Heat wave in Belgrade
Belgrade Travel Blog› entry 7 of 24 › view all entries
July 13th, 2008 – by: cneoridium
After dropping our packs at the hostel we set out to explore. Climbing the steep hill separating the city from the train station and riverfront, we found the main shopping street, Knez Mihailova. It's a wide, canyon of a street, lined with tall buildings and closed to traffic. It's where all the expensive shops and restaurants are, along with big business and government offices. What's impressive is how long it is. Most big cities in Eastern Europe have a pedestrian shopping street, but this one goes on forever.
One nice feature we found there was that Tito had installed flowing drinking fountains throughout the city, offering a welcome drink to thirsty passers-by. The fountains were in constant use, with people from every walk of life stopping by for a quick drink, or filling bottles on the way to the office.
We came across Kalemegdan, the old fortified area that makes up one end of the city above the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
As the heat grew more oppressive, and we had consumed at least 10 liters of water between us, we made our way back into town, taking refuge in each of the massive Orthodox churches we came to. We walked across to the far end of town to seek out the large botanical garden for a nap and some lunch, but alas, it was abandoned and fenced. The plants had grown wild, then eventually many had died in a tangle of branches and brush. We found a grimy (abandoned) little park next door and crawled into some shade on the ground, pecked at by pigeons as we grabed a quick nap.
Zvonka was surprised that the once mighty capital of Yugoslavia was still impressive, but just not the gleaming city we'd seen in the pictures from 20 or 30 years ago. I mean, it's nice there, but it's a typical big, dusty city with aging infrastructure, back streets in a state of disrepair, and some of the parks have seen better days. Coming in and out of town you pass through big refugee and Gypsy camps that line the tracks at the edge of the city.
Back at the hostel that night we were happy that we had the 14-person room with triple bunk beds to ourselves; no other guests showed up. Once they turned off the Reggae music in the empty lobby at 1am..., we at last got some good, deep sleep. I was still catching up from the 27-hour flight from San Diego.
In the morning we explored what turned out to be the international district, with embassies of every country stacked along narrow streets, including the Croatian and American embassies that were set on fire when Kosovo declared independence... oops! Kosovo is still a hot topic, with graffitti everywhere and t-shirts declaring "Kosovo is Serbia".
I made the faux-pas of photographing what looked like just another crumbling Bureau of Something and a couple federal police ran over and made me delete the pictures from my camera. On closer inspection, it was the Ministry of Defense that the UN bombed in 1999 and it was still in it's bombed out condition. It was kind of awkward feeling that maybe I should apologize for us bombing them, but they didn't speak alot of English and didn't seem in a mood for conversation.
We didn't eat out in Belgrade, but did try the local beers, cheese, and red pepper paste - it's good. There's a big fruit and vegetable market with all sorts of nice fruit and things to eat, with really good prices for a big city. It's interesting that there aren't many grocery stores in the downtown area, I'm not sure where people buy food... Lots of searching turned up a couple small mini-markets. Even asking people where there was a supermarket brought looks of puzzlement and "hmm, I don't know... I think there's a mini market half a kilometer that way..."
At the end of the second day, while waiting for the night train to Sofia, we went and slept under a bridge over the Sava River (you'll notice that we nap a lot on this trip, night trains get to you.
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