Written by on August 9, 2012 in Europe, General with 0 Comments

The bus ride from Sarajevo to Belgrade started out in the beautiful green mountainous landscape in Bosnia and changed to flat cornfields that reminded me a little bit of Nebraska, making the bus ride feel even longer than it was. About 8 hours and 3 movies on the laptop later, I arrived in Belgrade. It was a good idea downloading a bunch of movies and TV shows before taking off…makes the long travel days more bearable.

I had booked in at Hostel Magic, which was pretty close to the bus/train station and right next to the American Embassy.


When I booked it, it sounded like a good idea. But, upon arrival, it actually made me quite nervous. As an American you’d think I should feel safe sleeping next door to the embassy, but I’m not sure it’s the best place I want to be in a foreign country with all of the terrorist attacks going on. I had just heard of the most recent bombing of the bus with Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria and shuddered a bit knowing I’m heading there soon. Today in fact! I decided not to tell my mom/family as I don’t want them to worry. It’s sad that I’m taking comfort in the fact that it was such a targeted attack and I’m not Israeli, so in my mind I’m making the justification to go there anyway because it wouldn’t have happened to me. Is that weird? Then again, I just heard on the news today that they caught 3 terrorists plotting an attack in Spain, and that definitely won’t stop me from heading there later in August, so why should this bother me…or anyone else?

Anyway…I checked into the hostel and was greeted by Totor, a big and friendly Montengrin guy wearing a SF 49ers t-shirt staying and working at the hostel who had recently returned to the Balkans after living in the US for 12 years, the last part being in Pleasanton, CA. Funny, as my taxi driver was wearing a shirt with San Francisco across hist back. It was hot and I wasn’t up for exploring just yet, so went across the street and bought some beer and brought it back to distribute to my new friends Marco and Totor. Totor was a limo driver in the Bay Area and had some fun stories of how he used to drive some of the guys on the Warriors and the crazy stuff they got up to. He spoke perfect English, which was good because the others did not. Still, it was fun, and later Marco’s friend (don’t remember her name?) showed up with bags of pastries as she’d just finished work at a local bakery. So, I sat around drinking beers and hanging with a fun group of locals out on the back patio of the hostel. Usually you meet other travellers at hostels, but this one was full of locals. The only other “travelers” was a group of 6 men from Macedonia and Slovenia who were visiting their family in the hospital who had been in a horrible accident when one of them had fallen asleep at the wheel attempting to drive from Macedonia to Slovenia (14+ hours) in one shot. They were there all week. There were 2 infants in the car. Luckily all had survived, and by the time I left, the one in critical condition was in the clear. Phew.

The next morning, I grabbed a map and walked 20 mins into the center of Belgrade to join a free walking tour, hoping to meet some other travelers so I’d have some people to party with that weekend. As a city, I didn’t find Belgrade an attractive city at all. There were a few neighborhoods that were ok…here’s a pic from Skadarska, a charming cobblestoned street which is a bohemian part of Belgrade where artists, musicians and other creative types hung out at one point. Now it’s quite touristy, but for a reason as it’s cute and quaint and on a pedestrian street without cars/traffic/noise.


One thing that has been common throughout the Balkans, and similar to some other cities in Europe, are the unique fountains sprinkled throughout the city where the very drinkable spring water flows and provides a cheap way of quenching your thirst while walking around like an idiot tourist when it’s 100 degrees outside!


The tour continued past the Kalemegdan Citadel and the oversized Victory Monument…and then I don’t remember much as I got caught up chit-chatting with others on the tour who were more interesting than our guide.


Our guide did do a good job of promoting a traditional Serbian restaurant and talked about 9 of us into following her there, only for her to disappear and leave us to eat in a probably over-priced and touristy establishment. I didn’t mind, though, as I became fast friends with 3 Danish girls and 5 Germans…all the average age of 23. We all had different ideas of what we wanted to do that afternoon, but swapped email addresses and decided to meet up later for a pub crawl together. Pika, another guy who worked at my hostel who I later learned was also the co-owner, had offered to play tennis with me that afternoon, so I headed back there to meet him. He had arranged for his friend the taxi driver to take us to the Novak Tennis Academy, a GORGEOUS clay court facility right on the Danube River.


I was happy just being there, much less being able to get out and hit. Pika is probably a strong 3.5…but if he played more than once a month he’d be a 4.0. He was very athletic, so was able to chase down balls others might not attempt to hit, which made him a fun hitting partner. I was just happy to see that facility. The highlight of my trip to Belgrade, for sure. They have every right to be proud of Djokovic, and the place was plastered with his face highlighting his accomplishments.


They even had I Love Novak stuff for sale in the pro shop, as well as many t-shirts covered with his likeness.


