Belgrade, a capital city I visited three years ago when I was gallivanting around Europe in a car. Admittedly, the city didn’t impress me much so I just passed through without giving it a second thought and proper exploration.
This time around, I would, with the company of my then-girlfriend (wife now), Kristina. She had never hitch-hiked before and insisted on having a little adventure on the way to Belgrade from Timisoara, Romania.
It turned out to be more difficult to catch willing drivers than originally anticipated. It was easy enough to get a ride from the outskirts of Timisoara, but near the border, we couldn’t find any cars crossing to over to Serbia.
We decided to walk to the closest town, Deta, we can find and catch a bus to the border. As most other small-town go in Eastern Europe, getting information is a bit tricky as rarely anyone could speak English.
There was a congregation of people in a section at the edge of town who appeared to be waiting for a bus. We stood and waited amongst them looking like a bunch of lost tourists.
As with the rest of my experience in Romania, somebody was asking if they could help.
Help did come in the form of a social media happy Romanian English speaking guy.
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Yo, I’m From Cali
After learning, I’m from California an air of excitement overcame him.
The expression on his face looked reminded me of a school girl groupie.
It’s as if he met the second coming of Kanye West or something.
I can rap like Pdiddy, but I’m no Kanye West.
Kristina was giggling at the whole thing transpiring, and my face was turning beet red from the sudden fifteen minutes of fame.
Inside the bus, he insisted on getting a selfie with him for his Instagram account.
I guess meeting somebody from California made his day! I didn’t even get the Romanian guy’s name before getting off the bus for his stop.
Got On A Random Car with Two Serbian Guys
We got off our stop a few kilometers away from the Serbian border.
From there we got picked up by a couple of Serbian guys playing loud and happy music in the car.
They were a jovial bunch. But we had problems at the border during passport inspection.
It took a very long time for things to get going.
Our passports were given the third degree. I guess seeing an American and Russian passport gave them a reason to pause.
We turned a few heads in a few countries in Europe.
I apologized profusely for the hold-up but they didn’t seem to mind and happily dropped us off at the closest bus station in Vrsac.
Caught With No Cash
We didn’t have any cash for the bus. The closest exchange was at a gas station nearby, and they only exchanged in Euros (weird). Luckily it the ticket counter accepted credit cards. The bus ride to Belgrade would take 2 hours, and upon arrival, we found a cheap hotel where the guy at the desk barely spoke English but spoke Russian.
As we were talking he interjected a political jab about the current election: We don’t like Clinton and Americans very much. They bombed us. He then pointed out on the map where the bombings occurred, and it’s now part of a tourist attraction and memorial monument. Kristina learned all about all the major attractions, and it looks like everything can be done in a day.
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I don’t usually want to get involved in the politics of the places I visit, but part of the reason why I travel is to experience the culture as much as I can. To soak it all in. The good and the bad. I’ve heard from an American traveler I met in Romania that he was flat out refused a room at a hostel in Serbia after the host found out he was American.
The Kosovo war wasn’t that long ago and during which NATO bomb Yugoslavia. I may never know the extent of the rights and wrong or the politics of that war. But I feel like I have to apologize for these transgressions to whoever mentions it.
A Large Gathering of Syrian Refugees
We walked around looking for a place to get coffee and walked past a park with a large concentration of Syrian refugees. You can feel the gravity of the whole migrant crisis as you meander past the make-shift shelters and overcrowded benches.
There’s a sense of escalating chaos as we go past the park full of all these hopeless people.
Most of these refugees are trapped here after Hungary and Slovenia closed its borders. I don’t know what can be done and who’s doing what. But I can only guess with politicians at the helm lost in the quagmire of their bureaucracy, rhetoric, and xenophobia will not solve the current state it’s in.
I don’t know what grim fate awaits and I feel powerless to do anything about it. It was still disturbing to see it all happening here.
Belgrade got its moniker from Beograd which sounds suspiciously like Beowulf. And sure enough, it’s got its traces from the Celts who conquered the city from the Dacians. Conquered by the Romans, it changed hands several times from Byzantines to the Hungarian empire until it was eventually settled in by the Slavic-speaking population.
But before I continue about Belgrade. I’ll be forthright, Belgrade is one of the ugliest capital cities I’ve been to in the Balkans. Maybe I didn’t have the luck of getting good light when I was there, but I didn’t find it particularly photogenic.
Old decaying communist buildings mixed with quasi-modern ones drown the old classical architecture that must have been at one point, marvelous. The Kalemegdan fortress is undoubtedly its main attraction and in this regards it’s not too bad.
