I arrived in Belgrade Tuesday evening open to a new experience but feeling a bit apprehensive and uncertain about what to expect. One writer compares the Serbian culture of “historical, religious, culinary, and psychological narratives” to “knots that must be carefully untangled”.
It takes a few days to acclimate, and I’m exploring areas near my apartment but haven’t used the trams. I got lost at night but friendly locals were helpful. Transportation is all above ground – no subway. Drivers seem impatient. Crossing the street in the wrong place resulted in a severe honking admonishment – won’t do that again…
Crossing the street can be complicated. In Belgrade’s city center you cross the main thoroughfare via underground stairways and passages. Maybe this is because of the trolleybus tracks characteristic of former socialist countries.
My first Serbian food experience – karadordeva – was interesting but not a favorite. Meat and roasted peppers are especially popular.
Some describe Serbia as “fascinating, baffling, captivating, frustrating, and vibrant”!
Most restaurants have live entertainment with small groups including a singer, accordion, Serbian guitar, bass or cello, tapan drum, and violin. To my ear, the sound is somewhere between Balkan Gypsy, Greek, and Russian folk music. All smiles, the locals clearly love it!
When drinking rakija (fruit brandy) with friends, the process is “clinking glasses, locking eyes, and saying ZIVELI”!
There are many Serbian breads – pogača, lepinja/somun, đevrek, proja, pogacica – can’t pronounce them. Bakeries and snack kiosks are everywhere. Kiosk vendors are friendly and helpful. I’ve asked them silly tourist questions and they’re always kind.
As in Montenegro and Croatia potent rakija is popular. In the Balkans rakija cures all ailments known to man.
Serbian Time and Communication
I’ve learned that the meaning of time in Serbia is up for grabs. In some cases, an hour means a day or more. There’s no mercy for those who don’t understand this. Above all you must remain flexible unless you want to be frustrated. Complaining or being uptight doesn’t help. There are layers of understanding in Serbia – each somewhat right and at the same time inaccurate – communication is challenging.
Luckily, I was in Dubrovnik during Serbian Orthodox Christmas in January. Orthodox religious celebrations, food, traditions, feasts, slavas (patron saints), and dos and donts seem dizzyingly complicated.
There are many spectacular churches to explore throughout Belgrade. From what I’ve seen, you should learn basic Orthodox Church rituals before entering.
Smoking is another subject. Serbia is the “number one country for per-capita cigarette consumption” – enough said. Although I have a problem with smoking, there’s no point in being judgmental. Soon enough smokers discover the error of their ways.
There’s much to explore so I’m staying in Belgrade through March. The second time around I found a reasonably priced apartment in the city center. The first apartment wasn’t for me, but since I only booked one week, it’s manageable.
Points of interest include Savamala District, Hilandarska and Terazije Streets, National Museum, Gardos Tower, Zemun Neighborhood, Vojvodina District, Novi Sad Trg Slobode, Subotica Synagogue, and Hotel Moskva. That’s the tip of the list and doesn’t include day trips to villages, parks, rivers, music, museums, or galleries.
“Where there is Slava, there is a Serb.“ Serbian Proverb
The Belgrade street scene – words don’t do it justice – is colorful with plenty of local “hipsters”. Women go all out with their attire. Younger women wear skin-tight clothes with lots of leather and makeup. Fancy boots, spike heels, rhinestones, and sequins are indispensable. Most of the younger men are fit and well-groomed. Except for artistic types, older men and women are low-key.
There’s much to learn, beginning with how to get around :o(. More later…