The Long Way Home


Lost in Belgrade
March 22, 2009, 8:18 PM
Filed under: Serbia and Montenegro | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

belgradepark

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. 

belgradetanks

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.

Hotel Astoria lobby

Hotel Astoria lobby

 (2.4.05)


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s not former Balkans, but former Yugoslavia, which is on Balkans ;)

Comment by Мостовљанин

Thank you, I did mean former Yugoslavia, not former Balkans. That’s what happens when something is written in such a hasty, emotional state. Thanks for reading!

Comment by Lisa

[...] Last week, we wrote about how more foreigners are starting to figure it out: Belgrade is a safe and overtly friendly city. Another day gone by and another story about Begrade and Serbian hospitality. In this case, it’s Lisa Toboz, a traveler of Bloomfield who has a blog post noting that Belgrade has so much energy and friendly people: [...]

Pingback by Are People Of Belgrade Much Friendlier Than In Croatian Cities? :: Serbia’s Ambassador To The World

I am happy to see that my post may inspire positive attention towards Serbia. However, it was not my intention to contrast the two countries in such a black and white way. It is dangerous to characterize any nation in a generalized way, and especially so in the former Balkans; the relationships among the countries are so fragile.

When I arrived in Belgrade, I was very frustrated at that point in my trip because I had been living and volunteering in Osijek, Croatia, a particularly difficult place to travel. People there were not used to foreigners traveling to their city, especially in the middle of winter. Croatians in Zagreb and Osijek were not unfriendly, but a bit distant and harder to approach than Serbians. For instance, when my friend Ari and I were lost at the beginning of that day in Osijek, it was like pulling teeth to get a clear answer for where we wanted to go. We asked directions and were usually met with a shrug. But once we were in Belgrade, we stopped to ask directions in a pekar. A woman set aside the bread she was putting out on a tray, wiping her hands on her apron, and walked us to the end of her street to point out the way for us to go. Her kindness in the midst of a very cold day warmed us and allowed us to experience the city in a much more confident way.

For anyone traveling to the Balkans, I suggest trying to see as much of Serbia and Croatia as possible. There is much more to this region than the tourism that is swelling on the Croatian coast. The two countries are more complex and beautiful than I could ever illustrate in these three paragraphs.

Comment by Lisa




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 613 other followers

%d bloggers like this: