Thursday 19 October 2017
The heavy fog around Stansted airport delayed our 6.40am flight by 2.5 hours. We put a brave face on this and used our time to take creative photos around the terminal.
With the flight being 2.5 hours long, and the fact that Serbia’s an hour ahead of the UK, we now had just under three hours of sightseeing.
The bus dropped us off in one of Belgrade’s most important squares. We wasted no time and headed straight for Belgrade Fortress. The Romans first build a fort on this site in the late first century. The old citadel has been destroyed and re-built many times over the centuries. It overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers.
By the entrance gate, we were greeted by a dinosaur park (complete with sounds) and left-over tanks and military machinery. These brought to mind Serbia’s troublesome history. Until recently, the country seemed to be continuously at war. On the drive from the airport, Alexander told us how he has never left Belgrade, but has had four different nationalities/passports in his life.
We stayed by the river for a short while, soaking in the warmth of the sun (the temperature a beautiful 25c) before moving on to our next site – the Ružica church. This beautiful Serbian Orthodox church was empty, bar two men hoovering the carpets and the two of us. We took our time exploring the paintings covering the walls and ceiling before moving on to St. Petka, a few steps down.
Immediately, the atmosphere was different. The site was busier with worshippers. The ill come to wash their face at the spring; it is said that washing one’s eyes with the water from the spring helps with many sight-related problems. The healing water is available to drink, and a woman was busy filling up small plastic bottles for people to take away. Other people come for the hand of St Petka, kept in the chapel. Inside, the walls and ceilings were covered with images made from mosaics. Just of the courtyard, we entered a dark room. The walls were thick with black smoke from the many candles people lit in there. A woman busily looked after the two interconnected ‘Lighting of the Candles’ rooms
Back ‘in town’, we walked down the pedestrianised street lined with restaurants, bars and art galleries. Brutalist architecture sitting side by side with modern buildings and ruined buildings, left as reminders of what Belgrade and Serbia have gone through in recent history (like being at the receiving end of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign during the Kosovo war).
We popped our heads into a couple of gallery and decided it was time for lunch.
We settled on Mayka, a couple of side streets away. This quirky vegetarian restaurant serves slow-food Serbian specialities, and we tucked into a mezzetluk (local cheese, grilled sausages and ajvar (that roasted red pepper sauce we enjoyed in the Balkans this summer, breaded paprika stuffed with cheese with a side of vegan kebabs and a half-litre of Jelen for me (Andy had a dark lager).
Time for one last sight. St. Michael’s Cathedral is one of the most important places of worship in the country. Its icons and paintings are the works of one of Serbia’s most famous painters of the 19th century. The church is also known for its many relics of saints, emperors and despots.
On the way back to the airport, we passed what must be the court of justice, or a similarly imposing building. Large protest messages were displayed on the outside railing. One had at least a hundred photos of people – ‘kidnapped and killed civilians by Albanian terrorists’. I suppose this refers to the Kosovo war. The other side of the story we heard about in Albania and Kosovo this summer.
Of all the random crazy things we’ve ever done, our day trip to Serbia’s got to be up there. It was enough of a teaser, we think it would be a worthwhile destination for a (proper) weekend break.