Serbia, a gateway to the Balkans πŸ‡·πŸ‡Έ

Why Serbia?

I have a serious interest in exploring countries that are not frequently visited by millions of tourists. I also realized there’s a region in Europe that is very interesting but not known as a popular travel destination. It’s a region that I never had the chance to visit before even though I always wanted to. This region is the Balkans and I wanted the first city I visit there to be the city that was once the capital of the former Yugoslavia, a large country in the Balkans that was dissolved into 6 nations (plus one more that is not recognized by the UN yet) with each one having its own flag, national anthem, currency, and even language.

A month before the trip, I was running out of places to visit so I was having a coffee chat with a very good Serbian friend of mine who lives in Toronto and asking her about where I should visit next as I’m planning to make a stop in Europe for about a week and then told me that she would be in Serbia in November so why don’t you consider Serbia? I went back home and checked the flights and managed to get a good deal from Frankfurt to Belgrade with Air Serbia and from Belgrade to Dortmund with WizzAir. It was a great deal and I immediately shared my plans with my friends and we decided to meet in Serbia!!

The Flight

Prior to my flight to Serbia, I spent two weeks in Kuwait visiting my family (I was working remotely from there for my Canadian company) so I didn’t get the chance to do much or to see many people I wanted to see. After the two weeks in Kuwait, I planned a vacation for 1 week in Europe to visit Serbia and Germany. I flew with Lufthansa from Kuwait to Frankfurt and I seriously can’t count how many times I took this flight. I also love this flight, especially in low season as it’s always on time and never full. Luckily, this time we had many empty seats so that gave me a lot of room to stretch and recline my seat. I always like to order sparkling water with a slice of lemon when I travel with Lufthansa on this flight so that’s the drink I had when they started their first service minutes after take-off (around 2.30 am local time). Before landing, they served a nice breakfast meal that tasted really good. I landed in Frankfurt and changed terminals and managed to make it to the Air Serbia gate on time.

I boarded the Air Serbia plane for the first time ever. I paid only €7 to get a priority seat in the third row. However, I ended up having the whole row for myself, which was amazing. Right after takeoff, the service for a fee started and I ordered a chicken sandwich and Turkish coffee (They drink Turkish coffee in Serbia) even though the sandwich didn’t look appealing but it actually tasted very good. I liked the leather seats and the interior of the plane even though it’s quite old. The flight from Frankfurt to Belgrade took around 90 minutes and apart from what I mentioned above, it was quick and relatively uneventful.

Landing at Nikola Tesla International Airport

After landing, I noticed that the Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade is quite old and there were some renovation works going on there so let’s hope it will look much better next time I visit. I walked towards passport control and to my surprise, it was probably the quickest passport control process I’ve ever seen as it probably took less than 10 seconds. I found my suitcase waiting for me at the baggage carousel; I picked it up, withdrew some local money from the ATM and then was hoping to order a taxi using any of the taxi apps they use there but it didn’t work out so I ended up getting an Airport taxi. The taxi ride from the airport to the center where my Airbnb apartment is located cost around 2,500 Serbian Dinars ($23 USD). I understand that this could be a reasonable fare by Western standards but it’s not by local standards. I had to take a taxi because I was in a hurry but if I had more time, I would have taken the bus as it’s significantly cheaper (only 300 Serbian Dinars so that’s about $2.5 USD.

First Time in Belgrade

It always feels special when you visit a place for the first time and that was my feeling when I was inside the taxi heading to the center; I was full of excitement to explore a new place; the drive from the airport to the apartment took around 30 minutes, I arrived at my Airbnb apartment and met my host who was the mother of the owner of the apartment, she’s a very nice chatty lady in her 50s; she gave me a detailed tour of the apartment and asked me to never hesitate to reach out to her if I needed anything. The apartment looked amazing with such a beautiful panoramic view. However, sadly, it was cloudy and rainy during my stay there so I couldn’t enjoy the best view but it was still alright. I showered and took a quick nap as I had an overnight flight the night before and then got myself ready to go out and explore the city.

