Belgrade’s Rivers, Bridges, Islands, and Lakes

Savamala Clubs Sava River – serbia.com

Serbia is a country of rivers, lakes, valleys, and mountains. Each one “tells its own story”. I’ve been exploring Belgrade’s riverside and Savamala District on foot. Early spring weather is warm and beautiful – perfect for walking.

Ušće Park – Wikimapia.org

Transportation isn’t Belgrade’s forte. There’s no metro and traffic is heavy. Drivers are impatient and like honking their horns. Packed trolleybuses are slow and knowing where and when to catch them seems complicated. Taxi drivers are untrustworthy, and the transportation apps I’ve tried – Moovit, CarGo – didn’t work well. My apartment is well-located, so it’s easier and less stressful to walk. The most pressing issue is deciding where to go each day.

Building Savamala Neighborhood

Belgrade rests along the banks of two major rivers – the Sava and Danube. They “connect the city with the world and provide food, water, and recreation”. In addition to the two big rivers there are “192 smaller rivers and streams, a dozen lakes, 20 islands, 3 large beaches, and countless tiny inlets”!

French Embassy Near Sava River – lakwatsa.net

Savamala

Savamala is a lively neighborhood along the Belgrade riverside. Young people enjoy popular destinations like party riverboats and trendy nightclubs. The cobbled streets lead to Brankov Bridge, cafés, restaurants, galleries, and unique architecture.

Ušće District Sava River Statue of the Victor by Ivan Meštrović – Wikipedia

Karađorđeva Street is Savamala’s “main artery”. It follows the Sava connecting Belgrade Fortress and Port with Sava Square. Spectacular buildings in the area include embassies, Belgrade Cooperative (Geozavod), and Bristol Hotel.

Bristol Hotel Belgrade – Vestinet.rs

There’s a variety of restaurants and shops in Beton Hala. I’ve walked the area – usually teeming with people – but enjoy kafanas on quieter backstreets.

Geozavod Building Savamala

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In the summer people flock to the rivers to escape the heat. For Belgrade residents “the rivers are their seaside”.

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Port Splav Belgrade – Belgrade Experience

Splavs – Floating Restaurants and Nightclubs

On hot summer days Belgrade residents visit splavs – floating cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs. The opening of splavs is the first sign of summer.

St. Sava Orthodox Church Sava Square – shutterstock

Hundreds of floating restaurants, bars, and clubs anchor along the banks of the Sava and Danube. I haven’t noticed any splavs open yet but with warmer weather it may happen soon.

Belgrade Port – belgrademyway

In addition to restaurants and clubs, Belgrade rivers have hundreds of floating cabins of various sizes and designs. Floating cabins are usually built on wooden platforms buoyed with metal barrels for stability.

Belgrade Fortress – Belgrade at Night

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Belgrade splavs are a unique experience that can seem surreal, magical, and incredible.”

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Floating Cabins Sava River – Depositphotos

Each splav has a distinct personality – usually characterized by its music. There’s something for everyone. Finding just the right splav is challenging, but local guides are available to help. For those “who want to be seen fashionable splavs blast international pop music; casual splavs play Serbian folk music; and cool hipster splavs spin underground music”.

Rivers

Danube River

The Danube is Europe’s second largest river, after Russia’s Volga. It flows through 10 Central European countries and “connects Belgrade with the North and Black Seas via canals and waterways”.

Serbia Map – World Atlas

Floating Cabins Sava River – Serbia.com

Sava River

The Sava was former Yugoslavia’s “largest national river connecting three capitals – Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade”. The Sava meets the Danube at Ušće in the center of Belgrade. Great and Little War Islands are directly at the confluence of the two rivers.

Great War Island – Enjoy Belgrade

Great War Island is an uninhibited nature reserve with wildlife and lush vegetation. If the Danube is “Europe’s great river, the Sava is its equal for Yugoslavia”.

Drina River Canyon – visegradturizam

Drina River

The Drina River is the “most famous body of water in the Balkans”. It forms a border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Drina became famous in 1945 with Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić’s Nobel-Prize-winning novel The Bridge on the Drina.

King Alexandre Bridge Destroyed During WWII – Wikipedia

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After Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul, Belgrade is third among world cities with the most beautiful locations.

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Valley of Lilacs Ibar River – Breathtaking Places in Serbia WordPress

The Drina is the Sava’s longest tributary. It’s known for speed, character, and sharp curves. The Drina “became a modern lexicon”. Someone trying to solve an impossible problem is said to be “attempting to straighten the Drina”. The river has inspired songs and stories and is “close to the hearts of Serbs”.

