Between the six countries I visited in 2016, Serbia was the one that scared me the most. I had spent ten days in Bosnia, getting all sorts of information about the Bosnian/Serbian war. I watched more documentaries than I could count. Maybe it was because I loved Bosnia so much, but there was a part of me that seemed to blame Serbia for the atrocities of the war. Or maybe any country would have a hard time competing for my love, after Bosnia. All I know is that Belgrade was not what I expected, and I left disappointed.
I arrived in Belgrade after a horrible day of travel, from Sarajevo, on a private transfer with Gea Tours. When I first heard of this I went crazy. I paid 15€ (the regular bus cost 25€) to have a van picking me up at my hostel, in Sarajevo, and dropping me off at my hostel in Belgrade. Besides not having to care about carrying my backpacks or getting lost, I was actually saving money. It was my travel discovery of the year! Or so I though.
I was picked up one hour late. The driver could care less about my bags and made me carry them to the end of the street. Sure, I can carry it all by myself, thank you very much! Then, we picked up a few more women from different locations. They all spoke Bosnian, or Serbian? All I know is I didn’t understand a thing. They kept yelling at each other. I’m pretty sure all women were trying to tell him the way out of Sarajevo. We were going in circles. Does he really not know the way?
The drive took almost eight hours. If you can imagine six women yelling in a car for eight hours, then you can imagine what my drive looked like that day. We stopped because they had to pee, we stopped because they were hungry, we stopped because someone was going to throw up. Then I had to move to the middle seat in the back and I was the one who almost threw up. SO. MANY. FREAKING. CURVES! We stopped because the car made weird noises. We stopped at the boarder. I got two stamps (hell to the yes!). People kept pointing at our van and yelling. Most of the time I was worried I would never make it to Serbia. Is this even normal?
Everyone had been dropped at their locations. I was the last one. The driver tells me he will drop on a different street, so he won’t have to get out of his way, and go all the way around the city to reach my hostel. He asked if it was ok. I wanted to cry and say no, but I’m too good to complain, and I said ‘sure‘ as the night set in. Fortunately, the hostel was close by and I arrived in ten minutes. Always hated having to wander around a city, lost, on arrival, during the night. It freaks me out!
Arriving with the sun setting down, I had only one thought in my mind: food! I had been traveling the entire day inside a crappy van, and I didn’t really eat anything since we left Sarajevo. I was about to pass out.
At the hostel, I was given a bunch of tips on where to eat cheap in the city, close to the hostel. Still, I was exhausted and I didn’t feel like ordering typical Serbian food that I didn’t even know the name, meaning I would be ordering something that would be a surprise until it got to my table. Plus, I was having stomach problems and strong food was not being accepted by my body. So, when I saw an Italian restaurant I sat outside, got a blanket around me, and I was ready for some carbonara. My plate of pasta and a fresh orange juice cost me 10€.
Coming from Bosnia, where I was used to paying less than 5€ for my meals at restaurants, I thought that Serbia was not that cheap. In fact, it was expensive! Or did I just go to the most expensive restaurant in town? To be fair, the place was pretty damn fancy, and a place like that in Portugal would have cost me at least three times more! Thank you Belgrade?
It was also in Belgrade that I felt bad for not tipping for the first time in my life. In Portugal we never tip (sorry…). It’s just not something we were raised to do. I guess it’s not part of our culture. Well, when I finished my carbonara, I had the waitress mad at me because I wanted to pay with card when I first said I would pay with cash. He yelled “you said cash, so you can only pay cash!“. He then told me the amount, finishing the sentence with ‘tips not included‘. I told him that he didn’t let me pay with card, so I didn’t have money to tip. He was pissed. He turned his back on me and not even a thank you or a goodnight. Did I just offended him? Do I look like the kind of person who has money and actually tips? I felt bad!
On my second day I woke up ready to explore. I was feeling pretty excited, at least until I got to the street and realized how much I hate cold. It was freezing to the point my face was hurting and my fingers were frozen. Seriously, how do people live like this? I missed Portugal and the warm that we get there, even in the Winter.
I wandered around the main shopping street, looking desperately for something that would call for my attention. There was nothing to see. It was all buildings and shops. I was not excited for a second. I then got lost trying to get to the Fortress, which I was told was a pretty cool place. Getting lost in Belgrade is the worst! Damn, I get lost a lot, but Belgrade made it super hard when I noticed the name of the streets were impossible to understand. It felt like I was in Russia for a second. I couldn’t read a thing!
