Experiencing foreign cultures is a delight, so after a delay in my travels, arriving in Belgrade was sweet! A special city, it belongs on the list of European destinations that seemed familiar the first time visited.
Solo Travel Reflections
My travel blog is more a description of places visited, less about me, and rarely describes negative experiences. I try to keep those to myself, but occasionally vent. Some wonder what it’s like exploring the world as a solo woman traveler – that’s tough to explain! The experience doesn’t read like a movie script and isn’t always rosy. If you’re independent, not afraid of the unknown, and enjoy feeling a sense of satisfaction and empowerment after pulling off challenging situations, it might be your cup of tea. I thrive on travel, a worthwhile, rewarding experience.
Others are curious why I don’t include more photos of myself in posts. I’m not into selfies, and asking strangers to take your photo can be risky or result in lousy snapshots. Sometimes, locals and day tour leaders offer to take your photo in front of major landmarks :o). I’ll never join the ranks of tourists obsessed with taking selfies and getting their faces in front of every attraction known to man, just to prove they’ve been there.
I’m not good at fast-paced group travel, where the focus is often keeping up with your companions, rather than learning the subtleties of places visited. Slow, extended trips provide the opportunity to muse on your surroundings, blend with locals, and either immerse yourself in the atmosphere as an observer or participate when it’s feasible. Either way is good!
Developing lifelong friendships with people you meet while traveling isn’t a realistic expectation. Keeping in touch requires concerted effort on both sides, and after months of absence, maintaining long-distance relationships becomes difficult. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy making new acquaintances and interacting with locals and other travelers along the way. Solo travel is many things, but lonely isn’t one of them.
Mostly because of Covid, the time leading up to departure was tense, with people nitpicking my travel itinerary and gasping at the impending adventure. Those efforts were for naught, as naysayers will never convince me to forgo a trip abroad!
Instead of picturing myself quarantined in a Covid-ravaged foreign country, kidnapped by terrorists, or worse, I envisioned enjoying Belgrade’s first-class performing arts community, floating on splavs along the Danube River, visiting islands in the Bosphorus Strait, relishing a full-blown Turkish bath, marveling at whirling dervish performances in Istanbul, and hiking portions of the Carian Trail.
After Belgrade, my itinerary is open. Although Turkey is accepting tourists, the country is under “full lockdown” until mid-May. My guess is the increase in Covid cases is due to festivities during the holy month of Ramadan – April 12 to May 12. Hopefully, by June the lockdown will result in fewer Covid cases and a more robust economy. I’m also considering visiting Athens again and maybe Crete. My last visit to Athens was in 2013.
Admittedly, there were a few “Ben and Jerry moments” during April, when nothing helped calm anxieties but Chunky Monkey (banana ice cream with walnut pieces and chocolate bits). Tying up loose ends that can (and will) come back to haunt you is never easy. That fact means more to those who have forgotten to address something before leaving on an extended trip abroad :o( – myself included. After hours of preparation, victory is satisfying! I’M HERE NOW and ready to explore, proving escape is possible, even in the age of Covid!
Covid Airport Torture
Travel during Covid is messy! I expected challenges along the way, but there were more than I bargained for, and it was often uncomfortable. Germany was experiencing a lesser level of covid anxiety when I booked Lufthansa flights in March. Now, Germans seem to be in full-blown panic mode. Lufthansa cancelled two of three flights without notifying me – not sure what went wrong? I was able to move things around and confirm a less-appealing itinerary, involving a long layover in Frankfurt and arriving in Belgrade around midnight. Since my original Belgrade arrival was delayed 12 hours, the covid test (Serbia requires it done 48 hours before arrival) wasn’t valid. The test I had in the US allowed entry into Frankfurt but not Belgrade, so I had to get another test.
After arriving at the end of a sleepless overnight flight from Denver to Frankfurt, the airport seemed clueless about where and when Covid tests were available for transit passengers. I walked some distance in the huge airport to reach the first testing point, only to discover it was for “China only”. Then, they sent me packing to a different terminal. That location was closed and waiting for a doctor to arrive but unsure when that might happen. Next, I was directed to a third terminal which required taking a shuttle bus. That location could do the covid test (YES), but they were also awaiting a doctor who was expected in about three hours. They said to come back then and wait, since they couldn’t guarantee how long the doctor would stay – huh?
