Filed under: Serbia and Montenegro | Tags: belgrade, buses, danube, february, hotel astoria, journal, lost, off-season, serbia, snow, winter
On the bus to Belgrade. Stopped now in Vukovar. What a frustrating morning.
My roommate Ari and I got up early again to go to Pecs. We ended up on the wrong train going to Bizovac instead of Beli Manastir. So we jumped off the train somewhere close to Osijek city limits, took the bus to the station and decided why not go to Belgrade? When I went to get cash, the ATM said I had insufficient funds, so fucking A — I have $49.90 in my account, $262.00 which is unaccounted for. All I can say is, it had better be traced — what the hell happened to that money? The only thing I can think is that Dan mailed all my bills back home. Which sucks because that means I have no money to live here until my tax refund. Ari was cool enough to pay for this Belgrade trip. I’ll have to write home soon. I’m worried about the money, but part of me also feels like well, what can I do? Maybe I’m in deep denial, but years of growing up a poor kid has shown me things just work themselves out. In any case, I’m on my way to Belgrade, a completely unexpected trip.
12:00 pm: Crossed the border into Serbia. Surreal images of travel:
A black dog walking across the flat, snow-covered fields of an unknown village in Serbia.
Two girls getting off the Beli-Manastir-Osijek bus and walking down a road, disappearing into dark-blue nothing.
Six women dressed like hearts for Valentine’s Day walking single-file down Zupinjiska.
Even with all the ups and downs (and sidetracking) of this whole Osijek experience, I would pack up my life and disappear all over again. But with more money. And much more time.
8:00 pm: In a Belgrade hotel room, the Hotel Astoria.
Because Ari pissed around looking for postcards (“Oh, we don’t have to hurry, we have time!”), we missed the Osijek bus by 10 minutes. Already freezing and pissed because we had been walking around in the bitter cold for, like, 3 hours looking for said-postcards, I was thinking, I can’t believe this — two missed transports in one day. It’s like Osijek is this black hole that sucks you in and if by some act of God you do get out, it makes it near impossible for you to return.
Hotel Astoria is nice enough. Nice 1970s decor chic – red velour chairs in the lobby, wood paneling, shag carpet, an unhappy desk clerk pulled right from a modernist film. The room is no frills with starchy white sheets and a pilled brown blanket to keep warm. The wallpaper is nicked and peeling but hell – it’s clean, I have my own bathroom. For Ari’s $34.00 USD I can’t go wrong.
And I’m in Belgrade! The city has so much energy. There were times I felt as if I were in New York – the loud honking of traffic, beautiful smog sky at dusk. With Ari’s knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and my scant Croatian vocabulary, we could decipher street signs and get around fairly well. People here are much friendlier than in Croatian cities, more helpful and willing to talk. The histories between the two countries are so complicated, relations so tense (it was difficult, for example, to exchange kuna for dinar here) — I couldn’t even begin to understand it as an outsider.
The architecture here is a majestic mix of communist-Hapsburg in all its grime-covered glory. There’s a park at the edge of the city overlooking the Danube, a bridge in the distance. The tableau reminded me of Pittsburgh. Even the winters are as cold as the ones at home. I would love to be here in summer when it’s full of life.
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