We booked a minibus from Gea tours which collected us from our Timisoara accommodation and promised a door to door service to our hotel in Belgrade for 10 euros. We were a little sceptical due to the price however the reviews were good and we were collected at 10.45am. Driving through the border from Romania to Serbia was a strange experience; we were at the border for some time; handing our passports to the designated person on the minibus and waiting for the final verdict from the border guards.
A couple of people were asked to get off the minibus to go and speak with officials; luckily we were not one of them! After approximately 45 minutes we were allowed through to Serbia. Our first impressions were that it was really quite unclean with copious plastic bags trailing off trees like extended branches; however, a few minutes down the road were big houses and expensive cars and the contrast was stark. We made a short pitstop at a garage and bought a couple of drinks (having to pay by card as we had no Serbian dinar) and continued our journey to Belgrade.
We were the last left on the minibus but we were dropped opposite our hotel which, as it was our anniversary, was an upgrade from our previous accommodation. We had booked a spa hotel called Hotel Xenon for a little bit of luxury and we were not disappointed. The hotel was lovely! It was a 4* hotel and was £70 a night through Booking.com.
We headed to the spa and had a swim, sauna and jacuzzi which was very enjoyable and booked a massage for the next day for our anniversary. We then asked at reception where the best place to go in Belgrade was. In all honesty, we hadn’t done a massive amount of research about Belgrade and so were happy to go with local advice. The receptionist recommended we went to Skadarlija, a vintage street in Stari Grad (a central area of Belgrade) where there are copious restaurants and bars and so booking a taxi we headed there around 6pm to have a look.
There were several options for food, however, there were also a lot of people trying to get us to come into their restaurant. There was traditional Serbian music and dancing happening in the restaurants which were not unlike our experiences in various greek resorts we had visited. We decided on a small bar/restaurant at the end of the road and then went for a walk to try and find the riverside bars and restaurants; unfortunately this was no easy feat and we ended up in a quarry by the river; heading back to Skadalija we had a cocktail in Red Bar before heading back up the road to Stari Grad where we admired the central location with fountains and grabbed a quick cocktail before trying to seek a taxi.
Unfortunately, we were novices when it came to local taxis and we were significantly ripped off for our trip back. We were aware this happens a lot to tourists here, however, we were tired and desperate to get back and so flagged down a ‘Capital’ Taxi. This cost 1500 dinars (approx £11.20); which we knew was way over the odds and although he had a meter on it was obviously set to a higher rate. We got back however and had a nice sleep.
The next day we had a lovely breakfast in the hotel and spoke to the receptionist who informed us we had indeed paid way over the odds and to stick to more reputable companies such as Pink Taxis – lesson learnt. We had our massages late morning in the spa which were very relaxing and after laughing at the considerable lack of health and safety employed in Serbia from the view on our balcony we headed on out to explore some sights.
We booked a reputable taxi from the hotel and went to the bus station in Savski Venac to book the bus tickets for the next part of our trip for the next day to Pristina. The taxi was hassle free and a more reasonable 500 dinars! We then decided to do a Google check to see what attractions were nearby. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too great but we headed for the Temple of Saint Sava. On our route, we passed the old ruins of the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defence which was hit by NATO forces on May 7, 1999. It was quite an eerie experience and we were left wondering why these ruins had been left intact and not demolished; it was also very close, only a couple of hundred metres from the central train and bus stations. The reason for the still present ruins is unclear and no internet research has shed any light but situated on the main road into Belgrade it is a stark reminder of the impact of the war 19 years ago.
We finally arrived at the Temple of Saint Sava located on the Vračar plateau. The temple is a Serbian Orthodox Church and one of the largest in the world. Unfortunately, we were hit by torrential rain upon arrival and so took refuge in a local coffee shop! It was, however, an impressive building and worth a visit.
Next stop on our tour was the Nikola Tesla Museum, an exhibition of the works of the Serbian/American inventor/engineer/physicist who is famously known for his work around AC electrical supply system. He died in January 1943 aged 86 and featured in a special edition of Time magazine commemorating his 75th Birthday. The Tesla motor company famous for their production of electric cars is named after Nikola Tesla.
We got a taxi (a pink one!) to the Belgrade Fortress which overlooks the confluence (joining) of the Danube and the Sava Rivers. The fortress consists of a large citadel and a park with river views. Due to the fact we attended at Easter, there were a variety of different activities happening around the fortress and stalls available to make purchases. We sampled some hot wine which certainly had a punch!
After exploring the fortress we decided to scour the shops in Stari Grad to try to find anniversary cards for each other; whilst in England, we have several high street card specialists this does not seem to be the case in Serbia (or indeed many other European destinations!). After some enquiries, we were able to determine that cards aren’t regularly sent on wedding anniversaries but cards are mostly available from bookshops. We were lucky enough to find one quite near us and quite funnily went in together with the help of an assistant to pick each other a card. I don’t think the wording was particularly perfect but its the thought that counts 🙂
We headed back to our hotel to freshen up somewhat before heading out for dinner in the evening. We were, however, a little tired and ended up going to a small restaurant opposite our hotel. There was a distinct language barrier both verbally and written here but we tried our best and had a very nice meal. We had chicken wrapped in bacon and asked for potatoes with cheese but ended up with a plate of tomatoes with cheese on top. It was a nice meal however and was very reasonable for £10 with drinks.
We retired back to our hotel as we would move on again tomorrow to our next stop Pristina! Belgrade is a lively place at night but not so much during the day. We were a little unlucky with the weather at times; however, the Fortress was definitely our favourite place to visit. For nightlife we didn’t find much except for in Stari Grad and just down the road in Skadalija; however, I do feel this was a very short whistle-stop tour for us and there may have been much more to offer that we didn’t encounter. In short, worth the visit if you are near but a special trip just to Belgrade may disappoint. Nigel especially thought that they failed to make the most of the rivers there, with no riverside walks easily accessible. The local people we encountered were fantastic, friendly and helpful, but they paused for a very long time when we asked them how to get to the river for a walk; “er yeah, good luck with that” they said.