Farewell Budapest and Hello Belgrade – Again

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.

Boat hotel stairs can be tricky sometimes.
Boat hotel stairs can be tricky sometimes.

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.

Yes, difficult decisions, especially regarding the contents of this fridge.
Yes, difficult decisions, especially regarding the contents of this fridge.

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.

Before lunch some posed photos on Skardalija .
Before lunch some posed photos on Skardalija.
It got a little crowded on this lap
It got a little crowded on this lap
4 ladies 3 nationalities and lunch on Skardalija - just awesome.
4 ladies 3 nationalities and lunch on Skardalija – just awesome.

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.

Part of the Crkva Ruzica at Kalemegdan
Part of the Crkva Ruzica at Kalemegdan
At the Crkva Ruzica
At the Crkva Ruzica
Part of St Petka at Kalemegdan
Part of St Petka at Kalemegdan

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.

Dinner at the fortress.
Dinner at the fortress.
The sunset over the confluence was stunning.
The sunset over the confluence was stunning.

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.

Walking on Knez Mihailovo at night.
Walking on Knez Mihailova at night.

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.

Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade
Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade

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.

St Marks Serbian Orthodox church.
St Marks Serbian Orthodox church.
King Dusan's Tomb in St Marks, Belgrade.
King Dusan’s Tomb in St Marks, Belgrade.

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;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

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.

Yes! We found the Nikola Tesla Exhibition.
Yes! We found the Nikola Tesla Exhibition.

 

Seriously, the man was a genius.
Seriously, the man was a genius.
The things you stumble across that you never knew.
The things you stumble across that you never knew.

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.

Dinner prepared by the Swedish guys and a Turkish girl - so good and scrumptious.
Dinner prepared by the Swedish guys and a Turkish girl – so good and scrumptious.

Church Again

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.

The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church
The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church

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.

School of Medicine building
School of Medicine building
Faculty of Medicine building
Faculty of Medicine building

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.

St Cosmas and Damian church for medical staff, students and patients
St Cosmas and Damian church for medical staff, students and patients

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.

Trams
Trams
St Sava Cathedral, just stunning!
St Sava Cathedral, just stunning!
Inside St Sava Cathedral.
Inside St Sava Cathedral.

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.

cute tourist train at Ada
cute tourist train at Ada
Cable waterskiing/wakeboarding at Ada
Cable waterskiing/wakeboarding at Ada
The fountain at Ada reminded me of home.
The fountain at Ada reminded me of home.
And then there are sculptures and fun places at Ada
And then there are sculptures and fun places at Ada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

'Think deeply, see broadly' The motto of the Philosophy Department
‘Think deeply, see broadly’ The motto of the Philosophy Department
Russian Railways advertising at Kalemegdan, rather impressive as an installation.
Russian Railways advertising at Kalemegdan, rather impressive as an installation.

 

A peaceful spot, most tourists go straight to the fortress, this is possibly where 'promenading' took place in the early part of the century.
A peaceful spot, most tourists go straight to the fortress, this is possibly where ‘promenading’ took place in the early part of the century.
Bridges across the Sava
Bridges across the Sava

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Steps to the Roman Well
Steps to the Roman Well
Opanki, traditional Serbian footwear
Opanki, traditional Serbian footwear
Ha ha, dogs can't read, or pretend not to.
Ha ha, dogs can’t read, or pretend not to.

 

Coolness in the park
Coolness in the park

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Moscow Hotel Belgrade
The Moscow Hotel Belgrade
Such fun people.
Such fun people.
The best hostel ever.
The best hostel ever.
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Golden Oldie Returns to Belgrade

As the rain buckets down  in the place I now call home on the the South East coast of Australia, the bouillon is simmering on the stove in preparation for a pot of Borsch and Django Reinhardt is keeping my energy up, I arrive at my first massive blogging challenge. How do I write up 2 weeks (broken up by a week in Hungary) of an amazing re-visit to Belgrade without it becoming a stodgy long diatribe? Do I break it up into categories thereby losing the daily flow? Do I write it week by week? – eeeeek! Well as they say, just start with the first word and the rest will come, so here goes…….

