Thankfully this time by taking the motorway our around 500km trip only took about 4 hours so we reached Belgrade in good time. The problem was in finding our campsite. It turns out that in “Serbia the land that TomTom forgot” our gps doesn’t have complete maps of any of the country so only really knows the motorway. Not much help in getting around.
After a couple of ‘shall we go left or right’ wrong decisions we found Camp Dunav, Dunav being Serbian for Danube the famous river that runs from Germany through Europe and ending at the Black Sea.
We were a first for the camp, no Kiwis had stayed there before. Definitely a bit more off the beaten track here. Everyone who stays gets a temporary residents permit for the city.
One thing that we found out very quickly is how cheap things are in Serbia, especially food and drink. Cheapest in Europe so far and very likely to be the cheapest place we will visit in Europe. This watermelon weighing over 5kg cost 100 Dinar, the equivalent of about NZ$1.40
Belgrade is a big city with a population of around 1.6 million and despite it’s reasonably recent conflicts and bombings- is gradually becoming more of a tourist destination. While certainly far from the prettiest city in Europe there’s definitely potential for it to become even more popular, the city has a great feel and a lot of character. We had planned to stay 2 nights and stayed 4 (also a record for the campground apparently, it was pretty rough).
Unlike some places we’ve visited the people are super-friendly, genuine and helpful and a lot of them speak English. Generally the people who said they had limited English spoke really well and the ones who said they could speak English didn’t understand us.
We enjoyed looking around the city although it was pretty hot.
Although there are alot of hideous concrete high rise apartments there are also fun, lively areas like the Bohemian District where there are bars, cafes and artsy shops all along the cobbled street.
Another well publicised street is nicknamed ‘silicon valley’ due to the bars’ female clientele who have usually had a bit of work done, although the evidence was lacking when we went passed, must have gone too early.
The centre of town has a few pedestrian only streets which means it’s good for wandering around out of the way of the Serbian drivers.
Forget the Italians reputation, Serbians would have to be the most unpredictable and impatient drivers we’ve come across. They can certainly make use of their horn. We saw many ‘thread the needle’ multiple lane passing manoeuvres. Overtaking can be done anywhere anytime.
We weren’t entirely sure if we could follow the tram over the bridge, hard to tell what to do when you can’t read Cyrillic, but we got over safely.
Most of the cars are modern European but there are still many older Yugoslav manufactured models around like the Zastava and Yugo.
We did a bit of sightseeing visiting the Gardos Tower and City Fortress.
The tower was built within the crumbling walls of a small fortress (now in the suburb of Zemun) in the 1800’s. Climbing to the top gives you good views across the city.
The city Fortress is a huge structure at the north of the town. The old stone walls and buildings are quite impressive and are a good spot for locals to sell their homemade goods like crocheted tablecloths.
The city has made good use of the 2 rivers that converge at its heart by creating a man-made lake with beaches running down either side. Excellent spot to get some sun then cool off with a swim.
The beaches weren’t as busy as we expected which made for a slow day for the lifeguards. With no daring rescues to be made they had to resort to sauntering around in their speedos.
The riverbanks are home to many floating restaurants, ranging from ones that look about ready to sink to some classier options.
We went for the latter and were really surprised by the quality of food. Our calamari risotto was fantastic, so good we contemplated going back the following night.
Can’t fault our spot on the river for enjoying good food and drink.
Our next meal out was at a more traditional restaurant so we got more of a taste of what true Serbian food is like (good) . We ordered a mixture of dishes, not really knowing what they were. Our favourite was the simplest dish a traditional salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, oil, salt. Next the traditional bread and a bean/tomato/spices curry like dish. Least favourite, mainly as it was too salty, was the meat patty stuffed with cheese and smoked sausage, and this is the small portion.
It was out for dinner this night that we were asked by a boy, who can’t have been older than 6, for a light for his cigarette!
Our time in Serbia came to an end with a couple of nights on the outskirts of Zlatibor in the south west of the country. Campgrounds were scarce so we treated ourselves to an apartment in a family home.
We booked it through the daughter who had good English but she was away when we arrived so it was interesting trying to communicate with the mother who knew zero English. Matt was trying to make conversation by pointing to the wooden ceiling and giving the thumbs up to show he liked it. According to the daughter who we saw the next day the mother thought Matt was asking if the roof was stable and not going to fall down on us. I think we’ll have to practice our charades more.
We were surrounded by rolling hills and a paddock of goats.
The town has a feel kind of like Hanmer Springs, in the mountains with pine trees, people wandering about looking at the markets no one in too much of a hurry. We found a great dessert shop so decided to have molten chocolate pudding and banoffie pie for dinner.
We really enjoyed our time here in Serbia. Between the friendliness of locals and good summer weather to the very cost effective accommodation, food and drink what’s not to like.
Next destination, Montenegro.