Bikes in Belgrade

From Istanbul we flew to Belgrade, part of our agreement that wherever we went would be

somewhere that neither one of us had been to. We touched down at Nikola Tesla airport, the

inventor who’s lineage will forever be argued over between Serbia and Croatia. It’s an argument

I take a seat on the bench for. It felt immediately good to practice my language skills being in a

corner of the world where I had some experience. But not too much experience; A pattern

developed pretty quickly where I would order food/ask for directions/assistance/anything in my

best Serbian and impress whoever I was talking to. Until, however, they spoke very directly

back at me in their best Serbian and I would stare like a deer at them because I had no idea

what had just been thrown at me. At this point their enthusiasm dissipated immediately. It still

felt good to keep trying, and even in the three days we were there I could feel different words

bubble up out of my deep consciousness that I hadn’t even thought about or used for two years.

Belgrade felt like a sleeper hit to me. Amanda and I first went on a walking loop that the hostel

receptionist, Dusan, recommended to us, containing many of the sights that were also on the

free walking tour through most of the city. We did a loop through the heart of the city past

Republic Square (Republika Trg) and the main pedestrian boulevard (Knez Mihailova) towards

Kalemegdan, the large fortress that overlooks much of Belgrade as well as the bluffs that tower

over the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.  The sunset from atop the bluffs of

Kalemegdan was unbelievable.  I might a nearly unhealthy obsession with sunsets and

sunrises, but this one was spectacular.

Sunset over New Belgrade from the bluffs at Kalemegdan Fortress
Sunset over New Belgrade from the bluffs at Kalemegdan Fortress

Much of the back end of the walking look was dingy, through an area jokingly called Silicon

Valley because of the number of bleach blond girls and young women that seem to inhabit the

area. I think we must have caught it at a bad time. Our last part of the walk took us through the

Bohemian Quarter, with what was supposed to be an abundance of restaurants, which didn’t

seem to be there at all. The walking loop was a good quick introduction to the city, but didn’t

seem to have quite the appeal that Dusan had claimed.

The next morning we took him up on another suggestion, renting bikes along the Danube. We

took our time in the morning getting to the athletic complex that advertised rented bikes, winding

our way through some of the things we had seen the evening before. It was a lot better to see it

in full daylight, the pedestrian boulevards had a lot more energy, the buildings had more charm,

and Kalemegdan’s presence seemed a lot more foreboding. We wandered through the fortress

and along its high walls, taking in the view of the Sava and Danube far below.

Confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers from Kalemegdan Fortress
Confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers from Kalemegdan Fortress

Biking through and around Belgrade turned out to be the best idea we’d received. We rented

cheap mountain bikes and followed a designated path down first the very edge of the Danube,

and then down the Sava River as it carves through the center of Belgrade. It was a beautiful

ride and gave us the opportunity to see so much more than we ever would have on foot. The

banks of the Sava had stretches of party boats and floating bars that were open in warmer

weather but looked like floating ghost towns in the middle of December. There were a few

stretches of the River that felt well used and created by an urban developed, restaurants and

bars lining up in order overlooking the lazy water and the casual bike trail. But most of the river

side bike trail led us through rusty rail yards and ship scrapping areas, past abandoned parks

and underneath massive bridges joining the old city of Belgrade with new Belgrade.

One of the well developed stretches of the Sava river front
One of the well developed stretches of the Sava river front, with restaurants, bars, and a clean view
One of the under developed sections of the  Sava River front
One of the under developed sections of the Sava River front

I loved it. It was such an easy way to see so much of entirely different parts of the city. We biked

all the way to Ada Ciganlija and Savsko Jezero, a bend in the river that has, as far as I can tell,

a protected lake with beaches on both sides, complete with a thirty meter pool built into a deep

area. From there we turned around and rode back, stopping at a decrepit yet cozy waterside

shop to buy cheap beers (50 cents for 24 ounces) and sat on old wooden benches watching the

sun slowly fall towards the horizon. Before we returned our bikes we detoured through another

dense part of the city, making sure we saw things we had not yet seen. We passed by the St.

Sava Temple, the largest Orthodox church in the world, built atop a plateau giving it a

commanding presence over the rest of the city. We also rode past the Presidential Palace, City

Assembly, and National Assembly, three of the most beautiful government buildings in the

center of the city, and located on different edges of Pionirski Park, complete with flower gardens

and rolling grass hills.

St. Sava Temple, the largest Orthodox church in the world
St. Sava Temple, the largest Orthodox church in the world
Narodna Skupstina, the National Assembly
Narodna Skupstina, the National Assembly

Our final day in Belgrade was leisurely and slow. Amanda and I booked a train ticket to

Thessaloniki Greece on the Hellas Express, a night train, leaving us most of the day in

Belgrade, and ensuring that we would wake up Christmas morning in northern Greece. We took

our sweet time all day, walking down the pedestrian boulevards once more, out to Kalemegdan

to enjoy the view overlooking both rivers, and trying the best of Serbia’s Cevapcici and

Palacinke. Cevapcici is a south Slavic meat dish that is generally some form of ground

beef/chicken/pork with onions and spices, usually Paprika. Palacinke, is a Slavic word for

Crepes. Both were delicious in Belgrade, but I definitely have to say I like my home version

more, having been lucky enough to be raised on the two wonderful dishes. We spent our last

few hours in the city having an early dinner and some drinks, watching the sun fade once again

and crowds hustle past finishing last minute business, shopping and chores before Christmas

Day.

Shops and restaurants along Knez Mihailova, the main pedestrian boulevard of Belgrade
Shops and restaurants along Knez Mihailova, the main pedestrian boulevard of Belgrade
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