A day trip to Belgrade

Trip Start Nov 09, 2007
Trip End Feb 03, 2008

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Thursday, December 6, 2007

The primary goal for today was to get from Istanbul to Sarajevo. There are no cheap direct flights so we flew with JAT, the Serbian airline, via Belgrade. This involved a seven hour wait between flights.

First things first. We needed to return the car, which meant finding a petrol station between the hotel and the airport, then calling the rental company and arranging to meet them outside the International Departures. We had a wipeout on all fronts. First, there is no petrol station between the hotel and the airport. This didn't stop me spending 20 minutes fruitlessly searching. Then we rang the airport office of the rental company. They promised they would meet us outside. We parked the car and got our luggage out. Still no one from the rental company. Ten minutes later and Jess said she would take the luggage through the scanner and see if she could check in. I called the rental company again. 'Yes yes, we will be outside soon.' I was getting a bit hysterical by this time as the time for checking in had long passed. I let the man know that it was urgent. A few more minutes, still no one. Arghhh... I rang the company again, telling them that it was 'urgent urgent'. 'Where are you?' they asked... again. 'OUTSIDE INTERNATIONAL DEPARTURES' I very calmly told them. 'Which airport?' 'ATATURK'. 'This is not Ataturk Airport'.

Istanbul has two international airports and we had been ringing the wrong one. Oops. One more call, this time to the correct airport, and the agent from the car rental company emerged within minutes. A quick check over the car, a minor disagreement over the fact that the car was not filled with petrol, and then I raced inside to catch the last 2 minutes of check-in time. Whew, but what a stress out!

The flight to Belgrade was fine and when we got there we wondered what to do with the seven hours before our next flight. After asking at the information desk we found out that it was relatively easy to travel in to Belgrade centre. So that's what we did. We had missed the airport shuttle so had to catch the 'city bus'. That's a slower service that is meant for the Serbian public, not tourists like us.

We arrived in the centre of Belgrade to find it fairly chilly and crawling with people dressed in fur coats, designer jackets, and generally well dressed. We had no set agenda and didn't really know what to expect, but had a fun couple of hours strolling along some very fancy shopping precincts, came across some Christmas markets, bought a small painting and had a lovely cup of coffee and a delicious cake in a rather glamorous coffees shop complete with huge chandeliers.

At one point we walked along a busy thoroughfare and some very makeshift market stalls had been set up. Consisting of no more than two cardboard boxes, each stall was covered with a simple cloth and then the wares were spread out to appeal to shoppers. At this first collection of stalls the stallholders were busy setting up when some unknown signal must have been given and WHOOSH they were gone. Maybe fifteen stalls packed up and vanished in under 3 seconds. I looked around for the cause and saw a policeman talking to one of the people who had been near the stalls. Ah hah! Cause and effect.

With a bit of trial and error we found the place to get back on the number 72 bus that would take us back to the airport. A bus finally arrived and we hopped on. I forgot to say that the cost for this journey in and out was precisely zero. We had tried to purchase tickets from the bus driver on the way in and he just waved us inside so on the way back we didn't even bother. I did have a few nervous moments about what we would say to a ticket inspector, but it never happened, so we were lucky. We spent the remainder of the dinar we had taken out of the airport ATM at the chocolate shop in the airport.

When we reached Sarajevo it was almost ten at night. Halvat Guest House, where we were staying had arranged for us to be picked up by a private driver for less than the cost of a taxi. What a godsend that was, as we were all exhausted. On the way in the driver showed us the Holiday Inn that was famous during the Balkans war, we drove down Sniper Alley, and he showed us the Library/City Hall, a glamorous Austro-Hungarian era building that was now a burnt out shell.

At Halvat we received a warm welcome and were shown to our cosy room where we crashed into our beds.
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