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 last night, but friendly locals were helpful. Transportation is above ground – no subway. Drivers are impatient, and crossing the street in the wrong place resulted in a horn honking rebuke – won’t do that again…
Sometimes, crossing Belgrade’s streets is complicated. For example, underground stairways and passages along the city center thoroughfare are used to access the other side of the street. Maybe this is because of trolleybus tracks characteristic of former socialist countries.
My first Serbian food experience – karađorđeva šnicla a Serbian version of schnitzel named after Serbian Prince Karađorđe – was interesting but not a favorite. Meat and roasted peppers are popular in Serbia.
Some describe Serbia as “fascinating, baffling, captivating, frustrating, and vibrant”!
Most restaurants have live entertainment with small groups of musicians, including a singer, accordion, Serbian guitar, bass or cello, tapan drum, and violin. To my ear, the sound is a combination of Balkan Gypsy, Greek, and Russian folk music. All smiles, the locals love it!
When drinking rakija (fruit brandy) with friends, the process is “clinking glasses, locking eyes, and saying ZIVELI”!
There are many Serbian breads – pogacica, pogača, đevrek, lepinja/somun, proja – 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 helpful and kind.
As in Montenegro and Croatia potent rakija is popular. In the Balkans, rakija is said to “cure 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. Complaining and being uptight doesn’t help. You must remain flexible, unless you want to be unhappy and frustrated. There are layers of understanding in Serbia – each somewhat right but not always inaccurate – communication is challenging.
One writer compares the Serbian culture of “historical, religious, culinary, and psychological narratives” to “knots that must be carefully untangled”.
There are many spectacular Orthodox churches to explore throughout Belgrade. From what I’ve seen, you should learn basic Orthodox Church rituals before entering.
Smoking is popular in Serbia, where per-capita cigarette consumption is high – 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 and that there’s really no winning scenario.
There’s much to explore, so I’m staying in Belgrade through March. The second time around, I found a comfortable, reasonably-priced apartment in city center. The first apartment wasn’t for me, but since I had only booked one week, it was manageable.
Points of interest include the 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 just 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
Words don’t do justice to Belgrade’s street scene – it’s colorful with plenty of local “hipsters”. Younger women go all out with their attire, wearing 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 more conservative and low-key.
Serbian history is complicated, and there’s so much to grasp. I’ll begin with the basics and learning how to get around Belgrade efficiently :o(. More later…