Tuesday 16 July 2013.

My nice, calm and very expensive Alitalia flight from Rome arrived in Belgrade safe and sound. So it was back to the crazy drivers, but at least they usually stop at pedestrian crossings in Belgrade unlike Italy and Poland and many other places, but still best to double check. They all tend to drive flat out and slam on the brakes at the last minute.

My welcome back from the staff at the Hedonist Hostel was a delight, hugs all round. It felt like a real homecoming, these guys start feeling like family very soon after you first get there, no wonder so many return. So, a big thank you to Marjan, Anja and Milica, there were others who totally made me feel welcome but unfortunately names escape me, after all I am running almost 2 years late with this blog.

We tried to establish some Serbian wall leaning , oh well the hats look good.
We tried to establish some Serbian wall leaning , oh well the hats look good.

After my first visit in May 2013 the Hedonist, located at Simina 7, became the hostel that I judged all others by. They set the bar very high by knowing exactly how to make their guests feel at home and providing all the right information and entertainment. To think that I almost ignored this place when I was originally researching hostels in Belgrade, what a mistake that would have been.

As I mentioned in two of my previous blogs; ‘Golden Oldie and First Born Take off to Serbia’ and ‘Golden Oldie Achieves a Dream – Bocelli in Tuscany’, the most important part of this world trip was about researching my parents’ early lives. As they spent most of their youth in Serbia it was logical for me to go back there again to continue the research and attempt to do some writing.

This time there were heaps of Aussies and, of course, lots of other travellers at the hostel. The Exit Festival had just finished in Novi Sad so Belgrade was full of young tourists. (Exit is not my style of music but if you want to know what it’s all about, here is where you’ll find the line up for 2015 http://www.exitfest.org/en/lineup-2015).

The hostel was bursting at the seams with fascinating travellers, just on my first night back I met one English lawyer, 2 Australian student lawyers, one Australian theatre nurse who had just spent 6 weeks volunteer nursing in Nepal, one Australian student engineer and a Dutch Scout leader, what a mix! Belgrade, a super melting pot of people from all over the world. That was just one group which was gathered around the dining table scoffing the hot crepes (palacinke) that the staff provide regularly. Palacinke night is just wonderful at the Hedonist, hot crepes cooked right there in front of you, nutella, cream, Plazma biscuit crumbs etc and a whole lot of fun.

These guys also put on a regular barbecue (for a small fee) which is just fantastic, lots of salads lots of meat.

Right there are 2 reasons I prefer to stay in hostels (the good hostels of course), the fascinating people you meet and the social events that the staff put on. In the great hostels they know exactly how to balance the in-house entertainment with peace and quiet and advice for out of house entertainment. Hotels tend to leave you to your own devices so I only stay in a hotel when I either need a break from socialising or there are no good cheap hostels to be found (and that is rare, hostels are everywhere). Unfortunately the mega hostels either try to force socialising on you or act like hotels and provide very little.

The plan was to hop into bed, get some writing done for the blog and get a reasonable amount of sleep before heading off to the local market the next day.

Preparing the barbecue
Preparing the barbecue
Wonderful salads to accompany the barbecue
Wonderful salads to accompany the barbecue
The start of palacinke (crepe) night
The start of palacinke (crepe) night

 

Wednesday 

Well as Robbie Burns said ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley’ (translates to ‘often go awry’), no writing got done, my Norwegian room-mate started chatting and we sat up late into the night sharing travel stories, luckily we were the only two people in the dorm that night.

