My first thoughts on the bus in: grungy, very obviously ex soviet. After an hour: coolest city I’ve been to yet. It has an awesome combination of all of the European cities to the point that if I had to recommend one European city to someone short on time, this is it. The main shopping strip is just like Istanbul, the big park like Madrid and an amazing cafe culture typical of the Balkans but with a better vibe. The fortress is huge and has a great community vibe. The people are international. I heard four languages within the first hour and it’s easy to speak to everyone.
I spent my first day in Belgrade walking through the main street Knez Mihailova, up to the fortress and then around to the Dorçol area to wander around. It’s an amazing area of great cafe’s where I stopped for one of the amazing southern european style hot chocolates – almost solid chocolate heated up, with a little cream on top. I relaxed under the trees and relaxed to the sound of trees whistling, cars driving past and happy people walking by. I wandered from here to the Skadarlija street, a cobblestone street filled with touristy, though nice, cafe’s and restaurants as well as a couple of lovely, independent art galleries.
I strolled past the Republic Parliament to the Saint Mark’s church and the wonderful park behind which was filled with families making the most of the sun, couples cuddling with coffee in hand and people working out at what you would assume to be a children’s playground. I walked around, sat down, admired the environment and church then repeated it again, soaking in the relaxed and happy atmosphere. I finished my day getting lost around the many streets around the Savamala area where there is still evidence of the NATO bombings in 1999.
There was one huge attraction I had missed the day before, the St Save Temple, the largest Orthodox temple in the world. It is still under construction so has plastic covering many of the walls and is fairly basic inside. Following the Serbian pattern there is no chairs inside, only a standing area. The day I was there, a concert was alive outside with traditional Serbian dancing and music. The young men and women were dressed up and including everyone in a simple dance.
If Europe has taught me anything it is that the best cities aren’t always near the beach. Growing up in Australia I thought people who lived away from the beach were crazy. As with many other European countries I was smitten with Belgrade, proving first impressions don’t always count. I had heard from a lot of people how great Belgrade is, though I underestimated it a lot. I opted instead to dedicate my time to the more exotic seaside locations. I will have to get back there as it has everything my favourite city Istanbul has and more, plus a great digital nomad scene that I didn’t have time to tap in to this visit.