Sunday, May 18, 2014

Belgrade CityBreak: An Unexpected Journey

My wife and I had an unplanned opportunity to visit Belgrade for the first time. It went pretty well.

We were asked to drive two of my colleagues to the Belgrade airport from where they took a plane to Paris. This trip allowed us to stop in Belgrade and visit the city. We had no plans, no knowledge about the city. I just set "Belgrade City Center" in the GPS and let it drive us ... somewhere.

First of all, parking your car in Belgrade is extremely difficult. We almost gave up after 30 minutes of randomly choosing streets in the central area and trying to find a spot to stop. Finally, we managed to park, at about 2.5 kms away from the point marked as city center on the GPS. Well, a 20 minutes walk should not be that much. But we were so hungry, and finding a restaurant was a bigger than expected challenge. We did not know the city, but based on the look of the streets and shops, we were somewhere close the center. There were even quite a lot terasses, but only coffe and drinks served. Where are the restaurants?

After trying several alleys that seemed promising, and having no luck at all finding a restaurant, we went on on the main street and finally ended up in the pedestrian area. At least finding a restaurant there was not a challenge any more. We ate at a random restaurant called Opera. They had good food and decent prices. One starter, two main courses, some mineral water and two coffees = 40 Euro.


After we ate, and with our bellies full, we decided that it was a really good time to just walk and admire the city and whatever surprises it may hide. The weather was also a good company, about 25 degrees, mostly sunny. Luckily the restaurant had free WiFi, so we had a chance to look up the surrounding attractions on TripAdvisor. Choosing our next stop was simple. The old City Fortress was just a few minutes away.


What we didn't expect is it to be so well preserved, free to visit, and really impressive. It is bigger than you may think at first sight and spending an hour or so just by walking around the old streets, walls, is not even enough. There is also a great public park surrounding the whole fortress. You can relax on a bench, walk around in a well maintained garden, do some sports, or just stop for a coffee at the Danube's bank.


An expo with first and second world war military equipment was just an amazing plus for this visit. So it's time to wrap up some pros and cons.


PROS:

  • Mixed architecture - there were streets on which you could recognize 4-5 types of different architecture from different eras. From a princesses house, through a peasant's house and a communist office building to victorian architecture. All you could imagine on a single street. There were also places with fluent uniform nice architecture.
  • Food was good - even though we have chosen a restaurant at random and we ordered Serbian specialties we never ate before, we liked the food.
  • People are friendly - we felt the local people friendly, quiet, helpful.


CONS:
  • Difficult to find a restaurant - unless you are in the very city center, on the pedestrian area, even a McDonalds or other fast-food is hard to find. You can get coffee and drinks, but now food.
  • Difficult to find a mini-market - on the whole 2-3 km walk from the car to the city center and back, we found a single mini-market to by some mineral water and cigarettes. Yes, there are kiosks here-and-there, but paying with your credit card is not an option there.
  • Traffic is quite intense - even though it was Sunday, there was quite heavy traffic in the city. Where did all that people had to go by car on Sunday? I can't understand...

That's it. Thanks for reading.