Bakery, Murals and Markets

As a result of the late night my day started later than I had planned so top gear was needed to achieve my goals which  included finding the markets. To get to the closest markets it is easiest to take a walk down the ‘old’ street Skadarlija, used to be known as the Monmartre of Serbia where the Bohemian life was led by poets, writers, singers and artists in the cafes and restaurants. Reading more on the area now as I am writing this I have discovered that amongst the singers performing there in the early 20th century was Olga Janceveckaya a Russian gypsy songstress who has always been one of my favourites. There were rumours that she was a spy (not sure for which side), true or not it all adds colour to this place. Skadarlija is very much a tourist area now but maintains it’s old world feel with restaurants serving up wonderful food at reasonable prices. There are, no doubt, other more ‘real’ local eateries but that was not my goal so I didn’t specifically go in search of any.

I found it interesting how tenuous connections kept appearing as I continued to research my parents’ lives by living in their favourite city. It is quite possible that one or both of my parents frequented this street in their youth and now there I was walking along the same cobblestones. That thought just kept amazing me every time it struck me as I wandered Belgrade.

First it was back to the bakery that Ginski and I discovered when we were there in May, for some local ‘street food’. Their specialty is goulash made mainly from offal meats served in a scooped out bread bun, love that stuff, it reminded me of Mum’s version, son wasn’t too keen though, he much preferred the Burek (another wonderful local specialty found throughout all the countries of the former Yugoslavia). It was so nice to be back albeit on my own this time.

Bakery on Skadarlija
Bakery on Skadarlija

I hadn’t realised how close the markets were to the Hedonist. Down Simina, turn left on Skadarlija, through the Bohemian Quarter of cobblestones and charming restaurants, past the murals, across the major thoroughfare of Cara Dusan and there it was. Not immediately obvious but once I found the entrance I discovered how big it was, hidden behind the buildings which line the street. I loved the markets, cheap, colourful full of vibrancy and wonderful fresh produce. Being so close to the hostel cheap self-catering with awesome produce was going to be easy. I wondered if this was where Dad, as a young boy, worked?

Markets on Cara Dusan
Markets on Cara Dusan
 Wandering the Skadarlija cobblestones

Wandering the Skadarlija cobblestones  worked?

 

 

Murals on Skadarlija
Murals on Skadarlija

On the way back to the Hedonist I dropped into Jevrem restaurant (at 36 Gospodar Jevremova ) for lunch. That was very enjoyable but seriously, 6 types of meat in the mixed grill!? Plus vegies? I’m a huge meat eater but there was no way I could get all of that into me! The Serbian (my parents called it Turkish) coffee was nice and it was lovely to know that someone still makes it in a restaurant in Belgrade having been told by several cafes and restaurants that nobody serves it any more, I think the more traditional places do actually still serve that wonderful coffee. I also discovered that on a Friday night they have a pianist playing at dinner time so, I booked myself in.

Front of Jevrem restaurant
Front of Jevrem restaurant
The massive meat lunch at Jevrem!
The massive meat lunch at Jevrem!

Hostels and why I love them

Back at the Hedonist it was lovely catching up with people I’d met on my first visit and just happened to be there at the same time again, it seems to be a place to which people just keep coming back. So there were lots of chats with the two Russian girls (Eva and Julia) and we became friends and happily still communicate over social media and hopefully will meet up again somewhere, perhaps back in Belgrade or Russia or both.

Now here’s another thing I love about hostel travelling, when you find a really good one which is set up perfectly for socialising, you end up sitting around chatting and meeting other travellers, you hear their stories, get invited to their countries, you learn more and sometimes make life long friends. That afternoon was one of those times and low and behold I struck up a friendship with Natalie an absolutely delightful and interesting young lady from Australia. We seemed to have a lot in common and she asked to borrow Mum’s book. We have also stayed in touch ever since with plans to meet up back in Oz at some stage. It was becoming obvious that my original reason for coming back to Belgrade (thinking I would find time and quiet space to start some serious writing) just wasn’t going to happen, although I did manage to at least write up each day’s events in between the fun. This visit was again about meeting new friends and researching.

