Matt in taxi to airport
Early flight... Why do I do it??
I need to be at the airport before any public Transport starts running. And it is raining. And I am headed for Terminal 5 at Heathrow which has been dogged with problems since it opened a few months back... I love flying :)
It actually goes very well. Check in was a breeze, flight leaves on time and the air steward (James) who is looking after us keeps insisting we drink beer despite it being breakfast time. I joke that he is trying to get my friend (Matt) drunk as James had a slight camp look about him. Halfway through the flight Matt is convinced that James has just winked at him. I thought he should just flirt back to see how much more beer we could get out of him :) Thoroughly nice bloke he was!
So we land in Belgrade and collect luggage etc, etc.
British Airways "Breakfast"
.. We look for a taxi to take us into town and try to avoid being ripped off. We had read that a taxi from the airport to the centre should cost about 10Euro. We didn't have Euro, only local currency which was "Dinars" which made the bargaining difficult. I personally would have just jumped in the first taxi as I had alot of luggage but Matt with his small weekend bag was determined to get the price down. It was then we realise that although I had printed the details of our apartment out the actual address was missed off. This meant we had to ask the nice taxi man to phone the owner of the apartment for the address. Luckily he did but I am sure I caught the words "Crazy" & "English". After about 15 minutes of hassling we realised that if we went u the nearby stairs we could join the queue for the official taxi's who would be metered!
Three observations about Belgrade Taxi drivers.
A local cafe with good taste in football!
1) They drive like crazy! Our driver spent more time looking back at us trying to talk than he did actually looking at the road. On more than one occasion did they nearly hit other cars or a wall!! 2) On two separate occasions their meters broke mid-journey meaning they had to "estimate" the price 3) They all think they are the best drivers and that everyone else is to blame. Bizarrely they actually seem to blame it not on other drivers but on the actual cars they drive. After a near miss we would hear the driver scream "Fu*king Yugo - Sh*t cars". It was quite surreal!
So we eventually get to town and the first thing we decide to do after dumping our bags is to explore the town. For the first time ever I was lost in a foreign city.
It was just a combination of not having a map and all of the street signs being written in the Cyrillic alphabet. It took us a while to find out where we were going but we eventually got hold of a map and directed ourselves to the main pedestrian area which I believe is "Republic Square". In Cyrillic this square is named as Трг Републикe
which may explain why we were so lost :)
This confusion continues for our entire stay but we did become more comfortable and managed to do / see quite alot. Below are the highlights for me:
Kalemegdan: Kalemegdanis a large park located in the Stari Grad area of Belgrade. The park is located at the top of a 125 metre ridge which looks over the confluence of the Sava river in to the Danube.
Matt in Bohemian Quarter
Within the park is a fortress and I was led to believe that for many years the entire population of Belgrade lived within its walls. There is tons of history here but if like us you are pushed for time then go purely for the views over the river and take a walk around.
Bohemian Quarter: The cobbled street was one home to many Serbian Poets, Artists and Writers. Walking around it isn't hard to believe. Today the street is lined with restaurants and bars. Although the place has got a slight tourist trap feel about it I thought it was a really nice place to eat of an evening. As the sun goes down the street wakes up and is really bustling. The noises from each restaurant is something else. They all seem to have their own "House band" which blasts out (I presume) traditional Serbian music.
Some food from Bohemian Quarter - This was chicken in sesame seeds.
Each band generally consisted of around 5 guys. They all generally sing but their instruments did vary. I saw a double bass, a ukulele and everything in between.
Food: Hope you like meat! Serbian food is very simple yet somehow very satisfying. The menu will normally contain meat from every animal you can imagine eating. We generally stuck to Beef & pork but you could everything from Veal brain to pigs trotters! Food was reasonably priced and always came in large portions. The salads are worth a mention also as they tasted amazing.
Drink: Serbian beer is great - Especially when it is 1/3 of the cost of beer in London! A few new favourites that I had never tasted before are "Lav" and "Yelen".
