Novi Sad – Belgrade
Eke woke up at 6 am, relaxed until 7 am, got up and took a shower while Brian was still sleeping. No rush this morning – we have a free morning, leaving for Belgrade at 1pm, being ready to go at 12 noon. Brian wanted to take it easy . At breakfast we were joined by Tracy (group member from Boston). Eke and Tracy decided to go up to the Petrovaradin Fortress just across the river Danube, while Brian would take care of our luggage, get some more Dinars and maybe get some lunch for the bus to Belgrade.
Tracy and I had a good time. We walked at a good tempo out of the city center, over the bridge and tried to find the way to the fortress. We missed the alley where the stairs up to the fortress start; a young couple pointed the way. There were lots of stone stairs and it was windy, but the views all around were worth the climb! We chatted and admired the lush green of the surrounding area. The river Danube makes a wide turn right at the fortress. The fortress is (of course) very strategically placed to defend the city.
The Fortress itself had some draw bridges with dry moats. The centre building was not open except for the restaurant with the view of the Danube and the city. Part of the patio was enclosed because of the wind. After going around the fortress on the walls, we made our descent and walked back into the city centre. We decided that we had earned a cup of tea/coffee and chose a covered patio at one of the restaurants lining the main street and square. We just had received our beverages when to our surprise Brian, Mike and Christine showed up and joined us. We all enjoyed some free time with nice small talk.
We (Brian and Eke) decided to get a sandwich for lunch to be eaten on the bus trip to Belgrade. We found a small sandwich shop where the woman did not speak English at all – but we got what we wanted! Then it was time to return to the hotel, get our luggage and make our way to the bus station. Dusan had decided that we could take taxis, so at 12:15pm we loaded our stuff in four large taxis and were driven over to the bus station. Dusan had already bought our tickets, so all we needed to do was to go to the bathroom, show our ticket and wait for the bus to arrive.
We left at 1:15pm. The bus was fairly comfortable although Brian had trouble finding room for his legs. We ate our sandwich which wasn’t the greatest, but is was edible. It took one and a half hours to reach our stop in Belgrade. The busyness of the city, the taxi drivers wanting our business, it all was a bit chaotic! Dusan had already told us that we would see him bargain with the taxi drivers and he so did! They agreed on a price and then all of us plus our luggage disappeared in five taxis. Our driver knew a little English, pointed out some buildings of interest, and drove us safely to our hotel on a fairly small, quiet street.
Our room is on the fifth floor with a view of other buildings and the fire escape. We are definitely in the concrete jungle and not gazing at greenery. The room is bright, enough apace for us two with a good size bathroom.
We had 20 minutes to get settled; then it was on to our meeting place where we met our local guide to take us on our orientation walk. It was a fair hike already to the meeting place! Our local guide is Bojana – a mature woman and a very colourful character. She has a sharp tongue, a wicked sense of humor and is very opinionated. Her appearance tells you clearly that she is confident in who she is; hair, dress and fingernails, down to the red ribbons as laces in her black shoes! Eke loved her right away.
Bojana led us along the wide, pedestrians only Knez Mihailova (Prince Michael) street while telling us a lot about the history of Belgrade and Serbia in general. Belgrade is situated at the place where the river Sava and the river Danube meet – a very strategic point for trade and access to East and Western Europe and the north and south. The soil on both sides of the rivers is very fertile, so there were lots of reasons why the Romans, the Turks, (the Ottoman Empire), the Austrian Empire, et al. attacked Serbia and especially Belgrade often over the ages. The Serbians were ruled by the Romans who demanded their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church; they were ruled by the Turks who destroyed all the churches and built mosques and forced the people to follow Islam. Then everything changed again and the mosques were destroyed etc. The people were forced to follow the flavour of religion of the ones in power. We can’t remember all the historical flow of events that have happened in Serbia – its history is tragic and the people have suffered a lot. After the second World War Serbia was part of Yugoslavia and ruled by the socialist dictator Tito. Yugoslavia, which included Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia was a bad marriage of states that were not at ease with each other (at least according to the people we have listened to). Tito was a very good politician, ruled with an iron fist and so the coalition held until after he died in 1980.
The guides that we have listened to all have said that the most recent civil war between 1991 and 1995, was tragic whether they are from Croatia or Serbia, because everyone suffered. Serbia is an independent state now. Belgrade has been bombed over a hundred times in history and destroyed 43 times; and it has been rebuilt all those times. As a result, there are streets where the architecture of the buildings reflect very different styles from very different times in history. Bojana was clear that she despises the very modern buildings side by side with the beautiful historical ones. She had a very lively way of telling the history with the ability to lighten the tragedies of the past.
We followed her to the river where there is a nice park and of course the ruins of the Belgrade Fortress! This is the spot where the rivers Sava and Danube meet and the place provides a nice spot to take photos of the fortress and the view across the rivers. Across the Sava river is the “new” Belgrade with a nice area called Zemun where Bojana lives and it is beautiful of course!
By then we had walked for at least two and a half hours and made our way back through the park where lots of booths were being set up for some kind of festival in the coming days. We arrived at the oldest tavern “Kaffan” in the city – built in the first part of the 1800’s. It looked small, the ceiling is very low, but is has been expanded out into the back garden. Here we enjoyed our dinner in a separate room for our group.
Brian chose pork medallions with vegetables and fries; Eke had a chicken and vegetables casserole: small pieces of chicken in a vegetable stew. We both enjoyed our meal a lot.
We were treated to live music. Three men (violin, guitar and accordion) played and sang Serbian, English songs just for us in “our” room. At request they ended with a lullaby. It was a good evening with some very enjoyable entertainment!
Then came the walk back to our hotel – at least half an hour! We spent a little time looking at photos, a little updating, and by then it was time to turn off the lights!