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“People don’t take trips, trips take people.”  John Steinbeck

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Ibar River Valley – Company

Uvac River

The Uvac River forms some of the “most majestic natural sights in the Balkans”. Dramatic cliffs and lush forests surround the river’s bends.

Uvac River Nature Reserve – Avanturista

Ibar River

The Ibar River is the most polluted river in Serbia. The river’s lower course “created a number of gorgeous valleys. The Ibar Valley has spas and natural springs. It’s also called the Valley of the Kings and Valley of Lilacs. Over the centuries, famous Serbian monasteries like Studenica, Žiča, and Gradac were built near the Ibar”.

Bridges

Urban Belgrade has six bridges on the Sava River and one on the Danube. The Danube has three more bridges in the southern suburbs. Brankov and Ada are Belgrade’s most famous bridges. Many of the smaller ones don’t have names.

Danube River – mix.com

Bridges Sava River

Ada Bridge

Ada Bridge opened at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2012. It’s the newest and tallest bridge in Belgrade and the “longest single pylon bridge span in the world”.

Ada Bridge – Wikipedia

Brankov Bridge

Brankov Bridge is the most famous bridge in Belgrade. It has a walking path and is the main connection between Belgrade City Center and New Belgrade. It’s visible from Kalemegdan and Ušće Parks. One of the oldest bridges in Belgrade, Brankov’s pillars are from the King Aleksandar Bridge destroyed during WWII.

Gazela Highway Bridge – Wikimapia

Old Tram (Sava) Bridge

The Old Tram Bridge is the “only arch bridge in Belgrade”. During WWII it was the “only bridge that remained intact in Belgrade and is one of few bridges the retreating German forces didn’t demolish”.

Banko Bridge with Ada Bridge in Background – A. Nalbantjan

Gazela Bridge

Gazela Bridge “has the shape and color of a gazelle”. The bridge is part of Route E75, a major European highway passing through City Center connecting Belgrade with the Serbian cities of Niš and Novi Sad.

New Railway Bridge – Wikipedia

Old Railway Bridge

Located between Gazela and New Railway Bridges, Old Railway is the oldest bridge in Belgrade and the only bridge from the 19th century.

Gradac Monastery Ibar River Valley – TrekEarth

Studenica Monastery Ibar River Valley – Depositphotos

New Railway Bridge

New Railway Bridge, Belgrade’s second railway bridge, opened in 1979. It was built to help facilitate Belgrade’s traffic. It was the first railway bridge in Europe to use the cable-stayed girder system.

Sunset at Confluence of Sava and Danube Rivers – Lonely Planet

Bridges Danube River

Pančevo Bridge

The Danube’s Pančevo Bridge is a “combined road and railroad truss bridge“. Built in 1935 it was destroyed during WWII and rebuilt at the end of the war. Pančevo bridge was constructed as a “temporary 10-year solution”, but it’s still being used.

Pančevo Bridge – Wikipedia

Islands

Great War Island

Great War Island is an “oasis of wildlife and tranquility in the heart of Belgrade”. Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube it had “strategic importance for either conquest or defense of Belgrade Fortress”.

Ada Međica Island – alo.rs

Great War Island is accessible by boat from Zemun Quay or crossing a pontoon bridge built in summer to connect it to the mainland. Undeveloped but popular Lido Beach is on the northern tip of the island. The island is “covered in forests providing a habitat for small game and over a hundred bird species”. It’s ideal for birdwatchers.

Ušće Park – Belgrade Beat

Bela Stena Resort

Bela Stena (White Wall) is a getaway resort for “lovers of untouched nature.” It’s on an island in the Danube River between Belgrade and the city of Pančevo. Pančevo is only accessible by boat.

Ada Cignalija Island Belgrade Seaside – serbia.com

Ada Ciganlija Island

“From the hand of God to the plans of man” – Ada Ciganlija was once an island in the Sava. Now it’s a man-made peninsula known as “Belgrade’s Seaside”.

Old Sava Bridge – Wikipedia

Ada Međica Island

A small island covered in trees Ada Međica is unspoiled by modern tourism. The Ada Međica Fan Club is making sure it stays that way.

Ada Međica Island – Mapio.net

The only means of transport to and from Ada Međica is a small boat from Sava Quay in New Belgrade. A walking path and “picturesque floating cabins and stilt houses” run the length of the island. There’s a small café next to the boat platform but there are no electricity, water, or public toilets on the island.