After waking up, I went out but I was a bit disappointed that it was already dark around 4 pm, it’s unbelievable how early sunset is in Belgrade in November. I was starving so I found a nice restaurant with good reviews to have my first meal there. It was a chicken with vegetables dish and I must admit that it was alright but not outstanding by any means. However, I had my first shock when I was waiting for my food to arrive at the table and everyone was smoking indoors. I didn’t experience such a thing in any place I visited in the last 5 years or so.

After the quick meal, I wanted to go to Sky Lounge in the Hilton hotel (it’s only a 5 minutes walk from my apartment) to meet a local friend of mine but unfortunately, we couldn’t find any table there so we changed the plans and went to another place in the same hotel called “Two Kings”. It was a truly magnificent lounge but there was the same problem again, there were people smoking heavily next to us. My friend told me that this is common in Belgrade and I better get used to it. Honestly, it reminded me of Jordan about 20 years ago (where I studied at University) but even in Jordan, I don’t think that smoking indoors is allowed nowadays.

Later in the evening, after walking around the city, we went to a nice restaurant called “Restoran Beograd”. It’s another wonderful restaurant there and everything I tried tasted great. Shopska Salad quickly became my favourite salad in Serbia and I highly recommend it.

I had a nice walk in the center after dinner; it was a Saturday night and the streets were full of people. The city looked nice at night but unfortunately, I couldn’t go anywhere else as I was exhausted.

Museum of Yugoslavia

The next morning, I was planning to see my good Serbian friend who lives in Toronto and then to have a day trip to Novi Sad, a beautiful city in Serbia that is the second largest city in the country and the capital of Vojvodina, the northern Autonomous Province of Serbia but before heading to the train station, I wanted to visit the Museum of Yugoslavia as this was my only chance to visit it (They close on Monday and I’m leaving Serbia on Tuesday morning).

I ordered a taxi using the Yandex taxi app and arrived at the museum gate at 10 am. It’s a very interesting museum, especially if you have an interest in history and politics. The museum chronicles the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Socialist Yugoslavia as well as the life of the great Yugoslav leader Josip Tito. Tito’s grave is located in one of the museum buildings that is called “The House of Flowers”.

The museum has many interesting collections that I enjoyed checking out and I wish I had more time to get the best out of this experience but I only had 45 minutes as I had to head to the train station to meet with my friend there before heading to Novi Sad. While I was checking some of Tito’s collections, I found a very nice portrait of the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser who was a close friend to Tito and who founded the Non-Aligned movement in 1961 together with Tito and Indian prime minister Nehru.

Another interesting thing I saw was a Yugoslav flag that was carried to the moon and back by Apollo 11. It’s a gift by Richard Nixon, the president of the USA to the people of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On the way out, I quickly visited the store and got myself a nice small Yugoslavia flag as a souvenir. Overall, it’s a nice museum but I wish I had more time.

A day trip to Novi Sad

After the super quick visit to the Museum of Yugoslavia, I ordered a Yandex taxi to the Belgrade train station to meet with my good Serbian friend there. It felt a bit strange to meet in Belgrade after knowing each other in Toronto for more than 7 years but it was an exciting feeling too. We got the train tickets to Novi Sad (2nd class for heading there and 1st class for returning back). A new Serbian high-speed train called ” Soko” connects Belgrade, the capital of Serbia with Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia in less than 40 minutes.

Two return tickets (the return is on 1st class) cost less than $20, which is an amazing value for money. I didn’t take photos of the train because I was busy chatting with my friend. You see? That is what happens to me when I have company in my travels; I forget to take photos for my blog πŸ™‚

Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina, the northern Autonomous Province of Serbia, and the second largest city in Serbia. Situated on the Danube River between Budapest and Belgrade, it is a treasured regional and cultural centre so the city is full of historic buildings and cathedrals. Before 1920, the Vojvodina region including Novi Sad was ruled by the Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which explains the diverse population and the Catholic cathedrals in the city.

