We Tried To Like Serbia...

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Hotel Slavia

Flag of Serbia  ,
Monday, May 30, 2011

We tried to like Serbia. We really did. However we found the region to be one of conflicting reports and confusion. To Quote the Lonely Planet ¨Independant travellers to this misunderstood state will be surprised by Serbia¨ and ¨Serbs welcome you as an opportunity for cross-cultural engagement over a drink or five¨.  

We wanted to give it a chance even though we had just learnt during our visit to Bosnia about the atrocities carried out by Bosnian Serbs during the 1990's conflicts. (The Lonely Planet Quotes ¨By 1992 a three-way war was raging between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. Atrocities were committed by all sides¨)  We wanted to give it a chance even though the latest news in the Balkans area (as referred to in our last story) was of the arrest of a suspected major Serbian war criminal accused of ordering massive ethnic cleansing. In a newspaper we purchased, it was reported that up until now, no real efforts had been made to bring him to justice, but to the contrary, he was treated as a hero in certain areas of Serbia. We saw numerous posters to this effect around the region.

Serbia is now hoping to join the EU, so the newspaper article suggested that perhaps the arrest was timed for best effect? Perhaps they are just cynical? 

All this aside, we tried to be open minded. Air Baltics inflight magazine Basic Outlook - June 2011/36 makes the following observation ¨People in Belgrade are nice and will readily help you find your way¨.

Our hotel, the Hotel Slavia was a 1960’s style Soviet hotel. The door had been roughly repaired where it had been jemmied open, filling us with little confidence for our safety. The furniture style was from a long time in the dim past, the TV was merely a decoration, only 1 light in the room worked - a bed light! The window glass was almost falling out of the frame and so we couldn't open it, to dispel the strong stench of cigarette smoke. The toilet and shower were relics of a time long gone. "It is only one night" is our mantra when the room is a bit of a worry.

Again to quote Air Baltics inflight magazine Basic Outlook, making the following observations ¨The city (Belgrade) couldn't be called beautiful¨ and ¨Parts of the street preserve the architecture of old Belgrade and other parts bear the boxy scars of Capital ¨S¨ Socialism, which age quite badly¨. ¨The surfaces have been painted white but none the less - nothing can cover up the past¨ and ¨the walls of the cafes bear the scars of its wilder days¨.

When a member of the tour asked Evan our local tour guide about the standard of our accommodation and our safety, he offered "That will be because of stag nights. Belgrade is popular with people from all over Europe for stag nights and they wreck the accommodation. Actually Belgrade is one of the safest cities in Europe"  Hmmmm!

Evan pointed out the Jewish quarter and told us that Serbia has always been a very tolerant nation and protected Jews in World War 2.

We wanted to ask about why tolerance was not afforded others, in particular in regard to the reports of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Bosnia, but refrained, so as not to spoil the tour. Later, Evan offered that he was a student during the 90’s conflicts and there were many protests over the war and that the invasion of Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo, were not popular with Belgrade's city residents, who did not all support what the military were doing. He said it was the country people stirred up and brainwashed by the military into thinking of "The Great Serbia" and the need for ethnic cleansing of Albanians and Muslims to achieve this.There was also electoral inequality in the Parliament allowing too much representation to the militant regions.

Belgrade had a wonderful library which was bombed and destroyed in World War Two by the Nazis which is now commemorated by a plaque. We wanted to ask "If Serbians are so disappointed by this loss, why would they then bomb and turn a world class library, with priceless manuscripts in Sarajevo, into a pile of rubble. Belgrade is full of wonderful Serbian Orthodox Churches of which we were shown, but we also wondered why they had chosen to bomb their own Orthodox churches in Bosnia?. 

We saw a statue at the beautiful French embassy in Belgrade with the title "Fraternity, Equality and Liberty". These qualities were sadly lacking in the Balkans region in the 90's! 

We ended our tour at the Kalemegdan Citadel and walked along the fortress walls a little, admiring the Sava and Danube rivers below. Evan was proud of the fortress and told us how the Serbs had been able to hold out against enemies due to its ammunition stores and access to water. We wanted to say "but what about the siege of Sarajevo?" Serbia cut off their water, food and access to ammunition.   

