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We are visiting Belgrade

Home -> Europe -> Serbia -> Travelogue Serbia -> 09 to 11 June 2017

Friday 09 June, we are visiting Belgrade

We go on holiday again, this time with our own car to Greece. We have now flown 3 times to Greece but the distance to Thessaloniki is 2,350 kilometers from Groningen and we think that is not too far. We also want to stop at Belgrade for a few days to see that city which we do not know yet. Our car runs on lpg and we can drive about 400 kilometers with a full tank, so we have made a list of petrol stations where we can refuel along the road and so we have our breaks. During our first stop I am addressed in Dutch by a fat man with a big moustache in an expensive BMW with a German license plate. He claims to have forgotten all his bank cards and has no cash with him so he can not refuel. If I want to lend him some money, I will get it back double. Sure ... and when he starts swinging with his golden chains that I have to take as a kind of insurance that he will keep his promise, it is quite clear, a true crook. He scolds me once again when I walk away from the car and then I am addressed by a woman in poor Dutch. Elisabeth is curious about what has happened and comes along. This is Vera, a Czech who lived in the Netherlands for many years and is travelling to Italy, where she has a house, we should definitely come along. She does not need anything else from us, but it is surprising that a complete stranger makes such an invitation. If we had gone to Italywe probably would have done it, these are those strange encounters that sometimes lead to nice situations and experiences.
Itinerary day 1, to the Czech Republic Itinerary day 2, to SerbiaBut we are heading in a different direction and the first night we have reserved a hotel slightly beyond Prague in a small village, Zlenice. It takes some time to find it and we end up in a kind of school building from the communist era and we seem to be the only guests. We can not pay with credit card so we have to exchange Czech crowns. From the money we keep, I can drink a beer in a caf a bit further. Elisabeth stays in the hotel because she fell a week ago and still suffers a lot from her bruised ribs.
And then a whole day in the car is not pleasant and getting out is quite difficult for her. Everywhere in the Czech Republic, roads are being worked on and that is also badly needed because they are very bad indeed, and certainly no fun for bruised ribs. It is nice weather, but because of that Elisabeth sits in the bright sunlight all day and the second day she also feels quite nauseated. All extra stops we have to make to buy highway vignettes (Slovakia, Hungary) do not remedy that and she is happy when we are near our destination at the end of the second travel day. Almost ...
We only have to cross the border to Serbia, but we are in a long line and she feels very bad now. One hundred meters beyond the border we see a sign with toilets on it but we will really have to cross that border first. And that takes at least half an hour, which is not really that long at the Serbian border, but if you feel terrible.
Vinski Dvor hotel, Hajdukovo Vinski Dvor hotel, HajdukovoWhen we finally cross the border and hurry to the toilets, the woman there wants some Serbian money. Here you have an euro, and now no more nagging. And less than 10 minutes later we arrive at our hotel, Vinski Dvor, a collection of fairytale buildings, but Elisabeth only wants to lie down. The hotel with restaurant and beautiful gardens is located in the middle of a vineyard that is cared for by the whole family. The buildings are turquoise blue painted (more green according to Elisabeth) with red roofs. We have a very big room but Elisabeth does not enjoy it, she is mainly lying in bed.
Vinski Dvor hotel, HajdukovoThe members of the family only speak German and the menu of the restaurant is only in Czech. I'm quite hungry and let the waiter choose for me, Elisabeth tries a soup anyway and then goes back to the room. And I have to say, the food is fantastic. And not at all expensive, as I see at the end of the evening, we pay less tha € 50 for the night plus food and drinks. No wonder it was so busy in the restaurant, probably all people from the area Tomorrow we will drive to Belgrade but I already decide that on the way back we should also stay overnight here. By that time Elisabeth will hopefully feel a lot better and she can enjoy the ambiance more. In any case, we sleep well in the beautiful room.