We arrived in Novi Sad and similar. to Belgrade, the weather was cloudy and a bit foggy but it wasn’t that cold, so it was a comfortable temperature to walk around. The first thing we saw was the flags of Serbia and another flag next to it. At first, I thought that it was the Russian flag and I was wondering what is the Russian flag doing here but then I realized that it was not. I still don’t know what is this flag so if you know then write me in the comments.

We started to walk toward the old town when I told my friend that I’m starving so luckily she already packed some sandwiches that they call “Kifli”; they look crescent-shaped and were delicious.

After about 20 minutes’ walk, we arrived at the old town; it’s a very nice area full of historic buildings, cathedrals, museums, shops, cafes, galleries, and restaurants. We had a very nice walk there admiring different buildings and having very nice conversations about Toronto, travelling, politics, culture, mutual friends, and so many other things. While roaming the old town, I saw something that caught my attention when I saw a large group of people from different age groups (there were 10 years old kids and men in their 50s) meeting to exchange panini world cup stickers. It was such a beautiful scene and I remembered when I used to take collecting album stickers very seriously. I stopped doing it a few years ago but maybe I must do it again next world cup.

We made a stop at an Italian restaurant (No idea why we chose an Italian restaurant and not a Serbian) but anyhow, we made a stop there for about 45 minutes; it was alright but nothing exceptional. After lunch, we left the old town. and walked toward Petrovardin fortress..

Petrovardin Fortress

This stunning-looking fortress has a nickname (Gibraltor of the Danube). It’s located on the right bank of the Danube river. You can have some beautiful panoramic views of the river and of Novi Sad from the top of the fortress. The Fortress has many tunnels as well as 16 kilometres of uncollapsed underground countermine system. The clock tower on the fortress is a symbol of Novi Sad, specifically for its hands being reversed (the large hand showing hours and the small one showing minutes). This dates back to the times when people didn’t have their own clocks and were relying on public ones. The hands were reversed so that the one showing hours (therefore being more important) was easier to see.

We had a very nice walk around the fortress and then made a stop at a nice cafe called Karlo Tvrdjava. We had coffee there and apple strudel and my funny friend made fun of the vanilla syrup on my apple strudel and said that it looks like mayo and it reminded her of North America in a funny tone :). The taste of the apple strudel was just alright but I wouldn’t say it was special.

After a great time in the fortress, we started to walk toward the train station to catch our train back to Belgrade. The walk took nearly 40 and while walking, I wanted to order a taxi using Yandex taxi app but that didn’t work. I found that app in Serbia a bit unreliable so I later found out about another app called “Pink Taxi Beograd” that is much better and you can pay with a credit card after you arrive at your destination.

The return to Belgradde

We arrived at the train station about 10 minutes before the train departs. I was excited to try the first class on this new high-speed train. I would say it was nice and modern but nothing luxurious. Besides, it was about a 35-minute train ride so it wasn’t probably worth it to take the first class but since I love trains and I love to try different classes so I thought why not give it a try. At least we took a nice photo there. It was such a beautiful day and in the 7 or 8 hours we spent together that day, we didn’t stop talking about so many things. It was definitely the greatest thing I enjoyed during my short stay in Serbia.

We arrived in Belgrade and took a bus to the center where my Airbnb apartment was located. On our way, we saw a site that was bombed by NATO killed many civilians there in 1999. This is what NATO is good at; killing civilians and destroying countries. Well done!!

I said goodbye to my friend and then went to my place to have a quick rest before heading out to try a delicious Balkan dish called “Δ†evapi”. I found a Cevapi place in my area that has amazing reviews called “Sarajevski Cevap”. This restaurant uses the traditional Bosnian recipe to prepare Cevapi. I ordered a Cevapi, Shopska salad, and Ayran drink. The Cevapi is served with fresh bread, onion, and kaymak. I tried Cevapi before in a Bosnian restaurant in Toronto but the Cevapi I tried in Belgrade is probably 100 times better than the one I had in Toronto. I understand that it’s a fast food kind of food but it was probably the tastiest meal I had in Belgrade. The taste was from another world.

