Out of all the countries that we visited during our trip around Eastern Europe, Serbia was the one that everybody seemed to be the most worried about. I think this must be due to recent memories of conflict and war in many people’s minds; especially those of my parents’ age groups. I must admit that this doubt from others did make me a little apprehensive, and as we pulled into Belgrade at 6am the naive person within me wondered what this country would bring- how I was ever unsure however I do not know. Belgrade is an amazing cosmopolitan capital stuffed with history, culture and beauty. Every time I think about it I have an urge to jump on a plane and revisit and I sincerley hope that one day I will.
As it was so early in the morning when we disembarked the overnight train, we decided to walk through the city to our hostel, wanting to take in our surroundings as much as possible. After staggering up many a steep hill, we finally arrived at Manga Hostel – a cute, bright and cosy place with an underground kitchen and living area, and dormitory style rooms upstairs. Just as we were settling in, dumping our bags in our room and sinking into the armchairs however, our second dilemma of the trip hit – my friend had left her phone on the train. Panicking, we asked the hostel receptionist how much chance we had of getting it back; she didn’t seem in the least hopeful. But we had to try, and jumping in a taxi we sped back down the hill back towards the train station, hoping that the train was still there.
We wandered around that station for what seemed hours, asking every member of staff we could whether a phone had been handed in. For the most part we got blank stares, as once again the language barrier raised its ugly head. Finally however we found a gentleman who was willing to help and while he spoke no English, he began to confidently lead us down the train tracks and away from the station. I must admit we were all rather worried, exchanging unsure looks as we headed further and further away from the platform. We soon arrived at a shed of railway workmen, preparing for their day with the aid of tea and breakfast. The stranger wordlessly left us standing at the door, while he found the key to the train we needed and guided us over to where it miraculously stood; ready to be cleaned. We couldn’t believe our luck and eagerly jumped on in search for the correct compartment and there it was, sitting underneath a pillow where my companion had left it at 6am this morning!
Elated and thankful, we made our way back down the tracks and out through the station, making the second trek back to our hostel that morning. By now it was around 8am and the city was beginning to come alive, so we stopped in a cafe and had pastries and juice to satisfy the hunger pangs that had started to kick in. By the time we got back to the hostel we were absolutely exhausted and all three of us retreated to our room to rest and plan the next leg of our trip.
That evening we cooked dinner in Hostel Manga’s kitchen and decided to join some other backpackers for a drink or two. This is one of the best things about travelling; meeting so many people from around the world that have the same goal to see as much of our Earth as possible! Our bar crawl began in a pub called the Black Turtle and then moved on to Belgrade’s bohemian quarter, where we sat and watched groups playing traditional songs around our tables; the locals joining in with the more popular renditions. The atmosphere here was just amazing – cosy and romantic lighting, cobbled streets and complete immersion in another’s world. This evening was one of complete romance and one of my favourites during my trip.
Come the morning and we had a very early start. Slightly hungover we made our way to the city centre where we joined a free walking tour for the morning. Walking tours are great ways to see the highlights of a city, they’re either free or very well priced and you get to hear the history of the place first hand. I really felt like I got to understand the culture of the Belgrade during this day. From the ‘Plastic Surgery’ quarter of the city, wandering through the Bohemian quarter and ending up on top of the Kalemegdan Citadel overlooking the River; we explored so many corners of the city, all the time having a running commentary from a young woman who had lived in Belgrade for her entire life.
That evening we chilled and made dinner together again in the hostel, during which the receptionist on shift heard that one of our party were feeling under the weather and came down to join us and handed out copious amounts of Rakija; a Serbian spirit which we were told is the answer to all Serbian problems whether it be ill health, depression or celebration and was handed out multiple times during our stay in Belgrade.
The next morning we did some more wondering around the city, before checking out of our room and preparing to leave Belgrade. We once again made dinner in the hostel and said goodbye the our fellow travellers that we had met during our stay; before getting a taxi to the bus station for our overnight trip which would take us to the next country on our whistle stop tour – Montenegro!