Thursday

It seemed that word was spreading that I ‘write’ – not surprising I guess seeing as I was sitting at the computer a hell of a lot (attempting to write) and people kept asking me what I was doing so my research of parents’ lives and blog story was repeated many times. A young fellow came up that night and the first thing he said was ‘I’ve been told you write and I need to talk to someone who might understand’. So that took us into a lengthy conversation about muses, people thinking he’s crazy etc etc. All he really needed was confirmation that other people also have words forming themselves into creative expressions at weird times. Poor guy has obviously been put down by both family and friends when he has shared his thoughts. It was delightful to have a chat and support him in actually writing things down instead of just letting them get lost out of his head. I hope he felt better about his creativity and actually gets something on paper.

Friday 

Knez Mihailova – The amazing pedestrian street

Only in Belgrade! I went for an innocent walk, popped into an antique shop for a quick look and ended up joining the owner and a customer in rakija, white wine, cevapcici, loud music and dancing. I could not believe the other two when they both got on the furniture to dance!

It was difficult extracting myself from the clutches of the antique store – which was taking on a surreal ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ atmosphere and I thought that at any moment a piece of furniture would drag me into some parallel universe, so I finally made my excuses, left the other two to their dancing and continued exploring Knez Mihailova the longest pedestrian shopping street I’d come across.

You’ll find all sorts of things along that amazing street, fountains, sculpture displays, cafes, restaurants, hotels, shops, people selling weird stuff on the pavement and lots more. You could easily spend an entire day there. Knez Mihailova is protected by law as one of the oldest and most valuable landmarks of the city. It is named after the Prince of Serbia Mihailo Obrenovic III. Its 1 kilometre length takes you from around the Department of philosophy to the entrance of Kalemagdan Park and was the main street when Belgrade was the Roman city of Singidunum, which is why it leads directly to the fortress. If you would like to know more about the history (particularly of the fortress) I recommend you have a look at this site; http://tripandsleephostels.com/2015/04/the-city-of-a-thousand-wars/

or

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knez_Mihailova_Street If I were to repeat all the information that you can find on these sites (and many others) the blog would go on forever. Suffice to say that Central Belgrade is a place to walk, there is so much to find, see and experience there.

On Knez Mihailova
On Knez Mihailova
'Think deeply, see broadly' The motto of the Philosophy Department
‘Think deeply, see broadly’ The motto of the Philosophy Department
Tether tennis sales? On Knez Mihailova? Why not.
Tether tennis sales? On Knez Mihailova? Why not.

Jevrem again

It  was time to get organised and go to dinner and some live music at Jevrem . Some self imposed time out from re-reading Mum’s book and researching was called for. As if I hadn’t challenged myself enough, now it was dinner by myself in a slightly ‘up market’ restaurant – that was worth a pat on the back.

Jevrem has a wonderful atmosphere with both inside and outside eating areas. The night turned out to be rather interesting, once again only in Belgrade! I sat down at my table and while the waitress was chatting to me I noticed an elderly man and lady looking at me and smiling, I began to feel a little awkward. Then the sweet gentleman came over, he was the pianist and wanted to ask what sort of music I liked so he could play it for me, so nice, I must stand out like a sore thumb as a tourist. No sooner had he left to go to the piano an older lady came in (I figured out she was 75, although I swear she looked older) and decided to sit with me and proceeded to give me a Serbian history lesson in Serbian. Luckily I understand enough to have made some sense of a lot of it. The waitresses couldn’t stop apologising, but it was really sweet. Anyway, she stayed for a drink, decided their food was too expensive and left (after giving me several hundred years of history) perhaps she was hoping I’d buy her a meal but that thought didn’t strike me at the time.

The delightful pianist at Jevrem
The delightful pianist at Jevrem

A lovely dinner, interesting talks, nice music and then back to the hostel. I walked into a party in the common room, the obligatory partaking of vodka before going clubbing. Soon they were all jolly enough and it was late enough for the young ones to go out and although I was invited to go along I had to say no , I’m still ‘old school’ going out at midnight just doesn’t fit into my reality. So there was quiet time for me, at least until everyone came back much worse for wear.