Perućac Lake – serbia.com

The south-eastern tip of the island is a good place for swimming, but swimmers need to beware of strong river currents. The island’s code of conduct “requires taking all your garbage with you when you leave”.

Ada Ciganlija Island – belgrade-beat.com

Lakes

Sava Lake

Also known as Ada and Ciganlija, Sava Lake is the largest lake in Belgrade. Its pebble beach is popular in summer. Features include a marina, picnic spots, ground and water sports, fishing, rowing clubs, cafés, floating cabins, and paths for walking, biking, and skating. To the delight of fishermen, the small lake is “brimming with carp”.

Sunset Lake Palić – serbia.com

Lake Palić

Lake Palić is North of Subotica on Serbia’s border with Hungary. “The story goes that Lake Palić was made from the tears of a shepherd who lost his golden lamb”. The lake hosts a film festival and is known for its health spas.

Vlasina Lake – serbia.com

Vlasina Lake

The “highest lake in Serbia” Vlasina Lake is another “magnificent body of water.” It’s home to permanent and floating islands.

Silver Lake Resort – belgrademyway

Silver Lake

An oxbow lake, Silver is on the right bank of the Danube. It’s near spectacular medieval Golubac Fortress, remnants of the medieval town of Golubac, and the entrance to Đerdap Gorge and National Park.

Đerdap National Park Serbia – Modern Flaneurs

Bela Crkva – serbia.com

Bela Crkva Lakes

Bela Crkva Lakes consist of six artificial lakes with the most “unpolluted water in Serbia”. A favorite “cooling off spot” during the hot summer months, Bela Crkva is known as the “Venice of Vojvodina“. The city is surrounded by the Serbian Carpathian Mountains in Banat – between Romania, Serbia, and Hungary.

Austrian Embassy Belgrade

Ada Ciganlija Lake

Belgrade’s most popular resort, Ada Ciganlija, is a big island on the Sava River. Embankments connecting it to Belgrade’s mainland created an artificial lake with swimming beaches. Bathing season runs from June through September.

Golubac Fortress Danube River – tvrdjavagolubackigrad.rs

Žiča Monastery Ibar River Valley – PanaComp

Perućac Lake

An artificial lagoon on the Drina River, Perućac Lake is a fisherman’s paradise. It’s named after a nearby Serbian village. The lake is the result of the dam that created Bajina Bašta Hydroelectric Power Plant.

Zemun Quay – belgrademyway

Belgrade is a fascinating city – there’s so much in Serbia. Time exploring was well spent and reaffirms the need to experience a place yourself to better understand it!

Stilt House River Sava – Remorker Architects Miloš Martinović

Bosphorus Cruise to Istanbul’s Anadolu Kavağı

Bosphorus Scenery

Yesterday I took an excursion from Eminönü to Anadolu Kavağı, a small seaside village on Macar Bay at the entrance to the Black Sea. It was a euphoric, mesmerizing day enjoying astonishing views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait!

In a matter of hours, the weather changed from partly cloudy to overcast to clear and back again. Even with sunscreen, I got sunburned. The ferry leaves Eminönü at 10:30 and returns at 5:30 – we had less than 100 passengers, a mere handful on the huge ferry-boat. The excursion cost 25 Turkish Lira ($7).

Houses Along Bosphorus Strait

Tea Garden Near Yoros Castle Anadolu Kavağı

Including stops to pick up passengers, it took about two hours to get to Anadolu Kavağı. Before the trip I was getting bridges, mosques, and palaces mixed up – now, I’m even more confused. From the middle of the Bosphorus you can spot landmarks and Istanbul districts and neighborhoods –  Fatih, Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Kanlıca, Beşiktaş, Karaköy, Üsküdar, Sultanahmet – and more, all with long difficult to pronounce Turkish names…. It’s beautiful! I lost count of all the bridges we passed connecting Istanbul’s Asian and European sides.

Anadolu Kavağı

Trail to Yoros Castle Overlooking Macar Bay

Yoros Castle and Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge

The boat anchored at Anadolu Kavağı for several hours, allowing time to enjoy lunch at a seaside restaurant, take a walk, drink cay in a tea garden, or climb up to the ruins of Byzantine Yoros Castle. With the help of a local fisherman I found a beautiful, less-traveled shortcut to the castle. At the vista point, I gasped at incredible panoramic views of the Black Sea, Bosphorus, and Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge!