Finally, I gave up on trying to find any of the attractions, and decided to get myself some food. Since I really loved the pasta dish at the Italian restaurant, the day before, I went back for lunch. God, I love Italian food!! I know, I know, I should’ve been eating Serbian food, but it’s Italian!
I usually stay at the hostel at night. Still, on my second night I was starving. There was a girl cooking some yummy steak and I got super hungry. That was when I discovered the BEST burger I ever ate! I paid 10€ for a double burger, a coke and some fries with house sauce. YUM! YUM! I mean, I wanted to stay in Belgrade forever, just so that I could eat at this restaurant, Submarine BBQ, every single day! And for the first time since I arrived in Belgrade, the waitress was nice! She was so nice and sweet that I did something I never do: I gave a tip! I actually gave her a tip because I thought she deserved it.
The next day I went back for lunch. That’s how much I loved this place! In the end, I called the waitress and said “this is my last Serbian money. I don’t need it anymore” and gave it to him. It was a bunch of notes, that seemed like a lot of money, but was about 1€. Well, my intentions were good, right?
By my third and last day, I couldn’t wait to leave Belgrade. I would stay for the burger and the pasta, but I’m sad to say the city was not my cup of tea. I wanted to like Belgrade. Still, like I said, I came from Bosnia, which turned into my new favorite country, and after Belgrade I was spending two days in Budapest, one of my favorite cities! Poor Belgrade never stood a chance against these two!
So, my last day was spent discovering the Fortress and park. Would you believe me if I told you I spent the afternoon there? I only had one plan for that day: say goodbye to Belgrade in a quiet way.
For some reason, ever since I can remember, I always try to find a high place in the city to get a good view. And when I find it I just like to stay there, staring at the view, in silence, until I feel ready to say goodbye and leave. With Belgrade I wouldn’t do it any other way. After exploring the park and seeing some heavy war weapons that creeped me out, I sat on this wall thinking about my time in Serbia. Things had been weird. It didn’t feel right. But I was happy to have had the courage to visit the city alone. Turns out there was nothing to be scared about!
Before starting my trip I had seen on the news that there was a huge refugee’s march from Belgrade to the Serbia/Hungary boarder. Now, the news made me actually fear going to Serbia. I really wanted to go, but I was worried I would have problems at the boarder, or even on the way. It seem like there were at least hundreds marching towards the boarder!
Getting to the boarder, I started looking everywhere, in search for all those people that were supposed to be by the fences. I didn’t see a single refugee the entire way there, and I couldn’t see them either when I was at the boarder. In fact, this is the reality of what I saw: a women holding a child, walking towards a small camp, close to the fences, where two other men were. Out of hundreds that I thought I was going to see, I saw exactly four people. This made me feel sick! I’m way too fed up with the fake and sensationalist news. I just wish they would stop! Or is this culture of fear a thing now?
Still, I must say that this boarder crossing had the highest security I had ever seen! There were three check points, in which even our van had to be searched, and after that there was a giant fence, making it impossible for anyone to cross. It actually made me feel pretty bad with the craziness that is going on in the world right now.
So, Belgrade didn’t steal my heart, but it did something bigger than that: it made me face my fears and realize that I can actually do it on my own, because I am a brave young lady, with big dreams, who will stop at nothing to see every country in the world! Only 177 more to go, ahm?
I stayed at HostelChe Hostel, in a 3 bed dorm. My stay was sponsored by this hostel, but they offer really good rates, starting at 9€ for a bed in a beautiful 7 bed dorm. The location is fantastic, the staff is the nicest and the common living room is pretty amazing. I would highly recommend staying at this hostel with your planning a few nights in Belgrade. Their comments and 9.6/10 ratings speak for themselves.
How to get to Belgrade: Belgrade has several transports running to/from countries close by. Still, the timetables are limited, and usually you only have one or two departures a day, if so. From Bosnia you have a daily bus with Lasta that should cost you around 20-25€. You can also get Gea Tours, with a pick-up and drop-out at your accommodations for 15€. From Belgrade to Budapest there’s a slow train that only costs 15€. With 20€ you can travel by train from Belgrade to several countries close by (Bulgaria 20€, Croatia and Slovenia 25€, Montenegro 20€). Many hostels, in Belgrade, also arrange private transports to other countries, like Hungary for 30€. Serbia actually has a couple of good flight connections, but most of the cheaper flights are to/from Nis (with flights starting at 10€) not Belgrade.
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