Both go down very well!
Nightlife: Someone told me that there is plenty of nightlife in Belgrade but the hardest part is finding it. How true this is! We were there Thurs - Sun so we knew that we had the best nights for after dark action. Finding an outside cafe and watching the world go by is very easy. There are plenty of places and whilst the cafe's were perfect during the day we wanted something a bit more lively of an evening.
We had been told to try the floating clubs over by the Hotel Yugoslavia. They are basically floating rafts which turn into bars/clubs. They are based over in New Belgrade and when we arrived we saw lots of people heading in the same direction so we assumed we had found the right place to be.
Matt in "KST" after too many drinks!
Unfortunately, despite trying to gain access to maybe 8 of these floating rafts we were only allowed access to 2 of them. No idea if we weren't dressed appropriately or if they didn't fancy a couple English guys aboard but this left is with a nagging feeling that maybe the nightlife wasn't going to be that great. It was the first night though so we decided we would go home (it was about 02.00am and we had just stayed on the one raft that would let us on) to bed, do some research tomorrow and then have more fun tomorrow night. Just as we were about to reach our apartment a group of Irish people (2 brothers & 1 lady) recognised our accents and we got chatting. They were here on business and had an early meeting but found the cheap beer too tempting - They were Irish after all :) They asked us to join them which we gladly did.
I am not sure how or why but once we had hit 04.00am and closing time one of the Irish guys offered the owner some money to stay open which he kindly did. We rolled out around 06.00am with the Irish group insisting they would pick up the bill. Very kind of them!
Second night we did our research - A club called Stefan Brown was our destination as apparently it had great views of the city as it was on the 9th floor. This was probably closed down but it had since closed down or moved which meant we were back to square one... All we wanted was a club that played either rock music or what we refer to in England as "chart" music which is just common & well known songs. Unfortunately most clubs seemed to offer Techno or Turbo-folk (Don't ask).
We got lucky when someone suggested "KST" which stands for Klub Studenata Tehnike. It could almost be described as a student union but it wasn't only students. The building itself, once inside resembled something from a horror movie. Long corridors, hanging pipes etc... Didn't have a clue what to expect but it turned out to be brilliant. The smaller of the two rooms played classic rock music such as Metallica & Guns N' Roses whilst the bigger of the rooms (which has no roof) played songs such as Amy Winehouse, Oasis etc. It was so noisy we didn't get to chat to as many locals as we would have liked but we had alot of fun and left when the place closed which was getting on for daylight.
For our third and final night we thought we would play it safe and after a few quiet beers would head back to KST.
This made me chuckle :)
Unfortunately they must alternate the music nightly because whatever they were playing on this particular night wasn't great. The smaller of the two rooms was actually closed. Just as we were getting disheartened we remembered a tip from a taxi driver who told us to visit a place called "Tramvaj" which I believe translates into "Tramway". It is basically a pub (In the English sense) with live music. I think the reason this place was so much fun was that the live band was really good (Mainly Serbian with the odd song I recognised) and the place was full of locals and these particular locals were having alot of fun. There was dancing and smiles everywhere!! A good place to end our stay in Belgrade.
In summary I loved Belgrade.
Matt & I with the two Irish lads who led us astray!
It was also good to share it with a friend. I liked the challenge of having to work out where I was going and what we were doing. I always love using foreign currency (Hate Euros) and the challenge of trying to speak some of the foreign language. The food was great. The people are friendly although I didn't chat to as many of the locals as I would have liked. I think the "cafe culture" makes this more difficult as everyone is sat down at their specific tables facing away from each other. I would rather just stand and mingle. Another thing which I don't really like is the fact that the only way to get served is to grab the attention of a waiter / waitress. In a really busy place this can be frustratingly slow. What is impressive though is that after 2 hours you can go to pay and they generally remember what you ordered without checking the receipts - Very impressive.
Me pretending I am important
Will definitely go back.