"The Balkans Madness" and ¨a squabble between siblings¨ is how Evan described the 90's wars and he said everyone in Serbia tries to put it behind them. He told us about the wonderful restaurants and pumping nightlife Belgrade is best known for. So we all went off to sample the food together in an outdoor restaurant, but we took a rain check on the nightlife and went back by taxi to the austere and threadbare Hotel Slavia. Basic Outlook Magazine describes Belgrade as ¨Europes Night Bird¨ and ¨Due to the intensity of its nightlife a respected Western Magazine even dubbed Serbia's capital ¨the New York of Eastern Europe¨.
Next day on the bus when talking to the others, we discovered that those who went out to a nightclub got totally ripped off by their taxi drivers on the way home, being made to pay around $25A for a short taxi ride. Our taxi was only $3A.

One more stop in Serbia saw us at the city of Nis to spend an hour and a half viewing the Fortress and ruins there. Not quite prepared for foreign tourists yet, we were stared at by the Serbians as we wandered around. We found the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, but to our surprise they had installed plastic chairs. Now, we are all in favour of using amphitheatres for modern day concerts but part of the charm, surely, is to use the hard stone and bring a cushion?

We will end this blog on a cheerful note however. Just before we got on the bus to head out of Serbia and into our next country of Bulgaria, we spotted a pharmacy. We went and asked if they had a particular prescription drug Avan takes and where, in Australia it costs us around $15, we got it for the equivalent of .80c!    
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lol on

reading of this blog post was an ultimate waste of my time and internet kilobytes.
you guys are either plain ignorant, plain stupid, or combined?

heatheravan on

All comments and feedback are welcome, however if we are missinformed perhaps your thoughts on where we have got it wrong would be helpful. Cheers.

Sean^* on

What's up with all political BS? Why did you have to bring that up?
Is it because you are so cheap? Or is it because you couldn't afford a belter hotel than Old-Slavia hotel? Were you that blind not to notice the 5-Star- new hotel Slavia right next to it? Oh.., I forgot-it wasn't in your budget..... Yes the Old-Slavia is a part of History as well, and that is why it looks the way it looks. Safety issues you said, hmmm…,. I am surprised you didn’t end up on the rotisserie-spit? You know they serve ignorant idiots like yourself as appetizer in high class restaurants that are open only at nights, reachable by very expensive cab, and prefer to serve Jewish guests. If you were so called not-brainwashed, and at least to the point educated to be able to understand news, you would know that Belgrade was voted by the world press the best nightlife city in the world. Ohh…, I am sorry, I forgot, you might need an adult to read this for you…..

heatheravan on

Thanks for the review. A couple of clarifications. Yes we are backpackers and hence stay at budget accommodation across the world. Every night spent at the expensive hotel next door would mean less days of travel. This choice is not a reflection on our financial position, merely a choice to extend our travelling time. This being said there is still an expectation of standard (and in particular, safety, when travelling as a couple) consumative to the tarrif. If the expectation is not met, then comment is warrented. (trip advisor makes this its main focus)
We agree blogs are not a forum for politics, and we try to avoid any mention, however it would seem it comes down to interpretation. We believe once an event has occured it is history, and in this case well documented history in film and book, which is along with natural beauty spots one of the major reasons for travel.
Not that it matters, but no we are not Jewish and we did in fact quote in the blog that Belgrade is indeed considered to have fantastic nightlife.

Frederic Kamensky on

I was in the same hotel. It is not as you describred, infact it was quite OK and pleasant place. And yes, theres too many anti-Serbian issues in your text. I guess you didn't realize Serbs are very nice people and open-minded. Your text is giving wrong picture of Serbia, with many prejudices. Serbia is great country and surely I will come to Belgrade again! cheers from Warszawa, Polska.

heatheravan on

Hi Frederick, thanks for the comments. We are pleased that you found the hotel to be OK it has obviously been improved, as it was certainly as we said when we visited as our photos support. We always visit a country with an open mind and report our feelings from our experiences or quote from written material (newspapers, guide books etc) we read, or information provided by locals and tourist operators, when in a country.
We had no intention of suggesting the Serbs of today as not being nice people and enjoyed the company of our tour guide and his apologetic explanations for the past. The difficulty is separating such recent history from the present.
We too would like to visit again in the future when the past difficulties are more distant and have a more positive experience to write about.

Ian M. on

Excellent post with witty remarks. I enjoyed reading it ... Yeah, objectivity doesn't run well in Belgrade.. And to call siege of Sarejevo, Vukowar and Szrebrenitsa a siblings squabble - so sad and deceitful.

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