why history is so mesmerizing, as there will never be a single answer.
into hidden underground tunnels and caves was a bonus that we didn’t see coming. There was this tunnel built in the middle of the fortress in the late 50s, which was only recently opened to the public to their surprise. Few knew or had a single idea that long tunnels and defensive bunkers were installed beneath the fortress they hang out in everyday! Also, it was an eye opener for us as we entered caves that were turned into pubs and clubs. A refreshing idea, as the small group of us sat down and shared our travel experiences for a good hour. Yet, perhaps the most distinct memory of Belgrade would be the powerful graffiti on the walls that screamed out for our attention, as we turned our way out of the pub. Pictures speak a thousand words, that’s all I could say.
With that, a trip was completed that turned childhood into reality.
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