Note: Belgrade may be postponed due to the Ukraine war. As you probably know, Putin supplies Serbia with their defense and military supplies. You know, weaponry, fighter jets, training. I would hate to miss Belgrade, but sometimes a bit of caution is required. But Dirty Pat says I must go!
Some of you out there in readership land have strongly suggested that I visit Belgrade on my way to my cycling rendezvous in Split, Croatia. So, I am flying to Belgrade from Athens. Originally, I planned to take the train from Munich and the fabulous Oktoberfest to Belgrade, Serbia. It is an overnight, with a decent layover in Zagreb, Croatia for breakfast and a little wandering. But plans change, sometime not of my own doing.
The web site, seat61.com is quite helpful when planning rail trips, particularly when going off the beaten path. Just an FYI, for any future travels, here is what seat61 suggested for me:
- Step 1, take the excellent overnight Croatian sleeper train Lisinski leaving Munich Hbf at 23:20 and arriving Zagreb at 08:35.It has a smart air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car with 1, 2 & 3 bed compartments, and an air-conditioned Croatian couchette car with 4 & 6 berth compartments.Fares start at €49 with couchette, €89 with a bed in a 2-bed sleeper or €129 in a single-bed sleeper all to yourself.You can book this sleeper at the German Railways website www.bahn.de and print your own ticket. Or you can try www.trainline.eu, which links to the Austrian Railways system and also offers print your own tickets.
- Step 2, take the comfortable air-conditioned train leaving Zagreb at 11:03 and arriving Belgrade Centar station at 17:42. Fare around €30 if bought at the station. It cannot be booked online from the operators, so just buy when you reach Zagreb, it’s not a problem.
So, my bonus layover in Zagreb is no more. Zagreb is known for its cafe culture. I am certain I could have acculturated fairly quickly and easily. Instead, I will change planes in Vienna (only an hour).
But my goal here is Belgrade? Why? For one, the famous Hotel Moscow (Moskva), which appears to be about the most picturesque art deco hotel I have ever seen. And two, have the famous Moscow Mule? Hotel Moskva is one of Belgrade’s most recognizable landmarks. Opened in 1908, one of Belgrade’s oldest hotels, located on the main square, Terazije in the main downtown core.
Belgrade is old, even attacked by Attila the Hun. It is the largest city in Serbia. It is split by the Sava River into the new and old parts, though the new was built during Soviet days, with that distinct cell block vibe. The Yugoslav wars lasted until 2001, ending the pan-Slavic experiment. You may remember the repressive days of Milosevic. The enormous destruction from NATO attacks in 1999 still dominates Nemanjina Street.
The post war years have not been kind to Belgrade. Even with the promise of joining the EU, unemployment is high, and wages remain low. Political tension is ongoing, due to distrust of government, as well as the US and the EU.
On the PLUS side, Belgrade knows how to party! Despite jolly guys like Attila and Milosevic, cafes and bars remind people of nearby Greece and Italy. Or, it has been said Belgrade has the Mediterranean lifestyle without the coastline. Coffee is serious business until sundown, when beer takes over. My kind of place! Spritzes are the city’s de facto cocktail.
Back to coffee for an instant, thank the Ottomans for bringing it. It has a strong resemblance to Turkish coffee (aka kafa). The first coffee house opened in 1522! And naturally, specialty roasters have sprouted, or perked, like Przionica.
Green markets, like Kalenic are held daily. All have a flea market, and fresh produce section. Zeleni Venac has the craziest architecture, spectacular view, and central location. the only downside is not many tourists, so my sign language and big smiles will be vital.
The local fruit brandy, rakija, is at best, an acquired taste throughout the Balkans. It can be made from quince, pear, apricot or peaches. The Serbian version is sljivovica, made from Damson plums that grow here in Serbia. No sugar added, and double distilled, so it is quite strong. Many Serbs have it for breakfast along with coffee and sweetened fruits. But honey can be added to make it softer.
Belgrade burek is their version of the breakfast burrito. It is served very hot, in both sweet (fruit, ricotta cheese) and savory (cheese, spinach, mushroom, meat). The best bakery is Pekara Carli, while Europan is open 24 hours should the urge become too great.
Forget about being a vegetarian here. Pork and more pork is the name of all meals. With many Turkish influences, schnitzel, torten, and breaded pork are mainstays of Serbian meals. I would also expect hearty stews, grilled meat, and tons of bread. But I am most looking forward to their version of the hamburger, called pljeskavika. It has lots of garnishes, and ends up a big, wet mess. Sound familiar? And they have the ubiquitous thin crust pizza, Serbian style.
Serbian currency is the dinar is a bargain compared to the Euro, making Serbia quite affordable. While I do not plan to buy anything expensive, I do plan of having a great time.
On my list of things to do: The Nikola Tesla Museum, the Hooligan’s Tour and the Zeleni Venac Market. You know how much I love the local markets!
I was also told about Three Hats, or Tri Sesira. The menu seems to feature great seafood and meat. They even have a Serbian hamburger! The title apparently comes from the Three Hats dessert pancakes, with jam, walnuts and cream.
If Dirty Pat says Belgrade is a must see and do, far be it me to argue. Next to Katy (the world traveler, 365 days a year), Dirty would be next on my top 5!!!!
Wish me luck, safety, good weather, and no escalation of this tragic war.