BELGRADE DAY 1
The travel to Belgrade was tedious. The flight to Vienna was comfortable and we managed a few hours sleep and were fed a generous breakfast. Then we had a 6 hour layover until our 1
hour flight into Serbia. Buying a cheaper business class fare did involve compromise. Qatar would have flown us direct to Belgrade from Doha but would have cost about another $5000. We did buy some lounge time in Vienna for €35 each and were able to have a shower and a glass of wine. The Belgrade arrival was pretty streamlined and our hotel The Radisson is only 12
months old and very nice. A well equipped little gym has helped us with the inevitable extra eating. We wandered around the area for an hour or so and had an early meaty dinner at a nearby restaurant as you may have seen on Facebook. When we returned to the hotel Mark checked the bill and thought they had made a mistake because the two meals and two beers only cost A$32. It wasn’t a flashy place! Early night and a good sleep.
After a hearty hotel breakfast we set off at the civilised hour of 9.00 am for our tour of Belgrade. We are a group of 40!! Split into 2 groups of 20 makes it more manageable. Whether or not this works well for us...we’ll let you know later. A mixed group of doctors, dentists, an orthodontist, a lawyer etc. and partners. Some nice people so far. Mostly our age so most are pretty well travelled and there’s no shortage of stories to exchange
Belgrade has 1.8 million residents and is the capital of the old Yugoslavia. It is a real mixture of ugly old communist building and some interesting old buildings alongside some quite smart new ones. It is buzzing with construction and clearly in 10-20 years this city will be transformed.
One of the most interesting aspects of the day was hearing from Milos our guide about life in Serbia today and his impressions of the current government and the direction the country is taking.
He told us that the average income is €1,000 a month and they have a flat rate of taxation at 60%. He felt this was fair as they have free medical care (albeit poor quality) and a welfare system.
But he is quite cynical and despairing about the government saying that right now corruption is rife and Serbians are the masters of corruption. A hangover from communism? He told us the government doesn’t care and do not deal with issues that are crucial such as waste (let alone recycling), future development or care of the citizens. So their infrastructure is not well cared for-parks have unmown grass, pavements are cracked and broken - that sort of thing. And he felt it was an embarrassment. In the last election less than 40% of people voted. Most of the current construction and development is paid for by the EU even though Serbia isn’t yet part of the EU.
Serbia is just under 20 years clear of the appalling civil wars of the 1990s that came about after Tito died in 1980 and Yugoslavia was eventually separated. In 1990 inflation in Serbia was 20,000%. He told us that many older people yearn for the way things were under Tito but that younger generations feel the opposite. (Milos is about 40). In the schools history is still being taught -that communism was great etc. Children in Serbian schools learn 2 languages-English and one other of their choice. Milos also mentioned that they are the first generation to know air conditioning in Serbia’s history.
They do have a strong agricultural industry with very fertile soils and they export a lot of food. Fiat cars are made in Serbia.
We visited Tito’s winter house (like a summer house) on the hill above the city where he is buried and where there are also a lot of the embassies and houses of the wealthy. The old intact buildings have an Austro-Hungarian influence and are quite attractive if they are well maintained. In Belgrade many of the building just need a good clean- that is the sort of thing that is not being done.
Overall impression is that Belgrade is not a city to visit for it’s attractions - not yet anyway. But it is situated beautifully on the confluence of the Sava and the Danube and the Danube is a mighty river so there is a lot of potential. It is green and one day could be quite beautiful. There is fort overlooking the town and the river and the area is well used by all the locals. It is considered pretty safe in Belgrade - no more or less so than any other European city. They use the dinar so we are back to the old days of exchanging money as we move between countries.
Religion is here. Churches are Eastern Orthodox 80% and Catholic 5% Muslim 3%. We visited the Eastern Orthodox church, the building was was started in 1935 and only the crypt is finished it it is the largest EO church in the world. The Catholic cathedral is much less grand.
The main pedestrian mall is strewn with cafes and bars that are full of smokers which makes finding a pleasant seat difficult but the beer is still nice! Smoking is not discouraged and the average life expectancy of a Serb is 73.
Day 2 Novi Sad
On the bus trip (1.5hrs) to Novi Sad we passed through the flat agricultural area around Belgrade - the bread basket of Europe -producing corn, canola, wheat and meat. Serbs love meat. We stopped in a village visiting a bee / honey museum and winery, Prof ? arrived here in the 19th century and commenced humane bee keeping ( not killing the bees to remove the honey) and developed the frames for removing honey by centrifuge. He was 27 years old and had TB but in the process of establishing the bee hives he was stung many times and this cured his TB and he lived in to his 80s and had 15 children - don’t know how he did this as he slept sitting up (as they all did for superstitious reason as) in a single bed .
In this village there are 23 wine makers - every household makes it’s own wine. The grapes grown beside the Danube benefit from sunlight reflected off the wide river and “good” wine is produced. Of the 6 wines we tried, the dry light Chardonnay was the most acceptable to us. The honey was tasty.
We pushed on in the rain and the cold to explore the Novi Sad Fortress built over many years by the Austro-Hungarian generals and never conquered . The defensive walls contain 20km of tunnels - we explored 1.5 km and they are ingeniously designed to thwart any enemy that tried to breach them.
It was a pleasant 12 degrees in the tunnels but we had to come out to a rainy 7 deg. Fortunately we quickly dived into a restaurant for a fishy lunch including trout, catfish and carp in man guises. All very tasty. The restaurant overlooked the Danube with Novi Sad on the other side. This city was occupied by the Nazis in WW II.
Then the stroll in the wind and rain around the City Centre with its attractive Astro Hungarian buildings, each having a “gossip” window overlooking the Main Street . Apparently Novi Sad has the most beautiful women in Serbia and the best ice cream so we had to have one (ice cream that is - cherry flavour)
We finished the day at the hotel bar sampling Slivovic - plum brandy (paint stripper 45% alcohol) and other alcoholic beverages as we had no room for more food. We hope you enjoy our rainy ‘artistic’ photos. Tomorrow off to Bosnia Herzegovina and Sarajevo by plane. More cool wet weather forecast - so wearing those thicker pants and the woollen jumper thrown into the case at the last minute.