Belgrade- it's no war zone

Trip Start Aug 20, 2007
Trip End Sep 25, 2007

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Monday, September 24, 2007

After FINALLY arriving in Belgrade, when I almost couldn't believe the train ride was really over, I went out into the street to look for a cab, as it was now well past dark and not the time to be exploring Belgrade's public transport system on my own. I knew enough to cross the street to find a non-mafia cab, so was surprised when I flagged down a cab across the intersection from the station and he slowed for a second and then sped up and drove on. What did I do? I wondered. Then I turned around and noticed the five men with buzz cuts in white suits standing on the corner behind me. In front of the casino. Ah. Clearly the mafia influence extends farther than directly in front of the station. Then a man came over and offered me hostel accomodation. From what I could gather in my guide book, cheap accomodation is a new thing in Belgrade, and there are only the two hostels in town. Both of them over the casino across from the train station. Since it was the last night of my trip, and the mafia casino hostel diddn't seem that appealing, I decided to splurge and get a room in the grand old Hotel Royal. I walked up the street and around the corner, where I was successfully able to hail a cab.

The Hotel Royal must have seemed just that- round about 1958 in the middle of the Communist era. It was big, had a bar, covered outdoor bar, snack bar AND restaurant, as well as amazingly beautiful rooms complete with combination woodgrain bed/desk furniture and red (well, it was once red...) wall to wall carpet. It cost me €42 for the night, but that also included an incredibly greasy breakfast served in the underground tomb of a restaurant by a wait staff that seemed as though, much like the restaurant itself, they too had not seen the light of day in many decades. If you want to check out the hotel in all its glory, here's a video!

After getting over the excitement of checking into such a fine establishment, I went in search of the famous Belgrade nightlife. Unfortunatley, I found myself too exhausted from my 24 hour train journey to really put my heart into it. I ended up in the touristy (Serbian tourists, that is) pedestrian zone, which was great for people watching but not much in the way of offering me any alternative entertainment. In fact, I never saw any sign of alternative anything in Belgrade, which really surprised me. I was expecting it to be like a miniature Prague, less attractive visually but equally as exciting and avant-garde culturally. Half the people in the street in Prague look Bohemian (well, they are I guess...) whereas half the people on the street in Belgrade looked Mafioso. I must say, it wasn't very pretty. I finally found an old flea market, which had been eluding me the entire trip, but there wasn't even any good junk to be found! boo. I went up to the citadel during the afternoon the next day, and got a great view of the sunset over the Danube. But I must admit, as a tourist destination it was a bit lacking and I expected more. Half the shops I was looking for had shut down as well. Plus people kept getting confused with my Czech! And I thought the languages were supposed to be so similar they could speak amongst themselves without a translater. Well, maybe it helps when you're not speaking bad Czech like I do.

The other surprising thing, other than the lack of surprises, was that the only real apparent sign of the war was one city corner where they left the bombed out buildings (those were the result of NATO bombs). That and I guess the mafia that has rolled into town in a big way to fill the void that the war left behind. Somehow that Balkan hospitality I was looking for was lacking. Or maybe my expectations were too high after coming from Turkey, the hospitality centre of the universe! In any case, nice place to visit for a day but not in a hurry to go back, unless I had a local guide, which I;m sure like everywhere else would make all the difference.

Oh, yeah, and the Czechs won't like this. In Belgrade you can order a beer in a LITER mug!
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