Bus-ing Round the Balkans travel blog





A new day dawns in Belgrade, overcast, but without the rain that has followed me around since I left Split.

I head up to breakfast to see what's on offer here. Ever since Istanbul - where the breakfast offering at my hostel consisted of cucumber, tomatoes, and feta cheese (none of which I could bring myself to eat - shockingly for me, I know) - I'm always a bit wary of breakfast in new countries.

Happily, Hotel Safety Net had a pretty extensive selection on offer. Though I wasn't that tempted by the cold fish fingers. That was a new one.

Breakfast out the way I hustle back to my room. I'm in a hurry so I can get back into bed and keep reading my book. I've heard rumours that that's the kind of thing normal people do on their holidays. Figure I'll give it a try.

Lunchtime comes and goes and I eventually conclude I ought to at least leave my hotel for a little bit today. Maybe see a bit of Belgrade perhaps.

Egged on by the panic at having wasted half my day I head down Svetog Save to try and find Sveti Sava - the world's biggest Orthodox church. It isn't difficult. It's huge. Look up and you've found it. I couldn't quite believe how big it was.

As staggeringly huge as it was from the outside, it seemed somehow even bigger from within. Like a gigantic man-made cavern stretching up into the sky above me. When I first stepped inside I thought it was undergoing restoration. Then I spotted the little home-made donation boxes with signs asking for donations for its construction. I really hope that's not their primary funding strategy, because it seems a very long way from complete. Maybe people give generously here.

I visit a few more Orthodox churches around Belgrade today. A few I'd planned to visit, and some which I spotted in the skyline and veered off course to explore. The last of these is St Michael's.

I've seen people coming and going in all the churches I've visited so far - lighting candles, praying, kissing icons - but this is different. I realise there's some kind of service going on. I pause at the back of the church to observe.

The workings of the Orthodox church is another subject where my knowledge is rather limited. Or non-existent. And this isn't like any service I've witnessed before, and the church is laid out differently to what I've come to expect in a church (pews, an altar you can see...).

I can smell the incense in the air, accompanied by the sounds of the priests at the front singing. Not in the way a congregation might sing hymns in a church in the UK. It reminds me more of the Muslim call to prayer. A sort of melodic chanting that continues almost unbroken throughout the half an hour I stay to observe.

Not the same person the whole time. There's a group of, I shall call them priests for lack of a better word, dressed in black robes in the front right hand corner of the church, visible to us all. There are also some dressed in white robes with crosses on, who spend most of the time hidden from view behind the panelling at the front, but who occasionally come out to the front where we can see them.

Every so often the people gathered will cross themselves. Some of the women have covered their heads with shawls. I realise partway through that we seem to be segregated along gender lines - men on the right, women on the left. I realise I'm standing on the right, and take a few slow steps to my left.

I notice too that there doesn't seem to be a set start and finish, or defined length of time to stay. People arrive and leave - sometimes within minutes of arriving - throughout the time I'm there. This includes the priests.

Some arrive and stand quietly at the back as I am. Others walk down the centre aisle to a stand with a framed image of, I believe, Jesus. I'm not sure. They kiss the picture, cross themselves, and then peel off to either side of the church. There are more stands with framed images of saints around the church. Some people kiss these instead. Some people go around all of them.

After half an hour I decide it's time to leave. I have no idea how long it will continue, and as I don't understand Serbian there's a limit to how much more I can deduce. I also feel it's time to leave people to worship without an audience.

Dusk is falling as I leave, and I continue walking, winding up at Kalemegdan, or Belgrade Fortress. There's not very much left of the fortress beyond the surrounding walls, but the area within it is actually a really nice park and its position atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube makes for some pretty sweet views.

I feel pretty comfortable in Belgrade, at home. It's funny how quickly you can adjust.

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