FAREWELL BUDAPEST AND HELLO BELGRADE – AGAIN.
My last careful climb up and down the steep stairs to breakfast on the boat and then it was off to Belgrade again.
I was beginning to get a little concerned as I waited for the minibus to pick me up from the Budapest Boat Hotel. It was late and I was getting very hot standing outside. After my experience the week before of being dropped at the wrong place and having to walk a few kilometres in 43C degree heat I wondered whether this driver would find me. Eventually, an hour late, he did. So started the 380 odd kilometre trip back to Belgrade through the border, past the sunflowers and fields and back to the Hedonist Hostel.
The Hedonist felt like home the very first time I walked in there three months earlier with my older son Ginski and on this third visit it still felt the same. The warm welcome never changes.
As always the place was full of interesting people, this time mainly Swedes with a few other nationalities. Hostels are such interesting places, you get to meet heaps of travellers and as you are all doing the same thing (travelling) most are eager to meet each other. There will always be the odd person out who is either annoying, rude or smelly but mostly everyone is really great. I found that most times there will be at least one person to whom I relate well but this time it was quite a few. Swedish mother and daughter Karin and Kim and Turkish Selin and I somehow gravitated together and went off on a few adventures around the city. These ladies were such a delight and we still communicate through social media. Although Karin didn’t speak English and I definitely don’t speak Swedish we somehow managed to communicate and have a lot of laughs even when Kim wasn’t there to translate. Have I mentioned I love travelling and meeting people? I realised along the way that the major benefit of staying in hostels when travelling alone is that you are more likely to have someone to go exploring with. I love travelling solo but on those occasions when you stumble across someone who wants to see the same things it all gets a little easier to make decisions and build fun memories.
Four women, Three nationalities and a Fortress
Day 3 dawned late, perhaps it had something to do with the amount of beer that was consumed the previous night at the weekly hostel barbecue. Love the barbecue nights, Hedonist has a gorgeous outside area that is just perfect with a huge outdoor barbecue, seats, tables and a rather large drinks fridge. Then there is the large lounge area and dining/kitchen area. So many a night was spent there laughing, chatting and meeting new people.
We four ladies managed to find each other and decided to go exploring after a very healthy breakfast/lunch on Skardalija. Off we went to the fortress. I find it wonderful going to the same place with different people, I always get to see things from a different perspective and through another person’s eyes. We roamed the ruins, were amazed by the age of the structure and of course, took heaps of photos.
Below the upper part of the Kalemegdan fortress is a pretty little Serbian Orthodox church dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God (Crkva Ruzica or Little Rose). There was a medieval church with the same name on this site which was demolished in 1521 during the Turkish invasion. The current church was a gunpowder store in the 18th century and was converted to a military church in the mid 1800’s. It’s an unusual church and a must to visit. There was a service when we went there and then a parade to the almost adjacent St Petka church. Without the language it was difficult to decipher what was the occasion, but you could buy bottles of holy water from the holy spring in St Petka church.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling with beers on the terrace of the Kalemegdanska Terasa restaurant. We succumbed to pizza for an early dinner and watched the sun set over the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers as the large fountain on the terrace gurgled and splashed next to us. Always at the back of my mind was the question, did Mum and Dad watch the sunset from the fortress? That I’ll never know but I would like to believe they did and that I was sharing something precious with them.
The walk home was a delight. Knez Mihailova takes on a different atmosphere after dark. It’s a subtle change yet noticeable. I’m not sure what changes when the sun goes down and the lights come on but no matter where you are in the world something changes.
Learning about Nikola Tesla
Although this trip back to Belgrade was mostly about completing as much research as I could about my parents’ time there, I wasn’t about to pass up company on my explorations so while Selin and the group of Swedish guys were shopping and creating an awesome barbecue for that night Karin, Kim and I took off on a mega walk starting with checking at the Russian church to find out if the priest was back. He was, but I would have to go to the Sunday service to be able to talk to him.
