Travelling Light

Београд (Belgrade), Serbia, August 2014: Learning Serbian And Seeing The Sights

We invested some of our travel time on the bus in learning the Cyrillic alphabet. We can now sound out all the heiroglyphics we see in Serbia, which is a nice feeling, even when we don’t know what the resulting combination of sounds actually means.

It’s surprising how often the sound does have a recognisable meaning, though. дисконт looks like an intimidating word, until you sound it out d-ee-s-k-o-n-t … discount!

We arrived about 7pm, so all we wanted to do was have dinner and get some sleep. Our hosts recommended a little restaurant just around the corner, which serves traditional Serbian food on traditional red and white checked tablecloths. We could even read the Cyrillic lettering on the crockery. We were thrilled to have mastered the alphabet so quickly!

We were impressed by the Serbian “flat bread”, which had a larger cross-section than many bread rolls we have seen. We dipped it into a traditional Serbian veal soup, which was rich and completely delicious. We cannot praise it enough!

We also had a traditional Serbian hamburger. You need to be careful, because a hamburger in Serbia is just the meat. It comes with fries and chopped raw onion, but it is just meat. On the other other hand, what meat it is! Fantastic high quality beef, well-spiced and charred just enough to be crispy and smoky on the outside.

Yes, we are generally vegetarian, but when in Rome …

This is Mao, our host. His humans were the ones who directed us to the restaurant. As far as Mao was concerned, there were biscuits in the kitchen – what more did we want?

Belgrade has some magnificent buildings, and also some formerly magnificent buildings. Every now and then, one is beautifully renovated. These are either commercial buildings which have been renovated by the tenant (banks, in particular, don’t like their frontage looking run-down), or projects funded by the EU. It’s interesting that the EU is funding projects in a non-EU country, but there is talk of Serbia joining. Perhaps this is part of the courtship process.

Many of the important public buildings (such as this one, the City Assembly building) are about the standard of a well-maintained Budapest apartment block. Parliament building (the first photo in this note) is a former castle built in the 18th century, so it is a bit larger and more fancy.

This is the former Max and Engels Square, now dedicated to a non-socialist philosopher, Nikola Pašića. The main street in the centre of Belgrade has changed its name several times in the past century, but has now reverted to into original name, Milana Street, after a 19th century prince.

A long stretch of the street is paved, and the buildings along this stretch have all been restored. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, of course, with lots of street vendors agitating for the tourist dollar. At the time we were walking through, word was spreading that the police were coming, and all the vendors without permits were hurriedly packing up.

Tom was pleased to discover that this fountain was a real drinking fountain. It was quite a hot day, and, in fact, was the inaugural Ponytail Day – the first time he has broken out a hair elastic to keep the do off his neck.

At the end of the long tourist mall is Kalemegdan Park, a huge city park containing the fortress which used to guard Belgrade (once Belgrade grew beyond its walls). It is very difficult to convey the sheer size of these fortifications, but the inner keep is the size of eight city blocks. Add the outer walls, and it’s more than sixteen city blocks. Then there are the fortifications leading down to the water to protect the former port area – another six city blocks in area.

The park is twice the size of the fortified area, and includes a zoo, many fountains and monuments, and sporting facilities. Plus, of course, the obligatory chess tables at which old men sit and play chess every day of the year.

From the fortifications we could see across the Sava River to the Museum of Contemporary Art building, and the huge park in which it stands. It so happens that exactly as we are in Belgrade it is the time of the Beer Festival, which is held in this park. Beer Festival means four nights of very loud concert music from noon until dawn, and we get pitch-perfect renditions of every performance in our bedroom.

Praise be for airplane ear plugs!

We did enjoy the music as we wandered through the fortifications, though …