Belgrade, Serbia | August, 2017
Serbia was our first destination after picking up our rental car in Ljubljana. We didn’t know what to expect from our drive or border crossings, and most of the information and blog posts we found online were a bit dated and chronicled the dramatic experiences. Clearly the exceptions.
What we read made it out to be much worse than it was, and although the roads went from well maintained multi-laned expressways to double-laned narrowed highways with the occasional pot hole as we crossed from Slovenia into Croatia and then into Serbia, they were smooth and navigable. The border crossings were also fairly quick and pain free (especially compared to the hours we would spend crossing borders in Montenegro and Croatia in the weeks to come). We travelled on several toll roads that all took credit cards, something not even all US roads can boast, which was a relief as we didn’t always have the local currency until getting into our destination city.
Driving in a new city can be stressful no matter where it is, and entering Belgrade was no exception. Navigating the roads that quickly turned into one-ways with no warning and figuring out what street signs locals obey and disobey is a challenge in the moment to say the least. We did several loops in attempt to find our airbnb and a place to pull over while figuring out how to check in. We had purchased SIM cards that worked for all of the countries up until this point, so when we arrived we had no way to get a hold of our Airbnb host. Luckily she was near by and saw us waiting on the corner in the pouring rain. We settled in, went to sort out a new SIM that would work for our time in Serbia and got some dinner.
Paying for local SIM cards has turned out to be well worth it for us. It is definitely possible to get by hopping on Wifi when possible, but the ability to connect at any time adds a level of comfort and has allowed us to do much more planning on the go. Overall, it cost roughly $1-3 a day for both of us throughout Europe, which may be more than some would like to pay, but we’ve found it to be completely worth it.
The apartment we stayed in in Belgrade did the job, but it was a little further from the center of town than we would have liked and felt a little dirty and uncomfortable to me. In some cities, we prefer to be on the outskirts where more of the locals live and parking can be a bit easier, but Belgrade is still growing and the outskirts still felt underdeveloped. Or perhaps, rapidly developing is a better way to put it. There was a lot of construction, new businesses, cafes and growth on the 25 minute walk from our Airbnb to the center of the city. With such a recent history of political change and war, it was not a surprise, and without being somewhere first hand or having personal recommendations it is hard to know precisely where to stay.
Our apartment was only a block away from the Saint Sava Church, one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the world that is still under construction. We entered hesitantly, not knowing if it was open to the public and were treated to a tour by a kind attendant who was eager to share his love and knowledge of the church with us.
We spent 3 nights in Belgrade, which I felt was enough to get a feel for the city. We did a walking tour of the old town, mainly covering the ancient history from the Ottoman times through the occupation by Austria-Hungary and touching upon the world wars, communism and the most recent war of the 1990s. As we do in all cities we also spent hours wandering the streets and getting lost. Had a nice lunch at a hip cafe, Smokvica, and a few beers at bars along the way.