That was followed by the Serbian St Marks next door, another amazing structure which contains the tomb of King Dusan (The Mighty) 1308-1355 King of Serbia and Emperor of the Serbs and Greeks. He was one of the most powerful monarchs of the time. His constitution of the Serbian Empire known as Dusan’s Code is said to be one of the most important literary works of mediaeval Serbia.
Then on to the Nikola Tesla Museum. I knew about Tesla’s alternating current (AC) invention but had no idea of the multitude of other inventions, the man was a genius, see;
The heat outside was horrendous still in the high 30’s so we three were so happy to go inside to a cool museum. I’m Australian and pretty used to heat (although I don’t handle it well) and even I was struggling, poor Karin, from cool Sweden, was really suffering. So initially we just sat down in the film area, watched the Serbian film and listened to a Serbian history lesson on Tesla and didn’t care that there was no translation. It’s amazing how much I could pick up with my less than basic knowledge of Serbian. We stayed for quite some time enjoying the coolness and learning so much from the exhibits.
All this was followed with a stop at a cafe because Karin was looking a little pallid, I think I might have made the girls do a bit too much, then back to the hostel where Selin had created massive plates of beautiful salads and the Swedish guys were in full swing cooking the BBQ. Sometimes it’s just awesome being the Golden Oldie and being looked after by the young crowd, they are just terrific! I don’t allow anyone to complain to me about young people any more, just about all the ones I know and have met on my trip are wonderful caring people. There are good and bad at all ages so we can’t label all youth with one description, just because we aren’t young anymore. We can all learn something from the upcoming generations. I have been learning from my own sons all of their lives and learned heaps on my trip not the least of which was how caring, respectful and delightful many young people are.
Sunday morning found me off on the very long walk to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity again. Standing in church for ages is just so bad for the old back but that is tradition and stand you do! At least I did get to briefly talk to the priest who said that his uncle should be able to point me in the direction of useful information on the period I was researching, ‘Leave your email and I will pass it on’ so for the third time I did just that. This time I was hopeful that I may learn something, however, sadly, no one has ever contacted me. I guess I place much more importance on my search and expect too much from people who have no connection to it. However, I did find little bits of interesting information in my visits (like discovering General Wrangel’s tomb inside that church, leader of the White Russian Army against the Soviets) and have realised how much work history authors must go through to find information.
Finding the School of Medicine
When Mum completed school in 1938 she entered the University of Belgrade to study Medicine and so I went in search of where her footsteps may have been. I travelled on the tram assuming that the line wouldn’t have changed much, although, not knowing where my mother lived I wasn’t sure which tram she would have caught. However finding the stop where she may have got on and off the tram near the University was more important as it featured highly in her changing fortunes.
I found the School of Medicine and the Faculty of Medicine, I suspect it was one of those buildings (or even both) where Mum began her studies in 1938/39 with great dreams of becoming a doctor, a dream that was never to be. The School of Medicine door was open so I stuck my head in and took a photo, the building old and crumbling but renovations were under way. I still don’t know why there was a European Union plaque at the entrance as Serbia wasn’t (and still isn’t) a member of the Union. Perhaps this is one of those tests that countries have to go through before being admitted or perhaps the EU had lent money for the renovations. There were people upstairs but again without the language I chose not to interfere. I don’t think they were thrilled that I had taken the photo as they closed the door as soon as I left.
Wandering further I found the chapel dedicated to the twin brother physician saints Cosmas and Damian, it’s possible that Mum may have on occasion popped in there, it is there for all medical staff, students and patients, also under renovation but there was an entrance from the rear of the church.
A massive area of land is dedicated to the medical faculty, clinics, hospitals and administration it’s a small suburb. I could see why my mother would have felt quite at home in such an academic atmosphere.
