Hello there! Are you ready for another history and geography lesson? Hope you don’t mind us sharing our discoveries with you – it has been fascinating!
Monday, April 6
Our flight today was from Tirana, Albania to Belgrade, Serbia and it really got us thinking. These two countries do not have the best relationship. And here we were, flying out of one country and into the other. It was a little awkward. Felt like we were choosing sides only we hadn’t met Serbia yet and loved Albania.
Our carrier, Air Serbia had recently started flying in and out of Albania so things couldn’t be all that bad. But we noticed things like no where in the airport did it say or show anything about Air Serbia. There was only one other person at check in. Total passengers on board was 15 tops. Nope, Albania was not promoting this airline at all. Our flight was on sale, very cheap and our only option out of Albania. Of course all this didn’t affect us, our flight was fine and we arrived ready to explore Serbia.
Taking a taxi at the Begrade airport is bizarre. In order to protect passengers from illegal taxis that overcharge, you have to go through a process. First you order a taxi at the info stand of Tourism Organization of Belgrade, then you go to a second stand where a TOB officer gives you a voucher for the ride and then security escorts you to a taxi. The voucher, that you present to the cabbie, says where you are going and how much you are to be charged. Adds to the paranoia of the situation. All was fine except when the driver pulled over into a line of waiting taxis to, we think, wait for a police car to pass. Then as we sped down the highway, the taxi light from the top of the car swung down, smashing against Joe’s window. It didn’t break, but it was loud and definitely a WTF moment. The driver said ‘sorry!’, and indicated it had happened before, stopped the car, affixed the light atop the car and off we sped. Interesting sitch, huh?
We were rewarded when our travel agent (me) booked us into a wonderful hotel in Belgrade. The room and particularly the bathroom, had one of the best layouts we have seen. It had a small walk-in closet and this was on the carpet – nice!
Plus they gave us discounts for ‘long stay’ and the breakfast every morning was really good. Hello Belgrade!
Tuesday, April 7
We got to thinking again this morning, about our new host country Serbia. Canada, as part of NATO, was involved in the Kosovo war – and my research reminded me, Canada bombed Serbia. Peacekeeping Canada? Not then. And back in 1999, it appears we were proud of it. Yes, Canada only played a small part but we played. So now we are thinking….what do the Serbs think about Canadians? Oh, horrors – what if they don’t like us? Don’t want us here? My research found a young Canadian, blogging couple that asked the same question. While they only asked one Serb the delicate question, we were (sadly) a little more relaxed with the answer. For the most part, NATO is equated with America here.
We do get the stares here, but we get them everywhere. Everyone in the hospitally industry is treating us very well. They are friendly, the service is great and we took that and moved on. We had some exploring to do! First, some quick facts about Belgrade:
* Belgrade was founded by the Celts in 3 BC. Through its history, Belgrade was devastated to the ground more than 40 times and it “survived” 114 wars. What a resilient city Begrade and its’ people are!
* Belgrade was once the capitol of Yugoslavia, a much larger country that included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Kosovo and Macedonia. The end of communism led to a brutal war over territory. Serbia became much smaller and less well-liked. Despite it all, Belgrade remains the main metropolis of the region attracting people from all over former-Yugoslavia for work and play.
* Serbia uses the Cyrillic alphabet and therefore all streets, shops and restaurants have their names written in it. That made things for Mr. Navigator, (Joe) a little more difficult. We found some alphabet guides so Joe is mastering as best he can. This alphabet is used in the next 4 countries we are visiting so worth the time investment.
* The dogs here are pets! It has been awhile since we have seen that.
* It is forbidden to take photos of official government buildings, embassies and things like post offices, police stations, bus and railways stations. You can take pic from a distance, just a general view. I read if you don’t respect this rule, a police officer will ask you to stop taking photos, step away and probably erase them. Well now, since the buildings are mostly identified in the Cyrillic alphabet, we have no idea what anything is! So very few building pics in this post, but this one maybe official….sshhhh!
Enough facts for now….
Our first tourist attraction was the Belgrade Fortress; an important sight in Belgrade. This is from the first century AD, when a Roman military fort was located here and is located where the Sava and Danube rivers meet. It’s huge!
These signs say WALKING IN THIS AREA, YOU RISK YOUR LIFE. No, we didn’t risk our life.
The most famous gathering place at Belgrade Fortress is the Victor Monument, dedicated to the win over Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires. It was supposed to stand in the centre of town, but the people of Belgrade didnt like the nudity – Victor is fully naked holding pigeon in one hand and a sword in the other. So the monument was placed in Kalemegdan Park, at that time the farthest possible place, but almost a century later turned out to be the most popular tourist place.
Other statues including one pretty crazy looking dude!
Hotel Moscow where had a nice lunch and dinner today:
Wednesday, April 8
I started to notice something today. As we walked through the crowds in the centre, I realized the people here are tall. Men and women. The tall women look like models! So I googled it and it wasn’t my imagination. Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian, and Croatian people are considered to be one of the tallest people in Europe. In Montenegro, they are the tallest people in the world. The Montenegrins have an average height for males of nearly 186 cm (6’1) and a female average height of 171 cm! Some look like giants!
We crossed a bridge this morning (view down below):
and went to….the mall! Mostly just to have a peak at a mall here but also keeping my eyes open for summer clothes. Brand name stores but no purchases. Joe has become so patient in retirement!