Searching out churches

Sunday

Flash of inspiration the previous day, who would/should be able to point me in the right direction for information on the period when Mum and Dad were here? Maybe if there was a Russian church they might know. So a bit of research, yes there is a church in Belgrade (The Church of the Holy Trinity), within walking distance according to the map. So after a night of emotions, reading the saddest chapters of Mum’s book in order to get my questions organised (so glad the dorm mates were all out) I was off to church in the morning. A very long walk followed by 2 hours of standing and a long walk home took it’s toll, but I was glad I went, although as usual it caused more questions than answers. It turned out that on that day a Serbian priest was leading the service as the Russian priest, who could have possibly given me answers, was in Moscow and wouldn’t be back till 4 August.

The church warden took my email address promising to pass it on to the priest upon his return, with my questions, needless to say that didn’t happen. The absence of the priest  caused some re-organisation of my thinking, I wasn’t planning to stay that long, what to do? It seemed, though, that he may have been able to help me out, as this is the church where General Wrangel, leader of the white Russian Army is buried. I had heard many a story from Mum about the General and the evacuation of the army to the Yugoslavia, seeing as Mum’s uncle was in that army. That was a cool find.  Although no research could be done, once the choir started singing I just had to stay on, a very small choir but what voices!

The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church
The tomb of General Wrangel in the Russian church

 

On the way out of the church I ran straight into a Serbian wedding going to St Marks (next door to the Russian church) complete with ‘lumpovanje’. This is a traditional musical accompaniment for the bride and groom, a very loud brass band with accordions and drums accompany the wedding party through the streets playing a very loud style of traditional music. Again I remembered my mother’s stories of weddings in various towns and villages. If you would like to get a taste of what it’s like have a look at this video on Youtube

On the way home I came across the biggest post office building ever!

Mega Post Office
Mega Post Office
Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade
Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity Belgrade
Brass band 'lumpovanje' escorting a wedding party
Brass band ‘lumpovanje’ escorting a wedding party
Wedding heading to the Serbian church of St Mark
Wedding heading to the Serbian church of St Mark

Tuesday was taken up with exploring the fortress, it is a fascinating rambling place built at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. However, I have given a couple of sites above for you to explore so will refrain from any description here – except for a few photos.

Zindan Gate 1450, Belgrade fortress
Zindan Gate 1450, Belgrade fortress

Museums and mausaleums

Wall of the fortress on the river side
Wall of the fortress on the river side

Wednesday

An interesting visit to the National Museum, located on the main city square called Trg Republike. A small museum but certainly some learnings for me, I hadn’t even thought about this area being part of the Roman Empire, but there it is, lots of relics and ruins. On top of that I hadn’t known about the Milan Edict either, hmmm perhaps in our current times we need to be more aware of what it says and perhaps expand it.

A picture paints a thousand words Edict of Milan
A picture paints a thousand words Edict of Milan

Thursday

It was the day to visit Tito’s Mausaleum (also known as The House of Flowers) and the 2 museums next to it. So a lovely Finnish lady and I hopped on the tram. I found both the mausoleum and museums interesting but not spectacular, however these things must be seen if you are in the city and there is a lot to learn. Not only is Tito’s white marble grave there (although supposedly he is actually buried outside amongst the flowers) but also displays of all the gifts he had received. One of the displays fascinated me in particular. This was the display of the batons brought to him each birthday on 25th May. It all started in 1945 when the youth of the country organised mass baton relays throughout Yugoslavia. The batons conveyed birthday wishes for long life and good health to Tito. There are apparently 22,000 of them in the museum many very elaborately decorated. Eventually the 25th of May became known as Youth Day.

The other sections of the museum had all manner of costumes and items from other countries on display.

Titos grave in the mausoleum
Titos grave in the mausoleum
Batons presented to Tito by the youth relay
Batons presented to Tito by the youth relay

Sometimes hostel life can be awesome as it was that evening with crepe night, a birthday watermelon (spiked with vodka of course) for one of the girls and live entertainment by a bunch of Swedes and a saxophonist from somewhere else.