I think I found the right tram stops where Mum would have caught her tram and where Dad (in his taxi driving days) ‘picked’ her up. Not long after their meeting Mum’s University days were over as she travelled the country with, and then married my father in October 1939 so she only had one glorious year of University. (Her interest in things medical remained and came to the fore when she was caring for my father in his old age and his specialist call Mum ‘his assistant doctor’.) As it happens those stops are right in front of the St Sava Cathedral. It’s interesting that Mum would have seen the beginnings of the church as building work started in 1935 and the walls were up to about 7 metres in height when she would have entered university. Sadly everything stopped during the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941 when Mum’s life changed for the worse again. The inside of the church is still not fully finished although the construction was completed in 1989. It is solely funded by donations from all over the world and is one of the biggest Orthodox churches as well as one of largest church buildings in the world. It is dedicated to the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and important mediaeval figure, St Sava. The church is built on the Vracar plateau where the Saint’s remains were burned by the Ottoman Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha in 1595. It is a grand and beautiful structure, a must to visit.
Ada, Belgrade’s Beach
Then I thought I’d check out Ada (Belgrade’s beach). Previously dear Marjan at the hostel had asked had I been there, my response was a little glib and arrogant I must admit (something along the lines of ‘I come from a country with some of the best beaches and you want me to go to a pebbly river?) sorry Marjan that wasn’t nice of me. So for two reasons I thought I should go. Firstly it is a very popular place for the locals and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and secondly just in case that was the part of the Sava Mum used to tell me about. I’m now sure it’s not, I believe where they ‘promenaded’ in those days would have been along the Sava River near the fortress, that area fits her descriptions better.
However, Ada is definitely worth a visit. Ada is an island in the river Sava which has been artificially turned into a peninsula.
I wasn’t prepared for its size, great planning and the incredible amount of pastimes for visitors. There you will find beautiful barbecue and picnic spots with lots of trees for summer shade, areas for swimming, multiple sports on both land and water (including cable water skiing/wakeboarding) cafes, hotel and so much more. It covers and area of about 2.72kms. For golden oldies like me (or anyone of course) there is the cute little train that drives you all the way around the lake so you can choose where to stop or just keep going as I did to get a good overview. What a day! Thank you Marjan for the suggestion.
The Long Farewell
Finally the day came when I had to say goodbye. I hadn’t quite done everything I wanted in the three trips to the land of my parents and I hadn’t found out all the information I wanted but I got some of it, enough to keep me going and to get an understanding of my parents’ stories. Last visit to the medical precinct and St Sava, this time I caught the #31 bus. One bit of advice, if you are in Belgrade and you have a bad back, before going to any therapists take a ride on the old yellow, articulated #31 bus, you just never know, it might fix it! The bumps, jerks, rattles and rolls (not to mention a braking technique that can send you running all the way from the back down the aisle and through the front window, if you aren’t hanging on) have to be experienced. If, however your back is fine, get in, sit down and hang on for dear life, because you may need a chiropractor at the end of the ride if you don’t. That bus was fun, I must admit.
Last walk past Studenski park and the Faculty of Philosophy building to visit Knez Mihailova, on to Kalemegdan but this time along the river side of the park where I hadn’t been before, so glad I did that. Back past the market stalls in the fortress park, past the hotel Moscow and the chimney cake store – I discovered that I had become somewhat attached to this city.
So it was goodbye to the Hedonist, you guys are awesome and you will stay in my fond memories forever, farewell Belgrade, the most chilled out city I had come across so far with its incredible architecture and history and Serbia, you served me well. I wish I could have seen Kosovo, but the destruction that has happened to Serbia’s spiritual heart and its ancient churches since the rest of the world got involved would have been just too sad, so I don’t think I’ll ever go there.
It was farewell to my new friends with whom I’d had so many adventures and laughs, most of us have been in touch on social media since then so memories continue. Sadly it was also farewell to cheap beer, that awesome honey rakija and good food. There were other good times to be found and I was off to Uppsala in Sweden.
To see what else I got up to in Serbia go to my other to posts on this blog site; Golden Oldie and First Born Take off to Serbia and Golden Oldie Returns to Belgrade.