Friday, September 30, 2011
Everyone loves Belgrade. Throughout my 15-day Balkans trip, I heard from fellow travelers, hoteliers, and others about what an amazing city it was. From the famous nightlife to the great grilled meats and the cafe culture, the capital of Serbia came highly recommended.
I arrived in said city at 5:45am after a 10-hour night train from Sofia. Bleary-eyed and feeling a serious disconnect between brain and body, I stumbled onto the platform and into a cafe to nurse a strong espresso until daylight.
When the sky was sufficiently blue, I walked up the hill to the city center and found my accommodation, the Beograd Art Hotel. It was a chic boutique hotel in a great location right on Knez Mihailova, the main pedestrianized shopping street in the city.
My room wasn’t going to be ready for another six hours, so I dropped off my bag at reception and set off to explore Belgrade. The streets were empty at that time of day, and I felt like I had the whole city to myself.
I walked down the pedestrianized street with its shops and cafes, stopping for a great pastry at a place called Lazarevic before continuing my journey.
At the end I found myself in a park in front of the Kalemegdan Castle, one of Belgrade’s most famous landmarks. I went through the gates, passing by several monuments and a military museum and enjoying the peace of the empty space.
Back in the city, I wandered through the streets, taking in the mix of historic architecture and open squares. At one point I found myself on the bohemian street of Skadarska, with its colorful cafes and restaurants. I sat for a while at a place called Familija and watched the city awaken with the morning.
Further afield, I walked down to the famous Cathedral of Saint Sava, a massive place of worship that was completely unfinished on the inside. On the way back to the area where my hotel was located, I passed by the famous Hotel Moscow, which was being renovated, and the beautiful parliament building.
Near there was Belgrade’s Orthodox cathedral and the famous “?” restaurant, which was one of the oldest in the city. I walked around there and had a caprese sandwich for lunch at a cafe called Playground before checking into my hotel.
My room, which the hotel had offered me on a complimentary basis for the night, had a big bed with a fluffy white duvet, a desk with a chair, a TV, and a good size bathroom. The hotel had been decorated with almost all Italian furnishings, and the room was very stylish.
I spent most of the afternoon working, and later went for dinner by Belgrade’s riverfront. The area had some great places to eat, and a friend from London had recommended one called Iguana restaurant.
I had a delicious dinner at Iguana, and particularly enjoyed the calamari served in a spicy sambal sauce. The Serbian wine was great, too. It reminded me of a lighter version of my favorite California Cabernet Sauvignons.
The next morning I woke up and enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Mosaic restaurant at my accommodation in Belgrade. Afterwards I met the deputy general manager, Dragana, for coffee in the chic lobby cafe. She told me about the hotel, which was only a year old, and about its great design and live music nights.
I had an hour to walk around Belgrade after our meeting. I made my way down to a street called Strahinjica Bana, where I had heard there were a lot of great cafes. There were. Every street had one or two, and all were packed with people. Some, particularly one called Pastis, was packed with Belgrade’s impeccably dressed beautiful people.
When my hour was over, I returned to my hotel and took a taxi to the airport. It was hard to believe that my 15 days in the Balkans had come to an end. I’m glad they ended in Belgrade, though. My time in the city had been short and sweet, but I left Serbia happy to agree with the people that had told me great things about the capital.