We crossed the river Sava to get a better view, but that too is not very photogenic. Most of the time my goal when visiting a place is to take pictures.
The last time I was in Belgrade three years ago, I didn’t take any.
So I thought this time, I’d make up for it. I scoured the place as much as I can, but I didn’t find it enjoyable to shoot.
Even if I didn’t get any decent pictures out of the visit, I did adequately enjoy the city this time around.
I just love the vibe.
Just walking from the fortress to the Church of Saint Sava and then meandering our way through the muddy banks of the Sava river made my day. Kristina and I would stop for a beer at a random restaurant.
Debated about the bombed buildings and the politics behind it (Russia supported Serbia in the war. We’d spot up for coffee for a quick pick up after the long walks. I’d say Belgrade was one of the better places for experiences during my Balkan trip. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend Belgrade for a day.
Here’s what I recommend
Stay somewhere near the Train Station which is very centrally located between the fortress and the Sava temple (check the map). This is one big giant walking tour you can do yourself. Start your day at the fortress and from there explore the various ruins and statues. Book your hotel here.
From there make your way towards Krajina Milena street. Restaurants and bars line the alleyway. But, for lunch I recommend you head on over to Skadarska street. It’s one the famous street for food and drinks in Belgrade.
The Bombed Building
You can make a small detour to see the NATO bombed station in Aberdareva street and Miloša and Nemanjina Street. The coordinates are 44°48′20.2″N20°27′40.5″E, but I’ve also included it on the map below for your reference.
I learned that there’s a Nikola Tesla museum nearby, but as much as I like the history and intrigue behind Nikola Tesla, I’m just not into museums. If that’s your thing, you add a few museums in your itinerary if you had a day in Belgrade. It’s not a big city by any means.
After the Church of the Sava and the NATO bombed buildings walk your way across the bridge for a better view of the city. There’s a bunch of floating bars and restaurants in the banks of the river Sava. We watched a rather dull and uneventful sunset here of the “not so attractive skylines of Belgrade.” However, the day spent in Belgrade was anything but quiet and uneventful.
Hitchhike from Timisoara to Belgrade:
- You have to be on the outskirts of Timisoara to have a decent chance of getting a ride.
- Take the bus A33 towards the edge of town as far as it can go to motorway E1. Be careful it will loop around and go back to the city.
- You can catch the A33 bus in the big Orthodox Church in Town (Catedrala Metropolitana).
- You may have to catch multiple rides as people might only go partially in your direction.
- Your goal is to get to Vrsac, Serbia so you can continue hitchhiking or catch the bus to Belgrade.
- Bring a sign, a cardboard piece of paper will do. Write “BLGRD” or “Belgrade” then smile with a thumbs up.
- Have fun!
Best Hotels in Belgrade:
Hilton Belgrade – With all the money you save from hitchhiking, spend it here! Flaunting a rooftop bar and a restaurant with city views, the hotel is set within walking distance from Slavija Square and St. Sava Temple. The roomy rooms are furnished with air-conditioning, a desk, including a flat-screen cable TV. Each unit gets with a kettle and a fridge while some carry a kitchenette as well. Individual bathrooms come with a walk-in bath and a hairdryer.
Hotel Moskva – Hey I told you they love Russia! Hotel Moskva (Moscow) offers free and unrestricted use of the wellness and spa and gym. The hotel is housed in an Empire-style structure deemed to be a local landmark. Ideally fixed on Belgrade’s main street, it has an a la carte restaurant and also a well-known patisserie shop.
Belgrade Inn Garni Hotel – Located in the heart of Belgrade only 650 feet from the Republic Square and just steps from the bohemian Skadarlija district, this hotel was built in 2016 and has an on-site restaurant. The quiet rooms at the Belgrade Inn are air-conditioned and feature 32” cable TV and a work desk, as well as a minibar and a safe.
A DAY IN BREAKDOWN:
- Hitchhike from Timisoara to Belgrade – $3 ($1.50 a bus ride to the edge of town)
- Bus from Vrsac to Belgrade – $4 ($2 each)
- Hotel – $42 (a night)
- Breakfast at Hotel – Free (included)
- A la carte lunch – $8 ($4 each)
- Dinner restaurant – $14 ($7 each)
- Drinks at Pub – $6 ($1.50 a beer)
- Coffee at Costa Coffee – $5 ($2.50 each)
- TOTAL: $85 for two people
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