Everything tasted amazing but I think what stood out was the bread, it was so fresh and delicious and it had all the meat flavour in it. Again, the taste was truly from another world. You must try this restaurant if you visit Belgrade (but don’t go there if you’re vegan) πŸ™‚

Last day in Belgrade

The next day, I didn’t really have many plans and the weather was awful so I decided to take it easy, stroll the streets, try different cafes here and there, take some photos, and buy some souvenirs. I started my day with a cappuccino and burek that tasted really good. There were people smoking heavily inside the cafe, which is a serious problem if you’re a non-smoker while in Serbia but it seems that no one cares.

Later , I was practising my favourite hobby while travelling which is spotting communist-looking objects. I saw two old trams and I felt so excited in the beginning as they looked so Soviet but one of them turned out to be from Czechoslovakia (which is communist but not really Soviet) and another one from East Germany. Yugoslavia back then had good relations with both the Western and Eastern blocs as they preferred to be neutral, which was a wise and sensible strategy until Tito’s death in 1980 when the country started to weaken until it started to dissolve in 1991.

Another famous landmark in Belgrade is the equestrian monument right outside the national museum; this monument is usually used by locals as a meeting point, I also saw Tesla museum building but from outside as I didn’t have the time to have any museum tour that day.

Later in the evening

I don’t recommend visiting Belgrade in November as the sunset is so early. It’s totally dark after 4 pm so the amount of time you can spend in daylight is very limited. I still managed to enjoy it but if you want to have an ideal time in the city then maybe choosing another month to visit is a good idea.

I visited a barber shop later to get my beard trimmed and lined up for only $5. The barber was alright but I would say that I had better service in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former USSR countries than in Serbia but the price I paid in Serbia was a true bargain.

I had a quick visit to Belgrade fortress later but sadly, it was already dark so it wasn’t possible to take good photos of the Danube. I was there at around 5 pm and it was totally dark as you can see in the photos below!

For dinner, I went to a nice restaurant called “Polet” where I had my last dinner in Belgrade. I ordered a dish called KaraΔ‘orΔ‘eva Ε‘nicla. It’s a Serbian breaded veal or pork cutlet dish (the one I ordered was veal, obviously). It was so delicious but again, very heavy, probably heavier than the Cevapi the evening before. Serbian food is really tasty but it’s incredibly heavy and loaded with calories.

I went to bed early that evening as I had to leave for the airport the next day at 5.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Dortmund, Germany on a low-cost airline called Wizz Air, I was flying with them for the first time.

Leaving Serbia for Germany

The next morning, I woke up at around 4.30 am to take a bus from the center. to the airport. I waited and waited for the bus but it never came. There was a taxi driver next to the bus stop and I asked him about the bus and he said that the bus will come after 1 hour. It was already 5 am, my flight is at 8.10 am, and the trip to the airport by bus would take around 45 minutes. I kept waiting. for the bus that never showed up so I ended up making a deal with the taxi driver to drive me to the airport. I arrived a bit early but that’s better than arriving late.

I was flying with Wizz Air which is a low-cost airlines in Europe for the first time so I wasn’t super excited about it but when I checked in, I asked the check-in agent nicely and politely if I can get a nice seat and she said sure thing! Guess what? She gave me the best seat on the plane! It’s a seat with huge legroom and is amazingly comfortable for low-cost airlines. I was in disbelief as this is a low-cost carrier but the service and the seat were both exceptional. Thank you Wizz Air! I seriously can’t complain about you at all after this delightful experience.

