Serbia was another very interesting trip and I picked up a few pointers and learned a few lessons about the area and recent history as well. I was about to just drive to Belgrade when a friend of mine said, “You can’t just travel there in your car you know”? Although I wasn’t completely ignorant of the issues, there is a long standing feud between the Albanians and Serbs but I won’t get in to that here. Nevertheless, I thought that was rather odd but I took his advice drove down to Skopje, Macedonia to rent a car with Serbian plates. Thankfully, he spoke some Serbian and the rental process was pain free.
So, I started my trip in Pristina, Kosovo as usual and began the journey to Belgrade, Serbia via Skopje, Macedonia early in the morning. As I indicated, I reserved or rather I had someone call a car rental agency in Macedonia ahead of time and reserve a car so when I arrived it was basically ready for me. My friend went in and worked out all the details and soon we were on our way to Belgrade.
Not to belabor the issue but in case you were unaware, the Serbs (not all of them by the way), aren’t too thrilled with Americans and our reception at the border although a bit cool was thankfully, uneventful. My friends speak the local languages and were able to get us past the guards and after a half hour or so we were on our way.
The challenging economic conditions were apparent as we drove along and there were also remnants of the war that transpired in the 1990s. It was interesting journey though as the landscape is quite beautiful with rolling green terrain, mountains and little villages dotting the landscape during the trip. My friends remembered a hotel along the way and we stopped for breakfast which turned out to be another event I’ll have in my memory bank. It was quite a large place and I don’t recall the name but we were the only ones there. The entire staff basically waited in the wings for us to order, eat and leave. We ordered a meat and cheese dish with some locally available pop or something similar and it was great. The staff were engaged in conversation and being inquisitive I asked my friend if they were taking about us as everyone knew we were American. He said, they were talking about something else and they turned out to be rather friendly, so we left a nice tip and made our way to the capital, Belgrade.
We chose an amazing, upscale hotel in the downtown area, a four star place called Square Nine. It would be considered seriously upscale just about anywhere I imagine but it was definitely at the upper echelon of hotels there. I checked in and went to my room while the others did the same and looked about a bit. Since I had some time I threw on some trunks and went to the pool area which was quite a sight. It was about 1 meter deep with a jacuzzi, an exercise area, sauna, a place for a massage and personal trainers …. I told you it was high class. We were to go out that evening for dinner so after a bit I changed and went in to the lobby. I sat down and was having coffee by myself when one of my friends ran up and started rather excitedly exclaiming, “Do you know who that is?” as a guy had just walked past. Sort of matter of factly I remarked, “Some skinny dude with a bad haircut?” as I had no idea who it was. She looked sort of shocked that I didn’t know and said it was the world tennis champion at the time. He walked to the rear of the restaurant in a dark area and ate dinner alone, probably wanted to be left alone. So, I accidently saw a world class tennis player in real life, chalk one more up to dumb luck. Oh, the guy’s name is Novak Djokovic I think and I looked him up. Quite a tennis player it turns out and a local hero of sorts in Serbia as well as the small village in Kosovo he is actually from.
Afterwards, my friends gathered in the lobby we wandered around and located a nice pub to hang out in. We walked in and sat down to enjoy the evening and thankfully the music was playing loudly as when the waiter came over to take our order he didn’t seem overly enthused that we were Americans. Nonetheless, we spent several hours there watching the people, talking amongst ourselves and enjoying the evening. We got bored there and walked into midtown and passed by a bar that appeared to cater to the local artsy crowd so we wandered in. I don’t recall the name but I tell you the locals can smoke some cigarettes. The place was quite active with people of all ages just hanging out. Everyone seemed to be engaged in their little groups and seemingly unaware of the other people in the bar.
We had a few drinks then wandered around the downtown area for a bit to get a feel for the city. I actually liked Belgrade, an ancient city with remnants of times when it was controlled by one army or another, I believe the Turks, Romans and Genghis Khan’s horde to name a few. I’m not a historian, but it certainly is an interesting place. We headed back to the hotel as it was late to get some sleep and I relaxed in my room in front of the tv for a bit. I woke early the next morning and went for a walk around the local area and to hopefully experience some culture and see what the people do in the morning. It is an active city and alive with pedestrians shopping and looking in the store windows. After a cup of coffee I returned to the hotel and met up with my friends who were for the most part, waiting for me. We had some business to attend to and after everyone was finished we all met up at the hotel in the early afternoon to do some more sightseeing.
I noticed the remnants of a castle or fort that affords a view of the city on both sides of the the Danube (Дунав, Dunav, Donau, Duna, Dunărea, Дунав, dunav, Dunaj, Дунай). It is referred to as the Belgrade Fortress (Београдска тврђава, Beogradska tvrđava). In the front area are a variety of vendors selling souviners to the tourists I imagine and I made my way through to possibly locate something. My first pass yielded nothing so we walked around the fortress compound and made our way in to some of the displays and a restaurant on the grounds. It is quite old, dating I belive to the 4th or 5th century. There are of course signs displaying tibits of history at various places and I stopped to read a few of them.
I made my way back out through the vendors and back into the downtown area where we jumped in a cab and headed over to an area where there is a casino and floating restaurant. That was a great experience, we sat in a floating restaurant and had a drink on the Danube, now that is something most westerners will never do and I enjoyed every minute of it. We had a short conversation with some of the locals and after enjoying the view headed back into the town. Another walk in the shopping area was required so everyone could visit some shops in the evening and watch the bustling crowds. I did end up walking into some of the shops but didn’t purchase anything, it all seemed rather expensive even by western standards for some reason. It was getting late so I returned to the hotel for one last swim then prepared for an early departure.
I woke up early again and went into the town for some coffee and was back in the lobby by the time everyone found their way down. We paid our bill and the valet brought the car around. We headed back south out of Belgrade taking the same route we had before and the scenery was quite nice. The terrain along our route was, jagged, somewhat mountainous (small) and covered with trees of various types. Once you’re outside the major city the rest of the country is very rural and there are little villages dotting the route back to Kosovo.
On the return trip we actually passed something resembling a rest stop and there was a McDonalds so of course we stopped. Interestingly enough I learned that the Mc Donalds in several of the Eastern European countries I visited had a separate coffee bar in them where you could purchase confections and coffee of varying types. We sat in there for a bit just enjoying ourselves and watching the locals navigate a very American restaurant. It was interesting but soon, we were on our way again. We crossed into Kosovo at a different border point and it looked like an area that hadn’t seen any upkeep in quite some time. At the Kosovo/ Serbia border you have to show your passport to the Serbs and the Kosovo guards. It is an interesting twist and although somewhat of a slow process we eventually made our way back into Kosovo and later that night, Pristina. It was a great trip and if I had the chance I’d return to Belgrade to do some more exploring if I had the chance.
As Always I took a bunch of pictures. Take some time and have a look: