Never leaving Serbia...

Belgrade Travel Blog

 › entry 41 of 45 › view all entries

Ok… Well, after the mad dash for the train I relaxed and sat for what seemed like years alone in my carriage, barely had any human contact for the longest time. There weren’t many people on the train at all, just old Serbian men and a Hungarian guy about my age who spoke no English. But, it gave me time to watch the scenery go by, sew some more patches on my bag, catch up on blogs and reflect on a lot of things… I was sitting in peaceful solidarity minding my own business when a crazy old Serbian man comes into my carriage and starts trying to sell me a hotel, taxi, and I don’t even know what else (all in Serbian!) and was determined not to take no for an answer. So he bugged me for about half an hour before finally leaving.

The only other conversations I had for the whole time were with 2 sets of border police and 2 sets of customs officers. Not an exciting ride at all, and just to extend my boredom the train was delayed for about an hour and a half somewhere along the way.

So, I arrived in Belgrade train station armed with my map and had actually managed to book a hostel ahead of time (random act of organisation) and ready to take on Serbia again. My map was kind of dodgy, the area that the hostel was in wasn’t actually shown on there so I had drawn in it myself… Apparently map my drawing skills are no better than my sense of direction… And just to make it more difficult, for some reason my map was translated into English… Why??? The street signs were all written in the Cyrillic alphabet… So I’m standing on street corners looking like the biggest tourist, map out and staring at the signs trying to sound out the letters that were familiar in English and in Greek (some of the letters are the same as those alphabets…) and just guessing the rest.

When I had just left the station I heard a guy running and shouting, chasing me down the street… I had no idea what he wanted but just ignored him until he caught me, and it turned out that he had seen all of the patches on my bag and wanted to give me a patch that he had… I still have no idea what it is but will have to find out before I leave here. Then I was at the lights waiting to cross and a stinky old man came up and got so close that he was breathing on my cheek, just staring at me. Did I mention that he smelt really bad??? Yeah… Not so pleasant. But I completely ignored him and stared straight ahead until I could cross and moved faster than I ever have before! So yeah, got there in the end, exhausted and in desperate need of a drink!

As soon as I got to the hostel the girl was so nice, got me a welcome drink of rakia which here is a really strong plum brandy, and a Turkish coffee to wash it down.

Only an hour or so later I was drinking with everyone at the hostel and then we headed out to try and catch a French band that were here on a tour and staying at the hostel. We missed the gig so went to a bar that one of the guys had been to before. It was the coolest place. It’s an illegal bar that is built into an apartment in a side street, very cool place. Not the kind of place you expect to end up after being in a country only 2 hours, but hey… Why not??? So we all had a great night, met some random locals and one of the guys offered to show us around the next day.

It was so cool having a local your guide for the day, saw all the sights and had some great local food and beer… Saw the castle and had an amazing view of the city and the river from up there. It’s really cool, from the castle you’re right above the point where the 2 rivers meet… I seem to be following the Danube everywhere lately! The evening was full of Rakia, Rakia and more Rakia, and then we all ended up back at the hostel having a few drinks before going back to the same bar again to dance our little hearts out til morning. Lol, there were 2 girls there in wrestling masks… Don’t know what that was all about, but anyway…

Back to the trend of drinking at night and sightseeing all day, I went out for more sightseeing with one of the guys from the hostel and we spent the day eating burek, and walking around and searching for an elusive Serbian flag. Went back up to the caste again cos I wanted to see the views of the river again… Lately I seem to be getting lost in the rivers, overlooking them is the best place for me to sit and daydream about so many things…

Being that I’m almost at the end of the trip I have so many thoughts running through my mind about going home and everything that will come after that… It’s weird thinking that in 3 weeks I’ll be at home, back to reality and normality for a while at least. As much as I’m dreading the whole reality thing, I’m so looking forward to seeing everyone, my friends, my family, my car (I wonder if I still know how to drive…) Plus, when I get home it’s my birthday, so it will definitely be a day for celebrations!

Anyway, moving on from my emotional spiels…

So, I intended on spending 3 nights in Belgrade, but so fell in love with the city that I finally left on the 6th day… Reluctantly… It became a game at the hostel, every day I would say “no seriously, I’m leaving tomorrow… And every day I was still there the next day. It’s a crazy, crazy city! There was so much cool stuff there, and the nightlife was amazing… Some of the best parties I have ever been to…

I successfully hung out at Gajba every single night that I was there. That’s the illegal club that I was talking about… it’s the coolest atmosphere, I had so much fun there EVERY night! Lol… It got to a point where I would walk into the place and run into local people I knew… It was bizarre, hanging out like a local!

Another night we started at a different party… Got a phone call at the hostel from one of the girls who works there telling us about an amazing house party that was going on, she gave us the address and we all headed down there… Maaaaan… This was the ultimate house party, I’ve never seen one like it and probably never will again. The Serbs really truly do know how to party… The house was massive, and there were hundreds of people there… There was a bar set up and everything, woooot! After that, of course, we went back to Gajba. Spent the days sightseeing with loads of different people from the hostel, met a really cool bunch of people, lots of Brits, and Canadians, an irritating Kiwi (successfully the most annoying person I have met in my life, so much so that we ended up in a massive argument in the Lounge cos I was sick of hearing his ranting about everything, and you know how much I like to be told I’m wrong by someone who knows nothing of what they’re talking shit about…) and a French guy who is cycling to China and got interviewed by the national paper and TV station… Famous! There was an adorable British couple, a lovely guitarist and a couple of hockey-mad Canadians amongst the group too, really just a great bunch of randoms!