When we landed in Dortmund, the passport control line was one of the slowest I’ve ever seen. I was confused in the beginning and was wondering why is it very slow? And then when I got closer to the passport control officer, I realized that the German officers are giving the Serb citizens a very hard time and asking them endless questions and even demanding them to show that they have enough money or to show their credit cards. The passport officer even asked someone to make a phone call to prove something. after about an hour in the line, it was my turn and as many of my readers know, I have a Canadian passport but I wasn’t born in Canada and I got my Canadian passport only 5 years ago. Anyhow, it was my turn and he immediately stamped my passport and said “You’re welcome” with a smile! That made me so angry because I realized that he treated me better just because I’m a Canadian passport holder. I remember that when I used to travel to Germany with my old Jordanian passport many years ago, they didn’t treat me so nicely. I didn’t like what happened and it truly made me feel angry.

After this incident, I was waiting for the bus to take us to the central train station so I started to chat with some Serbian guys (Serbs are very warm people by the way and you can immediately become a friend with them) so I told them about what happened and I was so angry about it but their reaction was so funny so someone said “Chill, bro. We’re used to it!”. That was so funny but sad at the same time and it reminded me of myself a few years ago and of some of my Arab friends who are still willing to accept the bad treatment as long as they’re allowed to get in.

Summary

Here comes my favourite section of my blogs as here I can write about my thoughts freely without a need to mention any locations, timelines, or any other details. I generally enjoyed my trip to Serbia but I wish I had more time to visit more countries in the region such as Bosnia, Albania, and Croatia. The Balkans is a very interesting and beautiful region and you certainly need time to get the best out of it.

I enjoyed my 3 days in Serbia even though the weather wasn’t good. It’s not only the grey and gloomy weather but another thing I had an issue with which was the very early sunset. Now I learned my lesson that if I want to visit this country, maybe I should visit it in April, May, September, or October. Summer can be very lively in Serbia but it can get extremely hot so if you’re not a fan of 40 degrees weather then probably you should avoid visiting Serbia in the summer months.

I liked many things about Serbia; the people are extremely nice, welcoming, and friendly. They’re very warm too. They’re Slavic people but they smile more than Russians and Ukrainians. Serbs are generally patriotic but very kind. To stay a friend with everybody and to avoid getting in trouble, avoid talking about politics there, especially about Kosovo as it’s a very sensitive topic for them. People speak English fluently there; almost everybody I met spoke good English except the older generations who grew up in former Yugoslavia and because there was almost no language barrier, I was able to chat with more strangers than I did in my visits to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other former USSR countries.

Serbia is generally affordable so I had the feeling that I had great value for the money I spent there on accommodation, transportation, food, and tickets to attractions. Food is really good there but very heavy and if you’re a vegetarian then good luck with finding vegetarian dishes because Serbian dishes highly depend on meat. Something I truly disliked about Serbia was smoking everywhere. I think this was my biggest issue there.

The highlight of the trip was spending a day in Novi Sad with my good friend Bojana, it was truly one of the best days in my travels. However, I must say that I would like to visit Serbia again in Spring or autumn but I don’t think that I will plan a trip to visit Serbia alone in the future. Rather, Serbia will be a stop in a bigger Balkan trip, which is something I wish to do someday.

This is all I can say about my short trip to Serbia for now. I might write one more blog before the end of the year about my visit to the village where my uncle lives in Germany but I’m still undecided about that so there’s a good chance that this Serbia blog will be my last one this year.

I didn’t seriously plan for any 2023 travels yet but watching the recent World Cup in Qatar inspired me to visit many places such as Morocco, Qatar, Croatia, and maybe Argentina (A friend of mine went there recently with his wife and they loved it). I also wish to visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt so let’s see if it’s going to work out. I also wish to visit Armenia and Tajikistan to finish visiting all former USSR countries except Turkmenistan as it’s impossible to visit that country. Finally, my wish for 2023 is to see a peaceful world without wars and destruction.

One thought on “Serbia, a gateway to the Balkans πŸ‡·πŸ‡Έ

  1. Interesting, as usual. πŸ›©οΈ The words look so similar to Russian language. But food sounds unfamiliar. I am glad you had a company.

    Liked by 1 person

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