Travelling Light

Beograd (Belgrade), Srbija (Serbia): Nikola Tesla, Saint Sava, And All The Tours

Our second day in Belgrade dawned cool (23 degrees C) and rainy, so we decided to abandon plans of swimming in a lake on an island in a river. Maybe next time we are in Srbija (yes, that’s how they write it in Latin letters – that’s Србија in Cyrillic).

It was, however, perfect weather for visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum.

There is a joke which says that the ultimate speed dating question is “Edison or Tesla?” – if he says “Who is Tesla?” you just move on.

Nikloa Tesla played with electricity on a grand scale. He invented (among other things) radio, induction electrical engines, hydroelectricity, and remote control model boats. Well, remote control by radio – the boat was just a demonstration.

Marconi won the Nobel prize for inventing radio, but he actually drew on Tesla’s work, and in the 1940s the US patent office ruled that Tesla was the inventor of radia, not Marconi. The Nobel prize committee declined to comment, or to review their decision.

This doodad is a large transformer, converting regular electricity to high-voltage electricity which can transmit through the air, without requiring wires. It is powering all the lightsabres.

Yes, that’s right – Tesla also invented the lightsabre!

Tom had a go of holding one of the lightsabres. (OK, they are fluourescent tubes, OK? And they light up when there is high voltage electricity in the air.) Electricity over 120,000 volts run along the skin instead of going through the body, so you can happily conduct it from your lightsabre to the ground and close the circuit without damaging any internal organs. Or the skin.

It’s amps that kill you, people, not volts. Worth remembering next time you find yourself in need of a lightsabre.

After the Nikola Tesla Museum, we hopped on an open-topped bus for a tour of the city. This gave us an opportunity to see beyond the walking distance radius of our AirBnB accommodation, which was brillantly positioned smack in the middle of the city centre. (And it had a cat. What more could you ask for?)

In 1999, NATO bombed Belgrade for 78 days. Many damaged buildings are still standing, although in come cases they have tried to conceal the damage from the casual tourist glance.

Why did NATO bomb Belgrade? Good question. The operation was not authorised by the United Nations and was the first time that NATO used military force without the approval of the UN Security Council and against a sovereign nation that did not pose a threat to members of the alliance.

There was this war going on in  Kosovo, you see. In and around Kosovo. Albania and Serbia have a difference of opinion as to which of them Kosovo  belongs to. The UN ultimately declared Kosovo a sovereign nation, something Serbia is yet to acknowledge. 40,000 ethnic Serbs left Kosovo as a result.

There are still UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, so there hasn’t been any trouble since 1999. The bombing was probably instrumental in persuading then Serbian leader Sobodan Milošević to allow the UN forces into Kosovo, so you could argue that it was justified. There were civilian casualties, though, and the damage is yet to be fully repaired, and the Serbs are still somewhat unhappy about the whole affair.

You can still see graffiti protesting that Kosovo is part of Serbia, both in Serbia and in Montenegro.

There is a reason why “Balkanised” is not a positive descriptor. The Serbs hate the Albanians, and the Albanians hate the Serbs. Croatia fought a bitter war for independence in the 90s, and Croatians hate not only the domineering Serbs, but also the Montenegrins and the Slovenians, who helped the Serbs in their attempt to suppress the Croation uprising.

And everybody hates the Macedonians, except, oddly enough, the Serbs.

Back to the bus tour – this is the first skyscraper built in Belgrade. It is called Beograd Palace, which had puzzled us until we heard that this building housed the ruling Communist Party offices when it was first built. Then it became more ironic than puzzling.

The bus took us past the zoo, which has lovely mosiacs by local artists on the outside walls. We think we may even have spotted a ring-tailed possum on one!

Being on the bus gave us an opportunity to see Novi Beograd (New Belgrade), which is located across the Sava River from the original Belgrade, and is now connected with five bridges. For every beautiful old building in Belgrade, there is a hideous new one in New Belgrade.

Some of the newer buildings are pretty, of course – there is an area known as “The Crystal Quarter” next to the new exhibition centre, full of new American hotels, which all happen to be glass polyhedrons. They would be hopelessly out of place in the old city, but quarantined together here they have a crystalline charm of their own.

The WiFi here is really struggling, so we won’t try to post lots of photos in this note. Eventually, we will upload all the photos from our bus and boat tours to albums, where you can browse them at your leisure.

After the bus tour, we happened to catch the changing of the guard at the Presidential Residence. It is amusing how many countries have kept the pageantry of royal courts, even though they have discarded the royalty itself.

The next day, we were booked on an overnight bus to Montenegro, so there was still time for some last-minute sightseeing.

We had some angst and frustration with our host, who went out without returning our security deposit. Fortunately, AirBnB said they would refund our money and sort it out with the host, so we could relax and enjoy our last day in the city.

We took a river cruise along the Sava to the junction with the Danube, which gave us one last chance to try to get the whole of the fortress into a single photo.

Getting there was an interesting experience, as the boat left from a wharf behind the old exhibition centre, Sajam. It was a very run-down area with no public transport close by, so we had to take a taxi to the front of the exhibition centre, then go between the buildings and clamber across a railway line to reach the water.

The whole area was very industrial, but we quickly moved beyond that to see the lovely older city buildings.

After the boat tour, we took a taxi to the “must see” church of Belgrade – St Sava’s Cathedral. This enormous Orthodox church can hold 10,000 worshippers. This doesn’t take as much space as you might imagine if you were raised in a Catholic or Protestant tradition, because Orthodox churches don’t have seats in them.

The cathedral was being renovated, so the inside was all plain grey concrete. This, paradoxically, made it one of the most interesting cathedrals we had seen. Cathedral fatigue is real, apparently!

Next to the cathedral is a tiny Russian Orthodox church, which is painted in a very colourful and almost child-like style. It was Tom’s second favourite church in the world so far, almost eclipsing St Mathias Church in Buda Castle, which has colourful roof tiles outside and intricate coloured painting all over the inside. It was a close-run thing, but after viewing pictures of St Mathias on Google Images to refresh his memory, Tom finally decided it was still his favourite.

Our final business in Srbija was to sample a local delicacy recommended to us by a friend, karađorđeva šnicla (pronounced kara-george-ayva schnitzla). This heart-stopping concoction is a fillet of meat wrapped around kajmak (mild sour cream) and cheese, breaded and deep-fried. Served with chips, of course. We shared a single serve, and leavened it with a salad, but it was still a heavy meal.

And then it was time to head to the bus station for the next part of the adventure!