Belgrade: A warm city
Its highlights and its rich history create an explosive, highly Balkan mix.
In beauty it resembles Paris, but it is smaller in size and so easier to get to know. As for its inhabitants, they are certainly more relaxed than the Parisians. And the poorer. It has been 29 years since the break-up of the Eastern bloc and 17 since the end of the Yugoslav civil war, and the Serbian capital is still in transition. Just catch a small talk with the world, to get a sense of restrained pessimism. From the bus driver to the waitress at a cafe in the city center, the locals complain that life is expensive, wages low and future uncertain.
In the eyes of a tourist, of course, who has come to make a holiday, the above difficulties may go unnoticed. Belgrade has problems but has the ability to hide it. It is one of the most friendly metropolises I have visited – tranquil, but not at all arid, clean, with large parks, excellent museums, good restaurants, and charisma. You do not even have to look for them. Just a walk in the center and you drop on a cinematic coffee, whose showcase is Darth Vader and Jonanda from the Star Wars. You can make Jedthai with the long ears, bury the photo space behind the glass and look at you like he says “come right in.” The great asset of Belgrade, which gives it extra dynamism, is the fact that it is flooded by two rivers. The Danube and Sabinos contribute to the site of the Big Island of War, an uninhabited island of colonies of birds used in the past for the siege and defense of the city. Only that you can get out of the straits with the Art Nouveau buildings – such as the exquisite Hotel Moskva, which began operating in 1908 – or the remaining samples of brutish and suddenly find yourself walking side by side in the water is impressive. A little from Central Europe, a bit from the Balkans, with urban and countryside, Belgrade has a completely personal character.
Coexistence of two worlds
One of the things that makes the Serbian capital a particular is that it was nurtured by socialist Tito’s ethics, but today it is called upon to coordinate with the rhythms of globalization. This is not a theoretical one, it is a co-existence – at least at the level of architecture – you see it evolving ahead of you. On the one hand, buildings survive as the terrible Palace of Serbia, known for its six lounges, each of which corresponded to one of the six socialist republics of Yugoslavia. On the other hand, there are expensive shopping centers (where a skirt costs as much as 25% of the basic salary) and McDonald’s fast-food (like Deligradska 2, opened 30 years ago and was the “first McDonald’s of Eastern Europe”). Perhaps because of this contradiction and diversity, Belgrade is becoming more and more popular in the travel community. According to the city’s Tourist Organization, interest has risen steadily over the last decade by 10% -20% each year (in 2017 arrivals exceeded 1 million), the city is being promoted as a city break destination and opened to new markets (China, USA, Iran, Israel). From the small personal experience I have had with the tourists, however, I felt the sense of being competent and inventive, with tram guided tours as an example. You are climbing a white wagon (not red or green, as the world uses for its daily journeys), from these old-fashioned, small and versatile ones that run through the city like snakes, and you hear the story of “the building in our right “,” the neighborhood where we are now “and so on. The walk takes about an hour, it’s free and is a great way to get an idea of the tumultuous and violent past of the White City (the name Belgrade in Greek), which was claimed by Byzantines, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Ottomans, Habsburgs, and others. If you are a lover of history, it is also worthwhile to go from the Nebojsa Tower, the main defensive building of the Belgrade Fortress, which at some point was turned into a jail. One of the prisoners who was killed here was Rigas Fereos. Today Pyrgos hosts a well-presented exhibition with references to Rigas.
A city is not just parks, rivers and monuments. Mostly made by her people. How were they that we met? Polite and smiling (rarely sharp and steep) employees in restaurants and cafes. Speaking of taxi drivers (and some not well-meaning, as we have seen what travel guides write, they may try to get more money, so pay attention to paying for it). Our fantastic guide, Tania, a classic Slavic figure, tall and thin with short-haired hair, when she once shared the historical information with an experiential narrative (for example, describing how her grandmother lived in “seven different countries,” indicating the rotation of regimes and the ever-confused political situation in Serbia). And finally Natasha, the young creator of the Belgrade blog (bellegrade.com). Beautiful, also tall, Serbian grew up in Austria, studied journalism and cinema, got a scholarship and moved here. From our conversation, I realized that everyday life in Belgrade can be more difficult than in Vienna , but it has more authenticity. “In Austria, a shop opens and the owner scratches the wall to create an uncompromising atmosphere.” In Belgrade, they do not need such directorial findings, because the pebbled wall of an “alternative” shop reflects the reality. The decision to make a blog about city life – whether to eat, entertain or get people – took it mainly to overthrow the bias that many foreigners have translated, which translates Belgrade tourism into “cheap drinks and cheap girls “.
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