I wondered if I should tell another story from my trip to Turkey, but I figured while I was on some kind of ‘thematic streak’ with my other Eastern Bloc-oriented posts, I should tell you a little about my trip to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the whole Balkan Peninsula — Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia — was once the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Various diplomatic struggles and wars have resulted in a bunch of independent nations that although are very close to each other geographically have wildly different demographic makeups. There are Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians… just about every kind of faith, really. It was the gradual increase of ethnic tensions which finally resulted in a permanent split into separate countries; but even now, many Serbians consider Croatians and Montenegrians their brethren and fellow countrymen. They are still bitter that they were forcibly split up, whether they liked it or not. Families were forever broken, and ethnic minorities had to leave their homes to live in their ‘correct’ country.
The ethnic strains are still the main governing political factor in the area today — you’ve probably heard of the Bosnian genocide, and the war that took place in Kosovo. Without taking sides, let’s just say Milosevic was an Orthodox Christian, and the war crimes he sanctioned were on the Bosnian Muslims.
Anyway, that’s enough deep and heavy history for one day; I’ve given you enough information that you can probably now understand what makes a standard run-of-the-mill Serbian tick.
Belgrade is, for all intents and purposes, a western city. The first thing that struck me was just how much it looked like Paris or London. I found out later that a lot of cities around the world were based on Parisian and English fashion, especially new cities — like Washington D.C — or cities that have seen significant reconstruction over the years (due to bombing and the like). The next thing that amazed me was just how social these guys are. Street after street is lined with street cafes. I’m not talking 10 chairs outside a shop either — I’m talking vast swathes of tables with umbrellas, with excited men and women jabbering and gesticulating wildly with one hand; while the other rests reverentially on the cup of coffee.
Seb: ‘Why are there quite so many people out here, in the middle of the day, on a Wednesday, drinking coffee?’
Boris: ‘We have over 30% unemployment’
(He’s not actually called Boris, but it sounds suitably Serbian)
30%! So basically… everyone over the age of 65, under the age of 18, and 30% of all of those inbetween are jobless bums. Out of a population of 10 million, that means about at any given moment, about 7 million people that could be sitting under a parasol drinking iced coffee. That’s definitely what it felt like, walking around the lovely cobbled streets of Belgrade; no one was in a rush to get anywhere. Heck, they had no where to go but home, or perhaps the city’s park that’s situated in the ancient Turkish fortress of Kalemegdan (actually a Turkish word!) that once contained the medieval city of Belgrade.
Kalemegdan is where I took most of my photos of the city. It overlooks the Danube and Sava rivers (and the confluence — where they join), and I think you’ll see from the following pictures that it’s a rather special place.[singlepic=67,,,,center] [singlepic=66,,,,center]
Those were the actual colours — sure they were only there for about 60 seconds, but it was pretty spectacular sitting there on a 1000 year-old rooftop terrace, looking down over one of most beautiful rivers in the world, the Danube… and drinking coffee of course! I’ve still to this day not seen a sunset like that out my travels; I guess I might have to go to the Far East, or some island in the middle of no where before I top the sunsets I saw in Belgrade.
You can see in the first picture that there are people just sitting there, relaxing. The number of couples that I saw just canoodling on a little stretch of the ruined fortress walls was immense. It’s a big fortress, maybe a kilometer or two in circumference, and you couldn’t go more than a few meters without finding another couple in each others’ arms, or a group of friends laughing.
So now I’ve set the scene for my 10-day stay in Belgrade, but unfortunately it’s getting late! Next time I’ll try to tell some stories to bring the beautiful city of Belgrade to life. Goose egg stories perhaps, but fun and interesting, I hope!