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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Belgrade, Serbia
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 9,396,411 Area: 88,361 sq km Gov't: Republic Religion: Serbian Orthodox, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant View Map
Belgrade, Serbia, November 2, 2003  

Serbian Flag BELGRADE


November 2. SARAJEVO - BELGRADE  We had arranged our bus tickets to Belgrade through Sunny. Our tickets were waiting at the bus station in the Serbian suburbs and Sunny had a car waiting for us at the travel agency to drive us over in the morning.  We had passed through part of the suburbs during our tour and the river provided a clear delineation between one community and the other.  The Muslims had large mosque on their side of the river and the Serbian neighbors complained about the prayer calls that came from the mosques well equipped speakers.  Sunny chuckled we he told us about it - perhaps there was still room for a bit more tolerance.

When we arrived at the bus station we saw the same squishy faced couple that had been on our bus from Croatia.  We crossed our fingers and hoped that we didn't have to spend the next eight hours watching them make out again.  We lucked out.  They got on the bus going north.  Our bus wasn't very full when we started out.  It was a wet day, usually good for transport but our bus turned out to leak. I first noticed that my arm was wet from water dribbling in from the window frame and then we realized that there were other leaks and our day packs were getting soaked on the floor!  

The distance from Sarajevo to Belgrade wasn't that great and we were sure that it would be a repeat of our Dubrovnik-Sarajevo bus ride with frequent stops and smoke breaks but we were wrong.  The bus plodded along slowly on the windy road.  Leaving the city we passed gorgeous wooded areas that were full of fall colors but marked very clearly with landmine warnings.  We made gradual progress and picked up more and more passengers. The border was quick but we were the only tourists on the bus and felt a bit conspicuous.  After the border check we made our one and only stop during the entire bus ride, and it was only about 20 minutes.  From there we continued on slowly and picked up more and more people.  It started to feel more like a local bus than a long distance bus and it was filled with people standing down the aisles by the time we arrived in Belgrade.  

The bus station was chaotic and it was raining hard when we arrived.  We couldn't make out where the hotels were but finally found some tourist help inside the nearby train station.  We were pretty wet at that point but fortunately the hotel we were seeking was only a block from the station - the Astoria.  It wasn't as grand as its name would suggest but was clean and quiet.  Lesley and Luke found us there.  They were getting tired after their long bus ride from the night before but mustered up the energy to go out and grab some dinner with us.  On the way we tried to make a call from the telephone center but it was closed.  It has stopped raining and it was nice to take a walk and stretch out.  The city was more cosmopolitan than I had imagined but then it had once been the capital of Yugoslavia.  It was a big change from Sarajevo with some grand buildings and big streets. For dinner, we settled for McDonald's because it was easy and that was as much as any of us cared about at that point. Walking back we passed what looked like a large bombed out building.  At first we thought it might have been a fire fire since nothing else around it was touched but a closer look made us feel sure that it had been bombed.  That is when it struck us that if it had been bombed then it had probably been bombed by the U.S. - just four years ago.

We finished our evening with some wine at the Beograd Hotel, where Luke and Lesley were staying.  Luke had taken a nap during the day and held up well but Lesley crashed out after the first drink.  They were off early the next morning on another train to the north. Luke we headed to Hungary and Lesley wanted to visit Novi Sad in northern Serbia.   Luke, Rob and I had another carafe before calling it a night.  

November 3. BELGRADE  We slept like rocks and weren't in any hurry to get up.  But it was a nice day and we only had the one day to see Belgrade so we finally packed up and left our bags at the front desk. Our first stop of the day was at the train station to get tickets for that night's train to Bucharest, Romania.  The ticket lady was helpful and advised us to take a slightly more expensive ticket so we wouldn't have to share a cabin. The area around the train station reminded me of Russia with Soviet-style architecture and congested traffic of buses and cars spewing exhaust you could taste.  It has a real old world feel to it but as we moved to the downtown area of Belgrade it became more clean and polished.  The National Bank was our first stop but it wasn't open until after lunch so we wandered down the nearby pedestrian promenade on Kneza Mihaila, a long spacious area lined with shops and cafes.  It was a beautiful sunny day and plenty of people were out and about.  We had hotdogs for "brunch" before heading to the north end of the street where the street ended into a large park that contained the old Citadel.

The park was full of people strolling around and vendors selling all sorts of odds and ends.  Naturally there were a few old men selling Soviet pins and old currency which kept Rob entertained for a while.  He finally decided on a set of old Serbian money that included the largest denomination of a bill supposedly ever in circulation of 500,000,000,000 dinars.  

All that remained of the Citadel was some stone walls but the Serbian Military Museum now stood at the center and old tanks and artillery were lined up along the walls.  Some of the tanks were NATO tanks and if the museum hadn't been closed we could have seen the remnants of the downed American stealth fighter and uniforms from people captured in the 78-day bombing campaign back in 1999.  Trophies for the Serbians from a war that they lost.  As we stood in Belgrade, Milosevic was on trial at the Hague.  

Beyond the citadel the park overlooked the wide and calm Sava River.  Little old ladies had blankets spread out selling beautiful hand made lace table clothes, napkins, and doilies.  We walked from the park back to the pedestrian shopping area and looked around until the bank opened.  The bank turned out to be a lost cause because they didn't have any coins for sale and just directed us to other banks to get crisp notes.  It took a couple of tries but a nice woman at the Commerce Bank found Rob some good specimens.  We returned to the pedestrian area and continued walking along until we found the post office.  It was a mess of a place and it took us a good twenty minutes to just post some postcards.  Most of the people were in there cashing paychecks.  It must have been pay day.  We stopped for a while for a coffee before making our way to the end of the pedestrian area, where the street met a busy boulevard and our McDonald's from the night before stood across the street.  The sun we starting to set and the sky was turning bright orange.  The polluted haze that overhung the city by day made for a beautiful sunset.

We retraced our steps from the night before and headed back towards the hotel.  The city was a nice mixture of different styles of 20th century architecture.  The street signs were all printed in two versions of Cyrillic and roman letters.  The Serbians and Bosnians spoke nearly the same language, but with different accents, but the Serbs used Cyrillic while the Bosnians used roman letters. We made a call home with a phone card this time before collecting our bags at the hotel and heading to the train station.  The food options at the station were disappointingly limited.  I would have been happy with a hotdog but we only found stale sandwiches and coke.

Our train had seen many days but it was clean and in relatively good condition.  We had a three person sleeper but we were the only people in the cabin.  The three bunks were lined up on the left wall and a tiny sink and medicine cabinet were positioned in the far right corner of the hallway sized space.  There were clean white towels neatly folded and a glass carafe of water stowed in the cabinet for either cleaning up or drinking, we weren't sure.  The bunks had cozy blankets and compared to many other sleepers we had seen this looked like it would be a comfortable ride.  So that we had room to sit down we pushed the middle bunk up but apparently hadn't fastened it properly and as I was leaning down to get something it came banging down on my head and knocked me onto the floor.  The back of my head felt numb and I was on my back for a couple of hours before I felt normal again.  When we latched the middle bunk up the second time we made sure it was securely fastened but I never quite trusted it.  The border check was easy but they did scrutinize our passport more carefully than usual. 

It had been a very quick visit to Serbia and we really hadn't known what to expect but found a pretty nice city full of pretty friendly people.  If we'd had more time we might have liked to have seen a bit more. 

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24