Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 8: Beograd, Serbia

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.

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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.

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The view of the station from the balcony.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The view under the bridge as we left the night-club.

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.

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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.

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Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 6; EJC continued

Day 6) Thursday: The heat became pretty unbearable today, so there was little us Irish folk could do other than melt and nap fitfully. My new companion and deigned to wander into the forest where it might be cooler, where we found a gazebo that was perfectly fit to nap in. Then dropped by The Games! The Games are another integral part of a juggling convention. Usually taking place on the last day of a usual three day convention, they took place on Friday for the benefit of people travelling home over the weekend.

Common games are three-ball Simon Says (juggling three balls while either performing basic tasks like standing on one leg, or by completing tricks), combat (trying to break people’s juggling patterns while juggling three clubs), club balance (balancing a club on your face – forehead, nose or chin) and endurance (and game that involves doing something the longest eg balancing a contact ball on your head, holding a handstand, juggling and number of balls or clubs, often up to seven balls or five clubs).

That evening there was Irish dinner! Where camp New-New-Ireland all got dinner together, rather than people eating loads of potatoes.

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The official Fire-show took place that evening, but it was very hard to get a spot, so I ended up buying delicious ice-cream and chatting with one of the Irish-Berlin jugglers who had also failed to procure a spot. I didn’t attend much of the renegade though a technician asked me would the Irish be taking over again, and they seemed disappointed I said no, before briefly heading to the bar and then bed.

Day 7) Friday: Many of the Irish jugglers retreated to the gazebo my companion and I had found, to escape the heat. We came well-prepared with food, booze, books and cards.

That evening we took over the Renegade Tent again. It was all going very well, we’d been granted an extra hour as well as it was going so well – until a sudden rain storm hit and flooded the tent at 1:40am. As I stood up I realised at a most inopportune moment I was too inebriated for my own good, stumbled towards a gym to hide from the rain for a while before returning to my tent.

Day 8) Saturday: We all got up about midday and returned to the gazebo with boardgames and cards. We made friends with some people from France who played Star Realms (a great deck-building game).  After which we went to a Chinese restaurant; the menu was in German and the chopsticks had French instructions on them.

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That evening was the Gala show – the biggest show of every juggling convention, so you can imagine what the biggest show of the biggest convention is like. It was pretty spectacular with multi-prop juggling, swinging trapeze, a uncicyle duo, a ladder act, foot juggling, four-diabolo juggling…

After which my companion and I took a wander around the town. I had to check the train times for my departure the next day. My companion was staying another night before returning to Munich, Germany, to fly out. We then found a “Beach Party” which appeared to be some sort of outdoor-beach-themed-rave-nightclub. Not what we expected to find in the town of Bruneck, but we fanangled our way in with some minimal German, where my companion threw some juggler shapes.

It wasn’t terribly enthralling so we returned and slept before..

Day 9) Sunday, he last day. The saddest day of every convention when every has to pack up and leave. Some people were a lot worse for wear than others.

Plenty of people weren’t flying home that day but still had to get off site for take-down. I was told I’d be missed by Dublin jugglers “You’ll be all the way in Galway” and one of them gifted me a knife with a handle in the shape of a banana. After packing up all my gear, getting some pizza for breakfast, helping my companion pack their tent I commenced some “Bye for now”s, and headed for the train back to Innsbruck, Austria.

‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’

With an immaculate set and a mildly humorous story-line, the Acorn players’ production of ‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’ kept me entertained, for its first hour or so

The story by Jimmy Keary starts off with Gabriel, who lives with his mother, discussing a woman he finds attractive in his theatre group; Hazel. A long-time friend of the family’s, Chrissie, tries to ask him out, but he’s already on the verge of entanglement with Hazel.  He later finds out Hazel has plans to make him her third husband and sell his farm. With the help of Chrissie, Gabriel manages to brush her off, and the play ends on a positive note; after two and a half hours.

Upon entering the auditorium of Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, I was instantly struck by the detail of the set. The furniture, colours and perfectly-adorned walls screamed new-style old-fashioned Ireland. Some classic Irish music played as people seated themselves to create a complimentary atmosphere, and the play got off to a good start with two older women, Gabriel’s mother and aunt, having a hilarious back-and-forth commentary; again, very Irish and very believable.

However, by the time the interval came, an hour into the play, very little had happened worth noting (aside from Gabriel’s aunt’s commenting that he might be “one of those lesbians”). As the second “half” seemed to drag by (almost a half hour longer than the first part) I found myself melting into my seat listening to long winded conversations. Though with the THT’s unusual combination of college students and older audiences, I’ll admit that the humour of it all appealed greater to the other half than it did to me. While the dialogue aroused raucous laughter from some people, it evoked nothing but the occasional snort of derision from me.

Overall, not my cup of tea. But in a time when stage design is often kept quite minimalistic, it was nice to see such a detailed set. And while a bit lengthy and tedious, the play no doubt appealed to its own target audience greatly, which is something to be commended.