I like Belgrade. I like that it’s colourful and urban and shabby and cool somehow, ugly and scruffy and noisy. I like that the dogs are naughty and numerous and not as a rule pedigrees. And I like that at the same time as it’s very no frills, it has a certain grandeur.
Belgrade is a big city and the initial impression is that it’s hectic, messy, traffic-y. But you just have to find the little tree heavy backstreets and the huge ‘central park’ and you might just fall in love with it. It’s a shabby, arty, interesting, lively, relaxed, live and let live kind of city now, where people like to eat. That there’s poverty is evident, but you get that in any big city. I like the juxtaposition of visually extremely interesting (imposing, in your face and ugly sometimes yes) buildings and the smattering of discreet ground level posh shops, the graffiti (more like wall art actually), the fact that the pavements are in many places erupting with tree roots. The prevalent dog poo, the same kind of down at heel grandeur as San Telmo, Buenos Aires.
Orientate yourself by finding the main, wide, pedestrian street Knez Mihailova where you have a lot of mainstream shops like Zara, Diesel, Adidas as well as pavement cafes – it has a definite ‘ramblas’ vibe to it. Just below the left end of this street is a huge statue of a horse, and at the far right end of it, over the road and tram tracks, is the ‘central park’ I mentioned, Kalemegdan. It’s built around a fortress and they put on concerts at the base (we saw poor tragic Amy Winehouse here in the last concert before she died). Kalemegdan gives you a feeling of space, it has a great view over the city beneath, and the river. It’s a conker collecting, dog walking, elderly people gathering, souvenir buying, bench sitting, initials scratching, city watching, lovers smooching, cigarette smoking, females gossiping, kids playing kind of park. A park with soul, a park for all.
Walk down the hill from Knez Mihailova to Jovanova and Strahinjica bana and you’ll find some great restaurants and cafes – one particularly cool one at any time of day is Supermarket, another is Homa. Homa restaurant’s food is out of this world and not to be missed. In fact, if you’re a meat eater, I’d say that Belgrade is worth the trip just for the food. Taxis you can just hail off the street like in London – but they’re quite different beasts; beasts being a misnomer here (don’t expect to travel in luxury or particular safety – it’s more of a Flintstones vibe) but (assuming of course that you’re not fussy about comfort or safety) they’re perfectly serviceable, and cheap. And if it’s nightlife you’re after, Belgrade’s got it. But I’ll save that for a second Belgrade post, once I’ve summoned up some energy and inclination to explore it…. anyway there’s loads more to say than the above about Belgrade.
Best place to stay? Square Nine hotel with its great 50s style lobby.