Capital of Serbia - Belgrade
Continuing from Novi Sad, we headed east and to Serbia’s capital city of Belgrade. We came in with the same plan as in Novi Sad, booking 2 nights so that we would get at least one full day to enjoy the city. We also found that Belgrade also provided free city tours, so we planned to meet up with that on our first full day in the city.
We entered the city a little later in the afternoon and, although our GPS was fairly adamant we had arrived, we couldn’t seem to locate the hotel we had booked. It doesn’t help that, this being an ancient city, it is built on hills and a lot of the roads seem to be one way, crowded, and without any room to pull over for a few minutes to try and figure out exactly where you are. Add on top of that that there seemed to be several roads closed due to construction, and the parking garage that we followed signs to in order to get our bearings was also boarded up and closed. We finally found a small lot to park in, and it had a guy directing cars and taking a fee for letting people park. Later we found out it was a public lot, and since it was a Sunday free to stay at, but we weren’t the only ones giving him cash – speaking English we figure we might have been taken and paid him the most of anyone – but at $4 USD we figure that’s not that horrible a deal. He also stopped traffic for us when we were later pulling out, that alone almost being worth the four dollars.
The hotel was exactly where Google Maps said it was, just on a busy street with a single door and a small sign above it – not something that you’ll easily see in traffic. But it was good, we checked in, were directed to the closest open parking garage, and quickly had unpacked and were ready to head out into the city.
Belgrade is fairly large, and because we were there in mid-August still unbearably hot. We wandered towards the old town and quickly realized that it seems all the main streets run in an east-west direction and therefore get no shade from the city buildings. But luckily, we quickly found an outdoor eatery with shade and the fans that also spritz a cooling water mist. After a nice lunch and fully utilizing the free restaurant internet, we had mapped out how to get to the Nikola Tesla Museum, and we headed back into the heat in that direction.
Arriving at the Tesla museum it seems like there is a bit of a queue outside, but the line moves up the steps quickly to enter and we follow suit. The couple behind us enters and a worker closes the doors and locks them. We’re there just before 5pm were surprised since the place should be open later. We’ve learned not to be surprised, a lot of places over here – Asia, Russia, Eastern/Western Europe – seem to work on their own timelines and have holidays that you might not be expecting. But this one we learned is that they do a short video explanation of Tesla and show off some of the equipment he developed every half hour and they just close the doors to limit the crowds as that time approaches. When we were doing our final walk through the next group was milling in and starting to walk around.
Nikola Tesla Museum
It is interesting to see – some of the things you’ve seen before if you’ve been in other museums that have an electrical display – I’m thinking Boston, Toronto from my childhood – but other things are interesting and it’s also amazing to contemplate just how far society has advanced in a hundred years.
The urn containing Nikola Tesla's remains
From there we found the Skararlija street which is Belgrade’s old bohemian quarter. Finally, a nice relaxing street that’s out of the sun. The food here is great, the amount of people increases as the night goes on, and they’ve got hordes of traditional folk musicians going from restaurant to restaurant and table to table. We waved them off when they got us, but apparently most people enjoy them and we saw that they were making a fair amount of tips at they moved around.
The cobblestones of Skararlija Street
The next morning, we were up early and again at an outdoor restaurant for a quick breakfast, then off to take advantage of the free tour. We mentioned them before, once we found out about them in Krakow, and now we check to see if they exist in any city we visit.
Prince Mihailo Monument - meeting point for the tour
At this point we found out that we had covered a pretty good amount of the highlights of Belgrade, minus the fort of course, but the outlined tour hit most of the areas that we had walked around the previous day. The tour was still great, as this time it wasn’t just us wandering and admiring the old buildings, now we were learning the history of a lot of the places we had walked past. We did learn that the Prince Mihailo Monument was almost a scandal when it was unveiled since it didn't have him in a hat - ah, how times have changed.
And then up to the fortress, where the city officially obtained it name – Belgrade translates to “White City” and was called that after the old white stones that the Romans had used back when they first built a fortification up on the hill.
Fortress wall - the large white bricks (lower left) are the Roman part
It was an interesting tour, we learned that the above statue of a man with a sword and eagle was a soldier, but left naked so that at no point could people identify him with an era or ruling country (feelings about those change over time), but just that the sword represented strength and the eagle the always watchful eyes. One thing we found interesting was when she pointed out the island between the Sava river and the split rivers of the Danube where we were told the first hostilities of World War One occurred. They've actually renamed the land as Great War Island...
Great War Island is on the right
When it was over we waited a bit to get some additional information on and sites and monuments for WW1.
She told us to visit the Monument of Gratitude to France, just in front of the fortress, that commemorates the help the France provided to Belgrade during the war. Apparently, this was once in bad shape, it was under repairs when we visited, and is planned to be unveiled again on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, this November on the 11th.
Monuments done, back to the touristy streets of Belgrade, and to do the touristy - or even local apparently - you've got to buy yourself some popcorn. There are carts everywhere in the city and almost always people buying and walking around with bags of popcorn.
When in Belgrade, do what the locals do.
The next morning we drove out of town, but not without driving by the former Yugoslav Ministry of Defense Building, a reminder of as much as we are here for older history and WW1 information, this city and country have had some very recent wars that they are still dealing with the scars from...
Yugoslav Ministry of Defense Building
The last monument we saw was a detour to our drive out of Belgrade the following morning. The Monument to the Unknown Hero is on top of a mountain about 30 minutes south of the city, we left having to head north but decided that we should make the detour and see the monument. It’s a hike up from the parking lot, and it is a stark monument with great views, but although we were glad we stopped, if we had to do it again we wouldn’t take the hour detour to our trip to see this one.
Belgrade in the distance from the Monument to the Unknown Hero
That was Belgrade to us, a quick stop that we would have enjoyed more if we had visited it at a time when it wasn’t so unbelievably hot. Some nice things to see, but otherwise just a large capital city, and unless we find a reason it's probably not a city that we will ever return to….