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Belgrade: Second Thoughts

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After lunch, and a wander through the park surrounding the fortress, I headed back into town. I took a look at the inside of the Orthodox cathedral (right after a wedding and right before a Japanese tour group) and contemplated the outside of the Patriarchal residence opposite while drinking coffee. A visit to the Palace of Princess Ljubica (not very palatial, but showing the transition from Ottoman to Western interior decor) completed my sightseeing for the day.

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Dinner, alas, did not live up to lunch. I made the mistake of visiting the Skadarska area, highly touted by Lonely Planet as Belgrade’s “Bohemian heartland”, and “sliced straight out of Montmartre”. Not on a Saturday night it isn’t. On a Saturday night it’s home to loud music and louder groups. Not a place for a solo traveler, as the waiters at Dva Jelena (Two Deer) made clear by ignoring me, even after I made it plain that I wasn’t waiting for anyone.

I decamped to Sesir Moj (My Hat), across the street, where the hostess adopted me, although she did try to explain (she had virtually no English) that the street was different on other nights. I concluded that Belgrade was a party town, and not really my kind of place.

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Sunday morning the center of town was taken over by in-line skaters holding races down the main street – no sign of hangovers there. I checked out the Ethnographic Museum (good thing it was free on Sundays, although I enjoyed the costumes downstairs), and took a look at the Parliament building, near yet another nice park. I was more interested in the used book market behind the building, where mini-vans stacked high with books had drawn quite a crowd.

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In this part of town I also discovered the very photogenic Hotel Moskva, which somewhat improved my outlook. I had an enjoyable fruit drink there in the morning, and a lovely salad of baby greens, avocado and orange followed by a mixed grill for dinner. I was not reluctant, however, to leave the next morning for Novy Sad. Three nights was plenty.

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Belgrade: First Impressions

There are, occasionally, days when I wonder why I travel – usually when I have to get up early to catch a train or a plane and especially when I’m leaving a place I liked. So I wasn’t in the best of moods as I waited for the airport bus to show up at the Radisson in Riga, but at least I didn’t have to join the long line for Ryan Air once I got out to the airport. I had printed my boarding card the day before, and airBaltic’s bag drop went fast. In fact, my only problem with the flight wasn’t airBaltic’s fault at all, the wretched woman with the grating voice seated behind me, who talked even-on for the entire flight could have happened anywhere.

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Instead of the rather pricey taxi offered by my B&B I opted for the public bus, but it did take a long time to show up, and I did have rather a long trek through town from the bus stop. The Art Home B&B, number one B&B/Inn for Belgrade on Tripadvisor, but listed nowhere else, impressed me favorably at first. I had a big room, with a big bed, a desk, wifi and TV, and tea, coffee and fruit available all day. Later I discovered there was nowhere in the shower to put anything, including the shower head, and there was only room for three people to eat breakfast. (The real problem with Art Home wouldn’t show up until later.)

My route through town, with my new wheeled bag, had taken me up the main pedestrian street, which I visited several more times during my stay. The smooth pavement and upmarket shops could have been anywhere, and made a favorable first impression. So did the trees lining the streets in the Dorcol section where I was staying, although the pavement and buildings were in worse shape.

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You couldn’t leave the main street without encountering a cafe, but at 6:00 pm on a Friday evening it seems you’re supposed to drink alcohol. I picked the only one with a posted price list, but the waiter told me that I couldn’t have fruitjuice on its own, and then walked off! I did not feel welcomed to Belgrade, although I did slightly better at dinner that night. Little Bay, a Lonely Planet pick, did indeed remind me of the Sarastro in London, which has a similar opera theme, but the appetizer was mostly pastry and the trout tasted pickled.

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The next morning I trekked over to the bus and train stations, where I checked the bus times for my move to Novy Sad, and found that I could only buy train tickets for journeys starting in Belgrade. Then I crossed the railroad tracks (on foot!) to reach the very nice bike/foot path along the river. I also approved of the park surrounding the remains of the fortress, strategically located on a bluff overlooking the junction of the Sara and Danube rivers.

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By the time I reached the fortress proper I was too tired to keep going past the (pricey) restaurant to the (presumably cheaper) cafe, but I did enjoy a huge portion of pork stuffed with cheese and ham, with a good view. I was less pleased to discover I could also see into the very sad zoo, where an unfortunate tiger was kept in a concrete cage.

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