We left the mall and headed through a green space that looked like it led to the riverwalk. The space was huge so we followed an overgrown path quite aways to a highway crossing. Oddly, we did not see one person and the park was in need of some TLC. Across the highway we came across a large concrete pad with some park benches and a tall monument with a fresh bouquet of flowers. It too was deserted except for one person. I discovered later this was an abandoned communist area. The city has many reminders of their troubled past. Some amazingly large architecture remains standing particularly in New Belgrade. Some reconditioned and others in distress. So difficult to imagine what it is like during those times.
We did eventually come to the riverwalk, where floating bars and restaurants littered the river bank. A few were showing signs of perparing to open, one was, and many others needed a lot of TLC.
Belgrade attracts the party crowd from all around the Balkans and this will be a happening spot come summer.
Statue of ‘Victor’ from this side of the river:
Back on our on turf, we had dinner at a nice restaurant where the waiter treated us like family. Smoking is still allowed in restaurants in Eastern Europe and this kind man pretty much created a non-smoking section for us. It was a table near the door which he opened a few times and waved the smoke out; how adorable is that? He liked us right away because his brother is a chef in a Vancouver restaurant, so we had a connection. The one odd thing about our little smokeless section was the giant picture of Lenin staring down at us while we dined.
Thursday, April 9
Spencer’s awesome boss Vlad is from Belgrade and he gave us a list of a few must see sites and a fav restaurant. The first item we checked off our list was a stroll along another riverwalk that runs under the Belgrade Fortress. It was very enjoyable and goes a long ways. We saw where the Sava and Danube rivers meet and a few other floating buildings; one seemed to be an abandoned soccer field.
Inviting, cool looking restaurants followed on the Danube side, a university area and lots of condos. Great walk on a warm day.
Joe and I always ‘debate’ when we reach the ‘end of the road’. I perfer not to go the same way back but to try a different route. Joe likes the security of knowing the way back. Both methods have merit. This time we went a different route but wondered if it was a wise decision as we crossed abandoned rail tracks followed by a steep climb up a busy road. However in no time flat we recognized our surroundings and walked for another hour and half to a Thai restaurant that we were determined to find. We have learned the best way to see and understand a city, is on foot. Saw some great, trendy neighborhoods and markets.
Loved this side of the city and got our Thai fix at the same time.
Friday, April 10
We decided to try another of Vlad’s suggestions today. We knew it would be a long walk ..but it was a sunny day so we figured what the heck. We took off down a busy 4 lane street that followed the river and train tracks on our way to Ada Island and Lake Savsko. We went through some pretty rough areas as there were lots of abandoned buildings and run down places.
This bridge is beautiful when photographed at night:
We walked past a line of staring men, waiting outside, to go inside the International Police Station. Bit uneasy but seeing the armed guard at the door was comforting. We trucked for about an hour and then packed it in. We decided to try a different way back (Paula refused to go past the lineup again) and ended up not knowing where we were, needed directions to get back on track. Saw some mansions and a mosque:
Then passed a cool old church on our way back to the main pedestrian walking street in the centre of town.
A while later we plopped ourselves down for a cold beer and some Sushi…well deserved break after 3 hours of a not so enjoyable walk.
That evening we also followed Vlad’s advice and dined at ‘?’ (Znak Pitinja..which means question mark in Serbian). The restaurant actually has a ? as their sign. This is the oldest restaurant in Belgrade …built in 1823 and is still in operation. We were welcomed with a little drama as “Mr Joe” ( I had made a reservation the day before) and got our own private “non smoking” room. Food was great and service special.
We dined on a traditional Sopska salad which is similar to Greek salad, and a special beef sausage dish, and a chicken spice dish.
Ended with this baklava type desert, walnut pie:
It was a very enjoyable meal with some wine of course. Neighbouring church at night:
We were glad to have Vlad’s advice …it sure enhanced our experience.
Saturday, April 11
Joe had the Zoo on our agenda today. I mentioned it a few days ago but he wasn’t thrilled about it. I haven’t been to a zoo in decades so was happy he changed his mind. I found out later he actually made a mental commitment of being there for 3 hours. We lasted about 30 minutes. Zoos have come a long way in the Western Hemisphere, but not here yet; through no fault of their own. Some animals paced with insane but empty looking stares, in very small quarters. Once inside the ape house and I saw the almost lifeless orangutans, I was feeling emotional and so we found our way out. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the many families visiting the zoo enjoyed themselves.
Albino kangaroos perhaps and building on the grounds:
After spending 3 weeks in Albania, Serbia seems surprising wealthy. Interestingly, Serbia has had foreign, diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates since 1971 and together they own and operate Serbia Air. Just yesterday Belgrade Lawmakers in Serbia gave the green light to a €3 billion riverside development project Serbia and UAE will complete jointly.
We explored Belgrade only as much as our feet could carry us and we got a good sense of the city, the culture and the people. We loved walking (among the giants) in the vibrant, lively centre. Young growing families are plentiful and on the sunny, spring days we had, everyone seemed happy. We have seen pictures of the rest of the country and it looks incredible. Had we been able to stretch our budget, we would have loved to tour more of Serbia.
Sunday, April 12
Arrived in Sarajevo, Bosnia
Pictures from the air!
Soon you will see us without our jackets on!!
See you in Sarajevo….
Paula and Joe