Europe, Serbia

Lav, kajmak and Wimbledon Champions – Seeing the sights in Serbia

So I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week now, but something else kept taking priority in my evenings (like hitting the pub). So I’ve finally set aside some time to sit down and get this all down. Last weekend (almost two weekends ago actually), I had the chance to visit Serbia, specifically its capital city Belgrade.

A friend of mine from Canada, who moved with her family from Serbia when she was six, is spending the summer travelling around Europe. I believe she’s still in Serbia, though she might be in Greece now. Anyway she offered to let me stay for free at her cousin’s house and explore the city with her, as she had never really done that before. So, of course, I was all over that.

I headed to Heathrow airport at about 5:30 in the morning on Friday, July 1, to catch by 7:30 flight to Munich. In Munich, I then had exactly 15 minutes to switch flights. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly given the German stereotype of efficiency), I made it on the flight to Belgrade in plenty of time. Now before I tell the next part of my story, I would like to let you all know that despite its reputation, I thought Belgrade was extremely safe. In fact, I was surprised to find out that everyone I talked with spoke English very well and actually many of the TV channels are in English with Serbian subtitles. Having said all that, the taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off tourists.

So, let me continue with my story. When I went out to the taxi stand and told the drivers in English the address of the place I was going to, they told me it would cost 3000 dinar to take me there (30 Euro). This is exactly double what my friend had paid the day before to make the same journey. Fortunately, I knew this and began arguing with the driver. After declaring that I would absolutely not pay more than 1500 dinar, the first driver passed me off to a second one who said he absolutely couldn’t do it for less than 2000 dinar. When I again reiterated that I knew the government had instituted a standard rate to the centre of town of 1500 dinar, he finally agreed. I then followed the driver to his “taxi” (it was not marked as a taxi in any way), and made it to my destination in about 20 minutes.

I spent that afternoon at a local mall that looked pretty much like any other mall I’ve ever been to except that I could have bought a beer with my food court lunch if I had wanted. I had a Gyro with fries stuck in it, which is apparently how they actually make it in Greece. (Serbia is only two countries away from Greece, and actually used to be touching when Serbia and Montenegro were the same country). On the way back, we stopped at the Cathedral of Saint Sava, which is a big white church with a green dome roofs, being built in honour of founder of the Serbian Orthodox church. Construction on the church started almost a hundred years ago, but the various wars slowed the building and so while the outside is completely finished and it holds mass, the inside is still only concrete blocks. I unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me for the mall, so I guess I’ll have to go back.

That night, my friend, her cousin and I headed to one of the many night clubs actually built on top of the Sava river. (There are two rivers running through Belgrade, the Sava and the Danube). Basically the clubs are either in houseboats or in small rooms built along the edge of the water. The club was pretty much what I expected except that I didn’t get much attention from the Serbian boys!

The next day was dedicated to sightseeing:

The Stari Dvor or Old Palace now houses the city government in Serbia.
St. Mark's Church and the wire for the tram right downtown

Republic Square is the main centre of the town. At night there's thousands of people around.

We spent our second night at a cafĂ©, which is what you’re supposed to do in Belgrade. Basically, you get yourself a table on the patio and spend the night being seen. (My friend’s cousin called the area Silicone Valley in reference to all the patron’s fake breasts). I would definitely recommend that anyone wanting to try Serbian beer, try a Lav. It was very clean tasting and pretty cheap. (It tastes a lot like Carlsberg, as Carlsberg is the maker).

The next day was spent at the beach, which was very noteworthy except that we could see everyone glued to the TVs in the pubs, watching Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic win Wimbledon.

That actually leads me to the highlight of my trip on Monday night, when the entire city held an impromptu celebration for Djokovic. We all headed down to the main square, where a stage had been set-up. I got to listen to several Serbian bands, and of course Djokovic made a speech, and then the night ended with fireworks. It was basically like Canada Day on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, (which I missed this year) except that everyone was holding blue, red and white flags, instead of just red and white.