Belgrade: Moving forward

I have mixed feelings about this city – I feel sad when I look around and see all the old block-like buildings and the destruction the city has seen due to several wars over the decades. On the other hand, it is nice to see that Belgrade and its people are moving forward…

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As we drove from the airport to downtown Belgrade, my taxi driver was telling me that this past summer there was heavy rain which resulted in floods damaging a lot of the crops, and that the lush greenery on the side of the road was normally yellow at this time of the year. As we approached the city, there was a massive brick building that was abandoned and looked as if it had been bombed! Low and behold, this was THE building that was actually bombed by NATO. It was a shock to see war remains, as I had never seen anything like it before. Seeing images similar to this on the news and seeing it in person stirs completely different emotions…

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Stepping out onto the street on my first day I could see a HUGE building that had a green dome. So I decided to walk in that direction. As I got closer to the building, it actually reminded me of Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sofia) in Istanbul, however, this building was white and the domes were green. The Savva Church was quite an impressive building, and my friends informed me that in fact, this building was based on the Aya Sofya design. As I went inside, I saw that the building was still under construction, hence was impressive only from the exterior surface. Once completed, the interior will look just as great! As there was nothing else in this neighbourhood, I decided to walk to the pedestrian zone.

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The pedestrian zone of downtown Belgrade is lined with shops, café’s and restaurants. There is also a small section in the middle where artists sell and display their work. At night, I noticed that not only the young were out and about, but families with children were also enjoying Belgrade.

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At the end of this street there is a fortress called “Kalemedgan” which is a great place to explore. I actually explored this park on a number of occasions during my time in Belgrade, as it is a nice place to just sit back and watch the world go by. On one side you can see the new bridge – which my host told me that the locals call “3 in 1” because it cost so much to build that 3 bridges could have been built with all that money, yet only one was built (he gestured that someone had put the money into their own pocket….). There are nice views of the two rivers that are around Belgrade – the Savva River and the Danube. As I further explored the fortress grounds, I came across an area that had A LOT of tanks, artillery and missiles. I kid you not, there were probably around 30 tanks! Near this display of heavy machinery, there was a building, which turned out to be the “Military Museum”. I didn’t go inside, as it is not my cup of tea, and I assume that there were probably more tanks and machinery inside…

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The National Assembly was a nice piece of architecture. The building was white with 3 green domes – but I found it strange that it was on a main busy road… I then walked over to St Marks Church, which is one of the oldest churches in Belgrade – made from brown bricks. I noticed that the Orthodox women would cover up their hair before entering the church. Inside was equally as nice as the exterior of the building with gold classic chandeliers. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside – so sadly I cannot show you. As I made my way out, I noticed that there was a nice park close by. I sat down on a park bench and saw that a lot of people were walking their dogs, and most of the time there were 3 dogs to 1 person and they were not all on a leash! I was slightly afraid that a dog was going to jump on me (you had to see the size of some of these dogs!!!), so I made my way over to the Nikola Tesla Museum, which was about a 5-minute walk.

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My taxi driver who brought me from the airport told me that I must visit the Nikola Tesla Museum. Oh and he wasn’t the only one! Several people told me that it’s a must see. BUT as I stood outside the building, I was disappointed. I was expecting a huge elaborate building, however, to my surprise, it was like an apartment building – so small… In any case, I decided to go inside (it was free!) and take a look. Even though I am a scientist, physics is not my thing, so seeing old electrical equipment that Tesla had invented/used was not very interesting for me. However, I seemed to be in the museum at the right time because a young employee gathered high school aged kids around him, handed each one a long fluorescent tube and asked them to stand around a large metal cauldron-like structure. After he flipped the switch, there was a lot of sound and then I saw a huge electric spark from a metal ball and simultaneously all the fluorescent tubes came alight! I guess he was teaching the children that Tesla had discovered electrical impulses. Shortly after this display I left thinking that this demonstration was the coolest thing about the museum…

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On my final days in Belgrade, I actually noticed that there were a lot of policeman around on every single street corner. And these were not ordinary policeman – they had plastic shields and were geared up in shoulder and kneepads. When I saw a large group of soldiers with gas masks, I was quite alarmed and terrified that there was going to be a large-scale protest of some sort. So I raced back to my accommodation and Google’d the news and saw that the people of Belgrade were protesting the gay pride festival. My taxi driver informed me that things got quite out of hand last year (hence all police and soldiers this year). He was happy that it seemed to go “ok” this year, as nobody had died….!!    IMG_9468WM

I stayed in the Bohemian quarter, which was a few minutes walk from the oldest street in Belgrade – Skadarlija. It was a nice neighbourhood where I felt safe. Nearby was the city’s only mosque that remained from the period of Ottoman rule. Around the corner was a market, which sold fresh fruit, and vegetables where I saw local men walking away with a whole bag of peppers! Breakfast was my most favourite meal of the day as I would go to the bakery around the corner and have fresh bürek filled with spinach and feta – simply scrumptious! I’m not much of a meat eater, and finding vegetarian dishes was quite hard – unless I had pizza from the street vendor every night!

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I was in Belgrade for 6 days – but you could easily see the major sites and get a feel for the city over a weekend (I was in Belgrade for work). Belgrade was definitely an eye opener and made me feel very blessed. It’s not as if I hadn’t ever been to Eastern Europe before – Belgrade was simply different… the city had taken a massive toll during the numerous wars over the centuries and just hadn’t recovered… As my taxi driver drove me back to the airport he explained that “World War 1, World War 2, Yugoslavian war, Kosovo war – Belgrade has always been in war”. I replied saying that despite all these wars, it was nice to see that Belgrade was moving forward…

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