There was so much to do and see there, I mean, you could just wander the streets for ages looking at everything… There’s evidence of the recent riots in the streets after Kosovo declared independence, some people went all chaotic and trashed all of the city’s McDonalds (because it‘s so symbolic of the USA)… So they’re all closed at the moment, the windows are boarded up cos everything got smashed, I guess that they’re rebuilding, don’t know why they are bothering, the world is surely a better place without Maccas!

On my last day pretty much everyone at the hostel got together to head to an island in the middle of the river, we had heard that it was really nice, loads of trees and you can chill beside the river there. So, we’re walking there and get a little lost (ok, we kinda headed completely in the wrong direction for a while…) and we end up at a bridge that leads to what looks like a dump from up there, looked like the kind of place that people never return from in horror movies... Despite the doubtful looks everyone was giving each other we decided to cut through there, and it turned out to be a fabulous little gypsy village. Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to say Gypsy, it’s “Roma”… I know, I know… But the images conveyed by the word Gypsy are so much better… it was exactly how you’d imagine a gypsy village to be… Sketchy little handmade houses, cute barefoot kids running around, it was awesome. I was a little perplexed by the satellite dishes that were attached to so many of the shacks though… Didn’t look like the kind of places that would have televisions (or even electricity!!!) but I guess that they do! When we made it to the other side we finally realised how completely off track we were and headed along the river til we found the island. It was soooooo nice, laying on the grass in the sun for ages and ages, it was a beautiful day and I could have stayed there for hours longer if we all weren’t so bloody hungry! So eventually we headed back to the hostel for some dinner and lots of beer before going back to Gajba for some more partying, and then to another bar nearby.

The next day I got up early knowing that I would have to leave Serbia for real this time. Nobody believed that I would actually go, so when I appeared with my bags all packed I got a few surprised looks from everyone, the hostel owner and the other backpackers!

A couple of others were leaving the same day and heading to Brasov, same as me, so we trekked to the train station and organised our tickets and stocked up on food for the journey and settled in for what was sure to be a long boring trip… Ran into a French guy that we had met briefly in Belgrade too, so at least there was 4 of us to keep each other entertained. Long train rides are so ridiculously boring when you are on your own, like when there’s no other English speakers there or whatever, once it gets dark you just want to beat your head against the wall out of boredom, specially when they’re 14 or 16 hour train rides. Ugh. But yeah, like I said, at least I had some company! Charlie and Grace (the British couple) are so entertaining, there is no end to the randomly hilarious things that come out of their mouths… Like when the guy at the hostel told us that someone was checking in who was cycling from France to China, and Grace was trying to explain to one of the guys “cycling, you know, like on a bike” and he’s like, I know, I know, I understand… And then she turns around and was like “he’s what…? Cycling to china?” anyway, I guess it’s not gonna be as funny writing it down so I’ll stop rambling about it. But anyway, they’re funny!

The train ride was long and dramatic… I know a lot of you have been very curious about the whole bribing officials in Romania comment, so here it is…

Joe and I had left the cabin to go and have a cigarette… We had been smoking the whole way there as had everyone else on the train… The conductors, the passport controllers, the customs guys, the other passengers... We had been smoking in the halls and conductors just walked straight past us. Everyone was smoking, right… So we go out of our cabin for one last cigarette before trying to get some sleep, and some conductors come running at us and tell us that we’re not allowed to smoke. So we butt them out and then they ask for our passports and tell us that we have to pay a 30 Euro fine for smoking. We start arguing with them a little, and Joe tells them that we are not paying anything until we get a fine in writing… Smart boy he is! So the guy tells us to pay 10 Euro, and Joe says the same thing, not until he has a fine in writing so that he can get it checked out in Bucharest they disappear and tell us to wait where we are. Took a couple of minutes to realise that when they disappeared they took our passports with them… Crap…

Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere knows that your passport is the most valuable thing you will carry, especially when you are on an international train somewhere near a border when you really don’t even know which country you are technically in at that point. Crap crap crap!!!

So, we sat an stressed for a while before getting up to look for them… We walked the entire length of the train checking every cabin until we found them right at the end… We opened the door and the conductors spoke to the Don Corleone of all conductors, I guess that they were speaking Romanian, and he turned to us with his hands on his knees and said very sternly “sit down”… He explained that we would have to pay 27 Euro each for smoking on the train. We protested this, telling him that everyone was smoking (we weren’t game to point out that it was obvious that they had also been smoking in this cabin, not only by the cigarettes and lighters lying around but the clear smell of recent cigarette smoke floating around in the room) and Joe reiterated that we wouldn’t be paying anything without a written fine. So, after much back and forth, I ended up telling him that I didn’t have 27 Euro, nor did I have the equal amount in Lei since we were only just entering the country. I told him I only had 10 Euro on me, and he went back to his calculator before telling us that this wasn’t enough, but if we would give him 12 Euro each then he would write us a fine and we would be allowed to smoke the rest of the journey…?!?!?! In my head I was getting really mad… I mean, if we were doing something so wrong by smoking on the train, something that justified issuing a fine, then why were they going to let us smoke for the rest of the trip? Dodgy. If he hadn’t had my passport I would have argued for the rest of the trip but I was too concerned that I was never going to see it again so handed over the money, took our passports and we went and had the most expensive cigarette of our lives. Dodgy corrupt bastards. Oh well, life goes on I guess. But I’m still mad!!!

After that everyone went to sleep, me more soundly than everyone else I think… Every time the conductors got on to check tickets and everything poor Grace had to try to wake me up, I was sleeping so deeply it was a mission for her, yelling and poking to wake me! But we got there and found our connecting train to Brasov without to many hassles where I settled in for another sleep!

Woot, Transylvania, here I come… Look out Drac, I’m comin for ya!

See you guys next time.

Peace, love,



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photo by: tj1777