4 June 2011

Packin' Heat [Serbia]

The overnight train from Zagreb to Belgrade was possibly one of the worst trains journeys I have ever been on. The train itself was fine, but I was woken up literally every hour by someone checking tickets or passports or people getting on and off. It was also not the height of comfort, so needless to say, I was pretty wrecked when I got into Belgrade.

My first mission was to find my host, Marco - a bit of a CouchSurfing legend - having hosted about 700 people or something crazy like that. Marco lives with his brother and their awesome dog just out of the city. After I got settled in, I got my documents together and headed to the Belarus Embassy. Everything was going well, the embassy was at the address I had found on the net, they accepted my documents and didn't request anything further... But there always has to be a hiccup. I had to go to the bank and pay €20. But this time they wouldn't actually accept Euros. So I had to go and get out some Dinar (and of course the cash machine at the bank was out of service). They couldn't process my visa for three days, but I was just glad to have submitted it.

I was also sharing Marco's place with some other Couch Surfers - two French girls (Julie and Marie) and an American guy (Ross). They were all travelling togethor - overland from Armenia to France. They were some of the most awesome people I have met on this trip, and I spent pretty much the whole time in Belgrade hanging out with them; wandering around the city, eating ridiculously sized burgers, getting drunk on cheap beer and rakija. Basically just having a kick-ass time.

So, Belgrade... It is a nice city... I don't think there is anything that makes it really stand out from any other European city, but it was cool to spend a few days there. The major tourist spots are Kalemegdan, a big fortification overlooking the three rivers. The Cathedral of Saint Sava was probably my favourite - it is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. At the moment it is still being completed; the interior is not quite finished. But that was cool, because the inside was completely empty. Most churches you go to are full of... stuff, like furniture and other junk, so seem smaller. This was a massive church from the outside (82m high!!), but it seemed even bigger from the inside. And finally (not really a tourist attraction, but I thought it was cool) near the center of town there is this MASSIVE building that looks as though a bomb exploded inside. Well, it probably had at some point. But it has just been left to crumble beside a major road, while thousands of people, cars, buses and trams roll past. (I have now been informed this is the former Yugoslav Ministry of Defense, bombed by NATO in 1999).

One (extremely hungover) day Julie, Marie, Ross and I decided to go chill at the 'beach'. Yeah, Belgrade is nowhere near the coast, but there is this awesome area on the river that they have turned into a kind of beach, with lots of bars and cafes. We spent the afternoon hanging out in swing-chairs drinking beer. This is pretty much the way I spent my days in Belgrad. Maybe I wasn't blown away by the monuments or architecture, but I did have a freakin' good time.

In contrast - my final day in Belgrade was pretty shitty. I went to pick up my Belarus visa in the morning, then made my way out of the city to find a good spot to hitch. It took me forever to get there as I couldn't find the right bus, so I had to walk most of the way. After an hour or more of trying to hitch a ride I went and talked to the guys at the gas station. Apparently the road was closed between Belgrade and Vrsac, a Serbian town just before the Romanian border. The only way was to get a train. So just as I turned to make my way back into town a massive thunder storm rumbled in the sky and it started raining. Again I had a lot of trouble with the public transport, so by the time I made it to the train station I was soaked!

I was lucky, though, as there was a train going to Timisoara (a city I planned to spend the night in, just on the Romanian side of the Border) in an hour. The train left about 30 minutes late, at around 4:30pm. I expected it to take about 3 hours at most, as the distance is only around 200kms. It turns out I was seriously underestimating the inefficiency of the train service. It was one of the slowest journeys I have ever taken, stopping about 7 million times, and I ended up getting in after 10pm. The only interesting part of the journey was at the border, when the border guard turned my cabin upside-down searching for... I have no idea what. He then asked if I had a gun. He gave me a strange look when he saw my New Zealand passport, asked 'are you travelling alone?' ...his tone of voice said 'what the f are you doing here?', then wished me a nice stay and left.

My next destination is Transylvania in the heart of Romania! Stay tuned...


  1. HA! I mean, it kind of sucks the train ride was so long and basically awful... but kind of hilarious at the same time. ;) I'm anxiously awaiting for Transylvania. If you find something super dorky and vampirish I must have it. :)

  2. Transilvanian people haven't been vampires :D First vampire was Sava Savanovic - the Serbian guy :D
    Romanian border officer was looking for cigarettes. The cheapest ones in Europe are in Serbia :)


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