Sunday 11 June 2017, exploring Belgrado

Statue at Vinski Dvor hotel, Hajdukovo The gardens of Vinski Dvor hotel, HajdukovoThe next morning Elisabeth happily feels a little better, the nausea is over, and she can admire the well-kept gardens and buildings of the hotel, yesterday she did not notice anything of it. It is a really nice place to stay. One of the family members tells us about the history of the family in this place and also wants to lead us through the vineyards, but we decline that offer, we have more to see today. At breakfast there is some confusion because the girl who serves us does not speak any foreign languages but in the end we get what we want.
Residential towers from the Communist era, BelgradeThen we drive to Belgrade, what takes us about 2 hours on the wellmaintained highways of Serbia. Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and before that of Yugoslavia. Nearly two million people live there and when we arrive in the suburbs, the skyline is dominated by the unimaginative flats that were built in communist times to accommodate as many people as possible. You can see this in almost all cities of the former Eastern Bloc countries. It will also take a while before all those flats have been replaced by a more pleasant living environment. In some countries you see that the flats are painted with colors to make the whole thing more cheerful, but here we see only white and gray flats.
We drive to the center where we have to look for a parking space and fortunately it is Sunday which makes it less crowded than normal. We find a spot in a side street, less than 100 meters from hotel Moscow at the old city center on the right side of the Sava and Danube rivers. Because of the bruised ribs of Elisabeth we can not walk very long pieces but we still want to see something of Belgrade.
Footpath to Hotel Moskva, BelgradeThere is still little tourism in Serbia from Western Europe and that will have to do with the fact that Serbia was seen as a kind of enemy to the west for a lomg time, only in 1999 the NATO bombed the city for the last time. The country is still not very popular in the West because of the country's view on the Kosovo issue. But that there was still a war going on 20 years ago, is now no longer visible in the city although we still see some damage to buildings here and there. But they are working hard on building a modern Belgrade and from the other former Yugoslav countries like Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, more and more tourists are coming because Belgrade is still the largest city in the region and they all speak the same language.
Covered market Zeleni Venac in Belgrade Covered market Zeleni Venac in BelgradeWe do not speak the language and honestly we do not know anything about the city. So first we wander around a bit and arrive at Zeleni Venac, a partly covered market with fruit and vegetables. Such markets are always fun to walk around, if only because of the smells. Fortunately, we also encounter an information point along the way where we can at least get a map of the center. But of course there is no information what all those old buildings in the center are and what they are used for, and I always want to know that.
Terazije square in Belgrade The Moscow hotel in BelgradeThe Terazije square is located in front of the hotel Moscow, one of the most important orientation points in the center. On the streets around it are large classical buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, but there is also a large pedestrian zone. It appears that there are several small rivers flowing under the ground that cause great problems when carrying out large construction projects and there are still 11 active water sources just below the hotel. We have no idea if they also use them in their spa.
There is a large covered terrace that looks enticing and where a lot of people look for the shade. In communist times this was the place where you had to show yourself. An dit is a great place for us so to drink a first cup of coffee with a pastry because the patisserie here is famous. Just like some of the 36 million hotel visitors who (according to the hotel) have stayed here over the last 100 years. Photos of Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yasser Arafat and many more, including famous movie stars, hang in the hallways of the hotel.
In the 2nd World War the hotel had less pleasant guests, when it was the Gestapo head office in Serbia.
Pedestrian zone in Belgrade Pedestrian zone in BelgradeThen we walk into the shopping area where no cars are allowed. The stores we see are very modern and the shopping street is (fortunately) not a copy of what you see more and more often in Western Europe with the same chain stores. The people in the street also give the impression that Belgrade is once again a prosperous city after the Balkan wars at the end of the last century when the economy, for example, was severely affected by the economic sanctions against the country.
Saborna church in Belgrade The trendy Manufaktura restaurant, BelgradeThe city is doing its best to eliminate the old scars and to attract more tourists and, although it is not Paris or Barcelona in terms of beauty, there are nice places to see. So from the shopping street we end up in a side street with the trendy restaurant Manufakture, red umbrellas hang over the street to ensure that the terrace does not get wet in the rain and now provides shade. We now walk in the direction of the river Sava, near the junction with the Danube. Thanks in part to these two rivers, Belgrade is a very green city with many parks. Belgrade even has its own port.
We get lost a bit but the people of Belgrade are very hospitable and speak reasonable English. We are looking for the Kalemegdan park and are quickly being directed in the right direction.
The entrance to the Kalemegdan park, BelgradeOutside the pedestrian zone are a number of wide roads where a lot of traffic is driving and we walk past the French embassy where a few soldiers keep watch. Taking a picture is not appreciated and we walk on until we have the pedestrian zone on one side and the entrance to the Kalemegdan park on the other side, which is the largest in the city center of Belgrade. We are not the only ones who have come here, the park is full of families, couples and children who walk, picnic or play games. It is a haven of peace in this busy city and relatively cool in the heat, great for walking.
Monument of gratitude to France, Belgrade Monument of gratitude to France and the fortress, BelgradeMany festivals are organized in the park, but today there are only visitors. Soon we reach a statue of a woman on a high pedestal. It turns out to be the monument of gratitude to France, among other things as a reminder of the French soldiers who died in the defense of Belgrade in the 1st World War. Behind it is a fort where reinforcements have been built for over 2,000 years. Already in the 3rd century there was a fortress and it seems that Atilla the Hun is buried underneath. There is, among other things, an army museum, but that does not interest us very much.
The Danube from the Kalemegdan park, Belgrade The Sava and Danube from the Kalemegdan park, BelgradeThe fort covers some 66 hectares and archaeological research is still being done. The fort stands on a 125 meter high hill and from the battlements of the fort we have a good view over the Sava and the Danube, the two rivers that cross the city and probably the reason why this was a very suitable place in ancient times to establish a settlement. You had a good view of the area (and thus on upcoming enemies) and you did not only have an escape route via the water but also an important trade route.
The Saborna church from the Kalemegdan park, Belgrade Remains of a medieval building, BelgradeWe could walk down to the rivers from here, but Elisabeth's ribs do not agree with that, we will have a look there tomorrow. A few months after our visit it is announced that they plan to make a cable car that goes from the Danube to the fortress. So we might try that in the future. There also seems to be a dinosaur park in the Kalemegdan park, just outside the fort, but we do not see that. We do see a brick building that is the remnant of a medieval building. There is much more to see in the vast park but we will not list all of them here.
Prince Mihailo Monument in BelgradeWe walk back to the shopping area and in the vicinity of the Square of the Republic we are looking for another terrace to recover from the long walk. On the square near the British embassy we see a statue for a prince from the 19th century when Serbia was still a kingdom. Now it is a republic but still there is a prince who is seen by monarchists as the crown prince. Tito took his citizenship from him, but he received it back in 2001 and has since resided in the former royal palace. Prince Alexander had to promise to remain politically aloof, but he sees himself as the rightful king and many residents seem to think the same.
We think that we have seen enough of the city this day, especially if you walk around with bruised ribs like Elisabeth. We find the car fairly easily and enter the details of our apartment into the navigation. That seems to be a long way out of the city and we are on the road for another 20 minutes. In a residential area, on a steep hill, we find the address and are warmly welcomed by the family who rent an independent part of their house to have some more income. The average wage in Serbia is less than 600 euros per month, while living costs have risen sharply in recent years.
We have a great room and a small seat under the vines. Elisabeth can finally lie down and I sit outside for a long time in the warmth.


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