After tennis, I hurried up to get ready and then headed out to Skadarska to find the Germans, who’d emailed that they were there. It was not tough to find them, and the Danish girls had also joined. I had asked Totor for some bar/club recommendations and after a couple glasses of wine, we were on our way to explore. First stop was a chic outdoor lounge called Central Park, aptly named as it was right next to the park. We had a couple drinks there and then started to move on to the next bar on Totor’s list, but got sidetracked when we heard the great music coming out of a place called Republika.I don’t know how or why, but we had somehow ventured off the main road and were now on some sunken train tracks. Probably not the safest! We didn’t see a way out, so ended up hopping over the fence to join the queue of beautiful people lined up to get in. The line moved fast and we were initially denied entrance. Not wanting to give up, I made my way to the front and explained to the bouncer that “we had come a long way to visit Belgrade and with just one night here, we were told that Republika was THE place we had to visit.” No harm in telling a little white lie ☺ We were all dressed nicely and there were 6 girls and 3 guys, so why wouldn’t they want to let us in?!? He waived his manager over who looked over us and waived us in. The place was packed and small, but the DJ was playing some amazing old school house tunes and we managed to carve out a space for us on the second level. If we would have known what was in store for us later in the evening, we would have stayed, but the real late night action in Belgrade happens down by the river on a string of barges that become clubs during the summer. So, after a couple drinks, we hop in taxis and head to Freestyler, which was meant to be the best club in town at the moment. We were quickly denied at the door without reservations.

So we tried Sound, another club we’d heard of. Same thing. Actually, they wanted us to pay to get in, which our group of young backpackers wasn’t up for doing as we watched dozens of locals walk without paying a cent. So we moved onto the next one…and the next one. Finally, a half empty one took pity on us and let us in. My new friends weren’t picky and were fine with where we ended up, but I was pissed! How does Belgrade win awards for having the Best Nightlife in Europe by Lonely Planet, the backpackers bible, if the bars/clubs don’t let tourists in?!? It’s not like we looked like scruffy backpackers. We were all dressed to go out, as we would be in NY or London or Miami in the summertime. The guys at my hostel had been telling me that tourism in Belgrade was way down. It’s no wonder if the most interesting thing to come to Belgrade for…the nightlife…shuts out tourists! Whatever. I haven’t been this annoyed in a long time as I’ve managed to make my way into any club in the world I wanted to go to, and these didn’t look all that great…but it was the principle of the thing. How dare them?!? Lol ☺ Another reason to be angry at Serbia!

I had already booked my flight to Montenegro for Sunday night, so my mission over the next couple days was to try to find a way up to Novi Sad, an old fortress 2 hours away where the annual Exit Festival is held. Novi Sad was he jumping off point to Fruska Gora, a large stretch of rolling hills with several monasteries that Lonely Planet had pointed out as a Serbia highlight. Since the nightlife was kind of “eh”, I figured I’d give the landscapes a shot. No dice. The one tour company I found offering a day trip, and I tried to arrange a private visit through the hostel, but was talked out of it and told I wouldn’t have enough time. I should’ve gone!

Pika and I played tennis again on Saturday, this time at some clay courts that were way out of town and gave me a little bit of a ‘Field of Dreams’ “if you build it, they will come” feeling as it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.


I was potentially going to meet the Germans out again for dinner, but tennis ran late and Pika had mentioned he and his friends might go out later, hinting that I could join, so thought maybe I had another shot at this supposed Belgrade nightlife. That said, as the night went on, I was getting tired, so not really up for a big night after all. Around midnight, Pika and his friend (name escapes me-sorry!) invited me to join for a small gathering at their friend Tamara’s place. We had some rakia (which will put hair on anyone’s chest!) and an awful liquor called Gorky Hill (which tastes absolutely disgusting), and luckily Tamara showed up with beers after. She told me all about Exit Festival and how Luciano was her highlight. Deborah and I had considered coming for this festival, which occurred the same week we were in Croatia, but declined as many of the main headliners were acts we’d recently seen in our Ibiza, Miami or Vegas earlier this year. We had just seen Luciano in Ibiza the week before, so I felt a little better about missing the festival this time around.Anyway, Pika, his friend and I tried to rally, but after seeing some police roadblocks around the barges, we decided to not change his friend getting stopped as he’d had a couple beers and the tolerance policy in Serbia is very tough for drunk drivers. Pika had talked me out of going to Novi Sad and Fruska Gora and said we’d go play tennis at the lake the next day, so I was fine with that. Too bad he slept til 4 and we ran out of time! Oh well…it was so cool of him to play tennis a couple times and invite me to his friends house, I didn’t mind. So, I went for a quick walk into and around Belgrade to get a little exercise, strolling up and down their pedestrian mall and grabbing some more popcorn before heading back to the hostel and then to the airport.


I saw my first McDonald’s since leaving the US here. Not that that should be worth noting. I definitely feel like I missed something in Belgrade…and in Serbia, but was happy to get out of there and move on to Montenegro as I’d been looking forward to that part of the trip since booking back in February when I thought this was only going to be a 2 week vacation rather than a round-the-world adventure.

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