Vodka spiked birthday watermelon and cake
Vodka spiked birthday watermelon and cake

At other times it can be very annoying as in the next night when I was awoken at some horrific hour of the morning by the Brazilian boys who had been out all night

You generally find some musicians staying in hostels
You generally find some musicians staying in hostels

and for some reason needed to have a conversation in the dorm (as if they hadn’t had enough time to talk to each other).

The 31 degrees in Belgrade felt so much ‘hotter’ than 31 at home, maybe it’s the humidity, putting that together with a lack of sleep and it ended up that a walk to the post office, the gelato place and the supermarket (for watermelon, chicken and booze) was enough for one day! The afternoon was spent sitting around chatting to lovely Ursula (from Chile) about Mum’s book, my research and her amazing search for family while drinking local beer, now that’s the way to spend a hot languid afternoon on holidays.

Hostels and some of the challenges – Manners

Saturday 

Yes there is an unwritten set of hostel manners that the decent travellers adhere to, others unfortunately think they are the only ones there. It was quiet until 5am (didn’t even realise a new dorm mate had come in) then, shattered silence! Alarm goes off, obviously the Turkish girl’s as she finally got up looking for the phone. Is it in the locker? No, maybe in the luggage? Yes! Alarm gets louder, Hmmm can’t see in the dark, light goes on, finally alarm goes off. She visits the bathroom, back in bed, silence again, till 5.45 when same person decides it’s time to get up, bed light goes on, lots of rustling, zippers opening, She leaves, light stays on – sometimes I love hostel life, other times I’m over it.

I decided to go out to Zemun even though it was 33 degrees outside. Zemun lies on the Danube and was once a separate city. I walked along the river past lots of little restaurants, it was a time I wished I had someone with me who spoke the language properly, would have been nice to stop and have a bite to eat, I settled for an icecream on the way back to the bus stop. I couldn’t cope with the heat and tiredness so decided not to explore further. There is a rich history to Zemun and of course way too much to put here so Wikipedia comes to the rescue once again, take a look at;

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Zemun

On my way out to Zemun I had noticed a massive market with a very Ottoman looking roof so on the way back I hopped off the bus to take a look. Located across the road from the central transportation hub Zeleni Venac is massive,  it was a delight wandering up and down the rows, you can buy pretty much anything there not just food products. Once again the thought crossed my mind, was this where Dad, as a young boy, worked?

‘The town market became the base of his activities. He ran messages, doing any kind of work. He made himself indispensable at the market. He started to make some money but still slept under boxes at the market until a Serbian farmer offered him a job on his property. So Tony became a shepherd.’ Excerpt from my mother’s memoirs, Jermolajew, Tamara. It Can’t Be Forever. Gininderra Press, 2005.
Sadly Mum is gone and I can’t ask those questions now.

Zeleni Venac market
Zeleni Venac market

The 29th July arrived, my decision had been made to go to Hungary for a week before returning. A note about going to Budapest from Belgrade, it is much cheaper and more convenient to go by mini bus. The Hedonist books the bus for you, you leave at a civilised hour of the day, it is safe and the driver looks after the border crossing by collecting all the passports. The border guards have a good look at you before handing back your passport, however we didn’t have to get out of the bus so that was good. One thing, best not to have any alcohol or cigarettes (except enough for yourself for the trip) with you, the Hungarian border is pretty strict about that. The only thing about the mini bus (or at least the 2 drivers I had on 2 separate occasions) make sure you know exactly where you are going, if it is possible, because both times I was dropped at the wrong place which caused a little more than just annoyance.

So it was a temporary farewell to Belgrade with great thanks to my newly found friends Eva, Julia, Natalie, Alex, Rachael and Ursula, and the rest of the guests and onward to Budapest.

A bit more craziness at the message wall with rakija and coffee
A bit more craziness at the message wall with rakija and coffee