Unexpectedly alright is how I would summarize Belgrade. I was expecting to arrive in a bombed out, war-torn, ghetto of humanity when I stepped off of the bus into Belgrade. What I found was good people with interesting stories in a city that was very much welcoming and overtly friendly.
Never in nearly all of my travels have I received so many smiles in response to my cumbersome questions and requests than in Belgrade. I do not speak a word of Serbian, but the Serbs dug out their English to speak with me. It is amazing how welcoming a city outside of the cusp of mass tourism can be to a wayward set of foreigners.
Friends in Belgrade.
Chaya and I entered Belgrade during the night without a map, without a guidebook, and only the scrawled out address of a cheap hostel to guide our way. We stepped off of the bus and looked one way, looked the other, and then admitted to each other that we had no clue where to go. We complied with a funny cliché and asked a couple of young traffic cops if they knew where we could find the address that was written in my notebook. For a second they just stared blank-faced into my scrimshawed mess of handwriting. My heart was about to drop when, out of some blaze of providence, one of the cops spoke the words:
This was all we needed: the knowledge that our internet procured address really did point to somewhere real. We walked in the direction of the pointing cop’s pointing finger up a dark hill. We climbed to the top and asked directions from a lady working in a pharmacy. She smiled and walked out of her shop and put us in the right direction with a command of the English language and a laugh. On and on Chaya and I flagged down unsuspecting Serbians, showed them the address in the notebook, and were provided with the next leg of our short journey. At each juncture, the person that we requested directions smiled and helped us. Nobody shrugged their shoulders and ran away, nobody dodged my salutations, and nobody lied that they did not know where it was we wanted to go. I was amazed.
Genuine hospitality is perhaps one of the qualities that traveler’s are in perpetual searches for. If this is the case, then Belgrade should be a beacon for wanderers: a capital city in Europe where a couple of bozo backpackers can ask a dozen people directions and get a dozen smiles in return demarcates a good place.
Belgrade was far from being the bombed out hole that I took it to be in my youth. Yes, NATO did bomb the hell out of the city in the later end of the 1990’s but the people impressively put their grey wash, socialist looking home back together again.
“After they bombed our city,” I was told by a Belgrade native who lived through the wreckage, “the people all got together and rebuilt it by hand. We were all volunteers, and did it for no pay. We picked up the pieces and made our city again out of rubble.”
From my two days of walking its streets, Belgrade seemed like a livable place, which is perhaps the highest compliment that I can pay towards any urban center.
Cost of travel in Serbia:
Bus from Subotica to Belgrade (5 hours)- $11
Dorm bed at Three Black Cats hostel- $12
Pizza slice- $1
Liter of milk- $1
Large loaf of bread- $1
500g of muesli- $2
Medium sized pre-cooked chicken breast (4 meals)- $5
Two small chicken legs- $1.25
Two tomatoes- $1
Liter of juice- $.75