Friday, July 15, 2011
I learned more about Belgrade talking to the girl working at the hostel than I could have learned from any museum here. In fact, there are not many historical museums in Belgrade. I really wanted to learn some stuff about Yugoslavia, Tito, and the wars in the 90s, since I am pretty ignorant about this, but Serbia really has not yet embraced this history as something to show off, so there aren’t really any museums.
The girl at the hostel was 12 when there was NATO bombings in Serbia in the 1999. She said that she and her family lived in the basement like everyone else for 3 months. They got used to having no electricity. She said it was kind of funny, kids in grade school almost enjoyed the time because they got 3 months off of school.
Going Where? How do I read cyrillic?
In this decade things are changing in Serbia but very slowly. Only until either 2007 or 2009 did Serbs not need visas to even go to their neighboring countries! Still unemployment is very high, and people from all over Serbia come to Belgrade to find work. At all levels of employment (including those with University degrees) employers many times only hire employees usually for 3 month contracts because they never know if they will be able to keep the person on (and it avoids having to fire someone). Her dad owns a construction company and she said when he has little money he just tells he workers he can’t pay them. After awhile, these people will just quit. But most likely they have no official contract. Like many things it seems like in Serbia, things are done under the table or just unofficially.
But the economy seems to be expanding at a snails pace and tourism is increasing. There were about 50 or 60 hostels to choose from in Belgrade, all of which have opened in the last 5 years. Serbia has a bad reputation internationally and it will take a long time to change, but it seems to be happening. The recent arrest of the general the led the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovia was just arrested, however there are a few more people such as this that were responsible for genocide and it seems things are just going slowly. Belgrade really is not a dangerous city at all, and the people seem to be quite friendly. Of course there are crumbling buildings in some areas, and you can still see some buildings and embassies that were hit by bombs in the 90s, left as is.
It has a very cosmopolitan feel to it in some parts. The main pedestrian street is filled with cafés and they are full from 9am to around midnight. Dinner is not a huge meal here so you will see people sipping on espresso’s everywhere after 5pm. On the other hand, it feels very bustling and rushed and chaotic. Bus drivers drive fast, cars are honking, and it just feels like a mess of stuff in the city center between the buses, trams, and cars. It is also known within the Balkan region as the city that doesn't sleep.
Pedestrian and shopping:
One of the most interesting points in Belgrade is a massive fortress sitting in the middle of the center overlooking the confluence of 2 major rivers. The fortress has been around in various forms for centuries (maybe to even the 3rd century), and due to Serbia being a massive crossroads, it has been influenced by many cultures. Roman, Byzantine (Justinian rebuilt it), Bulgarians, Serbia, Hungary, Turkish(for 350 years), Austrian, and finally Serbian again (with part occupation by Germans during WWII). The fortress is so big there is an upper and lower town to it. Today they have turned a large part of it into a big park, and you can pretty much freely walk all over the walls and towers. Since Serbs are kissing in public nonstop, it is a famous place in Belgrade for people to end a date and watch the sunset from on top of one of the fortress walls. They have also added baskeball courts and tennis courts where there used to be moats (a neat idea I thought), added several interactive museum, and placed leftover tanks from WWI and WWII all over the place for exibit.
Popular spot to watch the sunset:
Tennis Court next to fortress wall:
Random facts are that the Hitler gestapo was operated from the hostel I stayed in (which was actually just an apartment). Also, the train from Belgrade to Greece recently stopped (it goes without saying, but Greece has no money…).
Still not getting it....
This is the 'pope's' residence of the Serbian Orthodox Church (no clue what they actually call him...
I really enjoyed Belgrade and unexpectedly found it to be a safe city with lots of things to see and do. I'd go back without a doubt.