I shared a compartment on an overnight train with a German family of four from Zagreb, Croatia, to Beograd, Serbia, Friday night the 12th of August.
We were woken up twice by border control between 3am and 4am which was a bit terrifying. I did however get my first ever stamp on my passport. I had also almost made the mistake of bringing only my passport card with me on my travels, forgetting that Serbia is not in the EU.
We arrived at 6am, and I went straight to my hostel, Downtown Hostel, which turned out to be right across the road from the train station. I was five hours early for check-in but figured I’d be able to leave my bag there and wander ’round.
Upon reaching the building, which could be spotted by the banner up on the sixth floor balcony, I became afraid I had made a bad booking choice. I rang the buzzer and was let into a foyer that looked like it had long ago been abandoned. The elevator didn’t work so I climbed six flights of stairs with about 15kg of bags on me.
However, after checking-in my fears were allayed. The staff were incredibly nice and apologised numerous times that they couldn’t let me into my room – despite the fact that it was me that was five hours early. They locked my bag in a storage room, gave me a map, gave me some history about Serbia, suggested some places to go, gave me lots of coffee, plums and the local spirit, Rakia.
During my first morning, someone came up to me and repeated “Kalemegdan” while pointing down the road to what turned out to be a large park surrounding Beograd fortress.
I took a relaxed stroll around it and then went and got food from Tribeca.
I made my way back in the direction of the hostel, booked my next train for Sofia, Bulgaria, chatted to some of the other people in the hostel, and finally retired to my room for a while – all before midday. I then napped til 3pm.
The rest of the day was relaxed. Visited a super market, sat near the station watching people, walked along the waterfront.
I’d been told by the staff in the hostel that Beograd was very safe – at night and for women. I found this to be true.
I returned to the hostel again, chatted to some more of the residents, had more rakia, and then went to bed.
I woke up the next day, Sunday, around 10:30am and headed to the Nikola Tesla museum around midday. The next English tour was 2pm so I walked back towards the Orthodox Church of Saint Sava. It was of course unfinished at this time, because all the coolest places have unfinished churches.
I was also accidentally present for a baptism.
Walked back to the museum for the Nikola Tesla tour which turned out to be a bit lame. The tour guide really went for it but it’s really just one room rather than a museum. In their defence I hear all the good stuff is in the states.
Found the Bohemian Quarter.
Also the National Theatre off Republika Square. It was closed, which was a theme with national theatres on my travels.
I was on my way back to the hostel, quite tired, to read a book and go to bed. I decided this was a bit lame and decided I would at least read my book in a bar or café for a while before simply returning to the hostel. This turned out to be a good choice.
I stopped into a very quiet bar/café near the hostel which was empty at the time. I got talking to the barman for a bit, who was local, and he recommended up stairs for reading.
As I was about to go upstairs another tourist, from France, entered the bar demanding orange juice and company outside. So myself and the barman went outside.
We got into great conversation and then started coaxing unsuspecting people who wandered in to come join us. We were a god while doing this when two other tourists joined us! Another from France and the other from Finland. They had met in their hostel and had been looking for a different bar but we convinced them to stay with us.
It turned out it was the barman’s last night working this bar, as he’d gotten a new job on a cruise ship. After much deliberation and negotiation the four tourists convinced him to join us in going to a night club to celebrate!
It turned out Beograd is known for it’s night-life, and has a great many all-night nightclubs on the river.
The first French tourist departed early, as they were getting up early to leave the next day, but the rest of us stayed out ’til about 4am, and then exchanged contact details to meet up the following day.
Monday, myself and the French and Finnish tourists who’d met in their hostel, had a beach day – if you’re allowed call an artificial lake, contained in a river, a beach.
Ada Ciganlija seemed like a place you could spend a few days with its many restaurants, play-parks, bars, a zip line and many other activities.
As it started to get dark – and buggy! – we walked back out to get the bus back to the city centre. We met up with another tourist, from Denmark, for a few drinks, before the Finnish tourist and I departed as we were both leaving the next day.
Tuesday was history of Serbia day for me. I packed my stuff up, paid my bill and met the manager of the hostel on my way out and had a surprisingly tearful goodbye. I dropped my bag off at the lockers in the train station and proceeded to get – not exactly lost – but unsure of my way as I walked towards the Museum of Yugoslavia History.
This museum actually turned out to be three museums; 25 May Museum, House of Flowers and the Old Museum/Old Storeroom.
All three museums relate to the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia and Josip Broz Tito. I’d highly recommend it.
I found a bus going back to the city centre, went to the train station and spent the last of my Serbian dinar on postcards and snacks and sat reading a while. The French tourist found me and we chatted for a bit. I boarded my train around 9:40pm somewhat sadly.