Belgrade in 36 hours
Due to a change in my Remote Year program, I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia with a full day to kill. My original itinerary was cancelled, but I was offered a far superior (IMO) set of destinations starting off in Croatia - also RemoteYear paid for the change in plans so no complaints there. However I had already procured my inbound flights to Belgrade (the previous starting location). I decided to keep my plans and spend a bit of time solo exploring before joining the Remote Year group.
Starting out in Auckland on Thursday afternoon, transiting through Melbourne and Abu Dhabi, 33 hours of travel later I arrived, wary but in one piece in Belgrade. To make the travels worse, for the longest leg of the travel Melbourne > Abu Dhabi I was seated in an Exit row (yes!) but in front of a six foot five, African lady who refused to let me recline my seat. Commenting that she had long legs and reclining them caused her pain - to which I commented “Yes, me too, that’s why I paid for extra legroom!” - she wouldn’t relent and despite my protests I had to spend the whole 14 hour flight sitting upright.
I got my first encounter with the Serbian disposition with my airport taxi driver (customs don’t count, they are grumpy in every country). After confirming destination and price, I folded myself into his small Alpha-Romeo and he launched off. I say launched as we travelled at near warp speed down the motorway - giving the odd toot of the horn to warn the seemingly stationary traffic that a rocket was approaching - however given our speed, these vehicles probably heard it after we had passed - making the strategy a mere courtesy or a ‘fuck you’ depending on your perspective.
I say launched as we travelled at near warp speed down the motorway
I started to get the uneasy feeling that I had upset my pilot as he only gave angry looking glances back at me in the mirror. Unwilling to distract him from the task at hand I just decided to hang on. My concerns were somewhat abated when we finally landed at some traffic lights, he reached into the glove box and pulled out a battered tin, opened it and without even moving his head reached back and offered to me “You take lolly?”.
Arriving and checking into my adequate but unremarkable hotel, I am surprised that I am not feeling too bad, I optimistically venture out to explore my surroundings a little, after wandering around the block I settle into a local beer garden. Gotta stay up at least until dark to stave off jetlag. No sooner had I finished my dinner I hit the wall, hard - barely making it to my hotel room before passing out on the bed fully clothed, waking some unknown number of hours later somewhat dazed and confused.
The next day, I set out early determined to make the most of my full day exploring the Serbian capital. First stop on my itinerary, the Nikola Tesla museum, a tribute to perhaps one of the most famous Serbians (equal tie with Novak Djokovic these days). The museum had working replica’s of some of his most important inventions, including a huge Tesla coil generating 2,000,000 volt lightening discharges with a thunderous crack. We were given fluorescent light bulbs and instructed to hold them upright, the bulbs glowed when the lightening cracked without making contact. The Serbian humor finally emerged with our guide noting “Please don’t be pointing light rods towards the coil, if the lightening chooses you to discharge through, you will be dead”.. Erm.. OK..
From there I wander through a few parks and towards the main shopping street - Knez Mihailova St. I decided this to be the perfect place to test out my latest gadget, a 360 degree camera procured on my stopover in Abu Dhabi. I am hoping this combined with my newly acquired selfie stick will be the perfect way to capture and share an entire environment or experience during my travels, rather than just a static photo. I am going to experiment with different ways to use this medium, ideally viewed on a VR headset but can still be viewed on a phone or screen. Give it a go, make sure you expand it and look around. Let me know what you think?
Feeling my voyouristic technology is fast wearing out my already tenuous welcome I decide to move on. Next stop the sprawling Belgrade Fortress, built in the year 535 it has had a bloody and tumultuous past. Nowadays it leads a little more sedate life as a quite popular destination for both tourists and locals alike.
While wandering the grounds I stumble upon a hole in the wall entrance to a “Medieval Torture Exhibition”. Despite my better judgement I decide to check it out, pay the entry troll the $3 entry fee and enter the stone arch doorway into a dark corridor. As if the prospect of Torture devices wasn’t unnerving enough, the location chosen for the exhibit was an actual catacomb beneath the ancient Fortress itself.
As I walk in the temperature drops by what feels like 20 degrees, I wander in and the place is empty, with a piped in soundtrack of screams and groans gulp, I explore the exhibition which would have to be one of the most blood curdling experience I have ever had. The devices, which were authentic Torture implements showcase the depths of depravity the human race is capable of. Feeling quite sick by the time I find the entrance again, feeling quite relieved to be out, I give the waiting attendant a queasy look, he responds in a thick Slav accent “Is cold, Yes”, Erm, No! That’s not what that look was.
Is cold, Yes
I continue my exploration of the Fortress for a few more hours (the place is huge) then slowly weave my way back to the hotel for a reset.
After a refresh and quite beer, I find a place to have dinner with supposed spectacular views. No data and limited navigation cues make locating the place pretty tricky, after walking around the general area for a while I resort to scanning the tops of buildings looking for something looking restaurant-ish. I find what I think is it about 8 floors up in an office building, I find an entrance in the right building (I think), no signs other than for the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce. There are bunch of Serbians in the security office looking at me but I’m committed by this stage. I walk past them straight to the lifts and nervously and hit the top floor. To my relief and slight surprise the lift moves and even better I find the restaurant.
The waiter isn’t particularly pleased with the prospect of one of his precious tables being occupied by a party of one during sunset - but he relents and I sit down, providing I’m out within an hour. The views didn’t disappoint, I wish I could say the same about the food. Fed and getting tired I head back to the hotel and prepare for my 4am exit.
Thanks Serbia, a fantastic adventure was had!