Ferry on Macar Bay Near Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge

Yoros Castle

The Byzantines built Yoros Castle Fortress in 1190 to protect Turkish Straits from invaders. The straits are a “unique system of waterways,” consisting of Istanbul’s Bosphorus, Çanakkale Straits – aka Dardanelles and Hellespont – and the Marmara Sea connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

Yuros Castle originally had eight massive towers and was restored and reinforced by the Genoese in the 1300s and later by the Ottomans. Today it’s a Turkish military protected area.

Bosporus Strait

Sultan_Ahmed_Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque Sultanahmet District Istanbul

Meeting of Two Seas – Marmara and Black

Anadolu Kavağı is like “a gate opening from the Marmara to the Black Sea”. After a climb to the castle – the reward is nature’s spectacular treat – unforgettable views of “green turning blue” when the Sea of Marmara meets the Black Sea!

Turkish Submarine in Bosphorus Strait

Kavagi Ferry Stop

Kanlica Ferry Stop

Dolmabahçe Palace

Mosque Anadolu Kavagi

Galata Tower

Hillside Houses Along the Bosphorus

Istanbul Turkey

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Finally arrived in Istanbul – very exotic – it’s night and I took a short walk but after flying for almost 20 hours I’m jet-lagged and feeling wide awake and unable to sleep. Istanbul is a busy city of 13+ million with wonderful diversity and incredible energy!

My hotel is in the Old Town Sultanahmet borough is near Hagia Sofia and my room has an AMAZING view of the magnificent structure – will send photos from the window in the next post! Sultanahmet is only a few minutes from the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara and I can hear sea gulls and the soothing sound of fog horns which remind me of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I’m here in this small quaint bed and breakfast for two weeks but may move to another neighborhood if I decide to stay longer in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sofia Museum was previously an Eastern Orthodox basilica, a Roman Catholic cathedral, AND a mosque. Its striking appearance is similar to the Blue Mosque and breathtakingly stunning at night! Can’t wait to have some Turkish coffee in the morning and put my feet on the pavement to mingle with the locals and see more Byzantine and Ottoman architecture!

Bosphorous Strait

Bosphorus Strait

Istanbul is known as a city with “unlimited scope” – truly an accurate description. The Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation. It connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara which separate the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Beginning with sites near Sultanahmet these are some well-known points of interest:

• Topkapi Palace
• Blue Mosque
• Yerebetan Basilica Cistern
• Hippodrome
• Dolmabahçe Palace
• Süleymaniye Mosque
• Mosaic and Turkish Art Museums

The Grand Bazaar is along Sultanahmet’s main street (Divan Yolu) and there are hundreds of colorful souks and tiny mysterious cobble-stoned back streets with alleyways leading off in every direction.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Istanbul’s public transportation includes two trams, a subway, ferries, and metro rail. You can purchase an electronic pre-paid pass card to use on these systems. I will do that tomorrow.

There are 39 districts – both modern and historical – and many unique quarters, boroughs, and neighborhoods. I get them mixed up and will likely get lost in all of them. These are some I plan to explore:

1. Eminönü – on the waterfront
2. Beyoğlu / Taksim Square – nightlife, theaters
3. Tünel – bohemian quarter
4. Kadıköy – modern suburbs on the Golden Horn with shipyards and docks
5. Galata – Galata Tower and shops in the Galip Dede Caddesi
6. European Bosphorus – Ottoman mansions and fish restaurants
7. Asian Bosphorus – ancient cobblestoned lanes
8. Princes’ Islands – 9 islands in the Sea of Marmara accessible by ferry
9. Çukurcuma – antique dealers and Turkish baths

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

It’s winter / early spring in Turkey and the temperatures are comfortable but on the cool side – high 40s to 50s. Colorful Spring flowers are in bloom everywhere. The weather report says tomorrow will be sunny and gorgeous. Traveling off-season is the best for many reasons and the cool weather is perfect for walking around the city.

There is no set day-to-day itinerary. I’m grateful for the freedom to take my time and enjoy a slow, thoughtful trip learning about the unique culture and attractions of each country. I plan to visit Ankara and Cappadocia in central Turkey and then spend time around Gallipoli and smaller cities along the Mediterranean coast like Izmit, Bursa, Troy, Ephesus, Datca, and Bodrum. After Turkey I head to Greece, then Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and further up into Central and Eastern Europe. Decided to purchase Eurail passes for Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and Czech Republic. The final stop will be???

More later – there’s much to experience in Istanbul…