The only plus to a 12-hour layover in Frankfurt was having the time needed to frantically “run all over the airport” chasing down a Covid test. I must have walked an easy 5+ miles. It was exhausting. Many areas included steep, never-ending stairways. The railway system was shut down as a safety precaution, and portions of the airport were cordoned off. No one seemed to know what was going on, and each airport employee I asked for assistance gave different answers to the same questions – almost always incorrect. You were truly on your own. Anyone with a physical impairment was out of luck.
Adding insult to injury, every 5 to 10 minutes, a clinical-sounding robot voice on the PA system blurted out a stark reminder to wear a mask, have your immigration papers organized and ready, and keep your distance from others. It was reminiscent of a bad science fiction film, and my brain felt unwillingly / unwittingly programmed! I woke up last night recalling those repetitive words.
Finally, an ill-tempered German doctor appeared over an hour late and did the swab – not so gently, I might add. He scoffed when asked if he wanted to see a CDC Covid vaccination card showing I’d had both Moderna immunizations.
When registering for a Covid test in Germany, you’re given a passcode to enter into an emailed attachment containing the results. After the swab, it takes about 4 hours to get the results. The negative results came back just in time for boarding the flight to Belgrade – WHEEEWWWW!
The kicker was the 250 Euro charge for the test – over $300!! There was another less-expensive option that required passing through German immigration and going a short distance outside the airport terminal. Since I was considered a “transit passenger,” the immigration officer wouldn’t allow me to pass, and said if I wanted to board the Frankfurt – Belgrade flight, my only option was getting the pricey test inside Frankfurt airport.
OK, enough digression on this subject, or I might lose it and get riled up again. Let’s move on to more interesting Belgrade!
Palilula Municipality Belgrade
My apartment is in Palilula, the largest Belgrade municipality. It’s located near the city center on the left bank of the Danube River. The name Palilula “emanated from the fact that, at the time of Turkish rule, it was forbidden to smoke or use tobacco in the streets of the town, due to the threat of fire. Those who couldn’t do without smoking had to go outside Belgrade city walls. One place where they went to smoke was present-day Palilula – meaning light a pipe.”
Purchased a trolleybus pass for May, which will provide access to every corner of the city and some outlying areas. Using Google Maps, it should be easy to explore places missed during my 2019 visit.
Jet Lag, Masks, Concerts, Orthodox Easter
Yesterday was a brain foggy jet-lag day. During the drive from the airport to my apartment, I noticed new developments in Belgrade that I’ll be visiting and posting about in the future. There’s always an acclimation curve for foreign travel, since everything is totally different. I’m slowly getting comfortable, and today is better.
My landlord, Aleksander, provided info on several interesting concerts happening this month. I’m planning activities including ballet and opera performances at the National Theatre and an outdoor tea party concert in Belgrade Botanical Garden. The garden concert includes Serenade for Strings by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Seasons by Astor Piazzolla performed by the Muzikon chamber orchestra and guest violin virtuoso Stefan Milenković. I learned about Piazzolla during a 2015 visit to Buenos Aires. He’s known as the world’s foremost composer of Tango music.
Spring weather has been clear, in the mid-70s, and generally lovely. The streets are a bit quieter than my last visit but still buzzing. Mellow locals are out and about. Very few people wear masks outside (the heat?), and depending on where you go, some may also skip them inside. I’m OK either way and am trying to go with the flow.
I missed Serbian Orthodox Easter, including:
- Maundy Thursday – April 30 day of preparation
- Good Friday – April 31
- Holy Saturday – May 1
- Easter Sunday – May 2
- Easter Monday – May 3
In accordance with the Julian Calendar, Serbian families unite and join in Orthodox Easter activities, festivities, and traditions.
Haven’t started taking photos yet. More later…