Belgrade – Visiting Serbia the Bad Boys of the Balkans
Our trip to Serbia started ominously. “You have a one-way ticket to Belgrade?” questioned the agent at the Turkish Airlines check in counter in Tokyo. “They might refuse you entry”. They held us for 10 minutes, the agent talking to the supervisor. I actually thought they might not let us get on the flight. We ended up having to sign a waiver stating that we didn’t hold the airline responsible should we be kicked out upon arrival. Hmm, not a good start.
I’m stating the obvious when I say this: Serbia doesn’t have a good reputation in the global community. I’ve learned to be careful writing about anything related to politics in the Balkans, even stating historical facts lead to arguments about who did what to whom 100, 500, or even 2000 years ago. History in the Balkans in long, complicated, and full of old grudges. All I’m saying is that fair or not (and I’ll address a bit of that further below), people have strong feelings, mostly negative, about Serbia*.
* I jokingly referred them as the “bad boys of the Balkans” when writing this post. It wasn’t meant as an insult and I’m a bit surprised by some of the reactions in the comments. No offense intended and this post was not intended to be political in any way…
Back to the first paragraph – so we didn’t know what to expect when we got off that plane and walked up to the immigration counter. It ended up being the easiest immigration procedure, the guard stamping our passport and waiving us through without a single question. In fact, many things about Belgrade – and Serbians – were to surprise us.
Warning: this is a long post that includes impressions, highlights, some recommendations, as well as a lot of photos. I sometimes get carried away, especially when writing about the Balkans.
Impressions of Belgrade
1. The first impression of Belgrade is that it is gritty.
Buildings are grey, there is a lot of graffiti, sidewalks are cracked and broken. Some buildings have gaping holes or are just bombed out ruins (remembrances of the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999). It didn’t help that we arrived in mid-December to grey skies and leafless trees. There are similarities to both Budapest and Zagreb. But Belgrade is poorer, you just see it in the infrastructure of the city.
2.Serbs speak excellent English.
We’ve always been surprised by how many people in the Balkans speak English: in Croatia most people can get by in English, in Macedonia the level is even higher – but in Serbia it is excellent. We had read that they spoke well, but didn’t expect to encounter so many people who spoke flawless English. We’ve been told it is a result of an excellent educational system (adjusted for average incomes, Serbia has the #1 ranked educational system in the world). We also found out that American companies outsource their technical services to Serbia precisely because of the proficiency in English.
3. There are strong ties to Russia.
Walking around Belgrade you would be mistaken to think that you were in a remote province of Russia. You’ll see Russian flags and Vladimir Putin t-shirts at every souvenir stand (Putin and Serb tennis star Novak Djokovic are the most popular figures you’ll see on cups, t-shirts, and calendars. Nikola Tesla, one of the world’s greatest inventors – and a Serb – is a distant 3rd).
4. Related to the above – there is deep resentment towards NATO and the USA.
Most people around the world have good memories of Bill Clinton – not the Serbs. In 1999 during the Kosovo war, Clinton ordered the bombing of Belgrade under the NATO umbrella. Over 2,500 Serb civilians were killed (numbers still debated) and the economy decimated, something Serbia is still climbing back from. To add insult to injury, Serbians still feels they were blamed as the culprit for that war which started when Serbs in Kosovo were targeted by the Kosovo Liberation Army (which had been named a terrorist organization in 1998). What Serbia claimed was self defense, Clinton judged as aggression. Russia judged NATO’s actions as “a crime against humanity”. Today Kosovo is regarded as an independent country by the majority of countries in the UN while Serbia still considers it a part of their territory. This is why most Serbians today want no part in NATO membership, opting instead for closer relations with Russia. Some interesting reading here, here, and here.
5. Despite the above, Serbians are incredibly welcoming.
You would think that with all the recent history of wars against the West that Serbs wouldn’t be so open to foreigners. No. Everywhere we went we met incredibly engaging people who wanted to talk. They were curious why we were there and it seemed important to them that we have a good impression of Serbia. Our Airbnb host invited us to their home in the suburbs where we spent a couple of hours talking about current day life in Serbia, about Serb traditions (including the Orthodox church), and about their version of history. Serbs struck us a very proud people for whom ancestral lines and ‘homeland’ were very important.
Below: we’ll never forget this bus driver. He didn’t speak English but told us to stand next to him at the front of the bus (we were going to Zemun, a suburb of Belgrade). Despite not being able to speak English he imparted that his mother was from Spain, then proceeded to list his favorite football teams, his favorite basketball teams and, when I told him we were from Canada, that Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic was born in Montenegro.
6. Very attractive people.
I’m 5’10 and usually taller than most people. In Serbia I was average height, maybe even below average. Serbians are tall and good looking. I’ve complimented Hungarians before on their good looks – well, Serbians are just as attractive. A lot of stunning women.
7. Smoking is still allowed in bars and restaurants.
Argg. Like most of the Balkans, Serbs are big smokers. Unfortunately (unlike in Croatia where smoking inside a restaurant is not permitted) there’s smoking in both bars and restaurants. So expect to smell like an ashtray when coming home from a night out. (I read that indoor smoking is officially banned since Jan 2016. Nobody enforces it though and everyone smokes).
8. Belgrade is one of Europe’s biggest party cities (Lonely Planet calls it “The World’s Ultimate #1 Party City”).
We were there in mid-December so we didn’t see much of that. We’re also a bit old for clubs. But we saw all the party boats along the river which in the summer become packed with young, beautiful people. Read about that here. There are also lots of bars in the city center to drink beer including a really cool one that became a favorite (I’ll have that further down).
9. Belgrade is a city on the rise.
While people in the west are hung up on Serbia’s past, others are investing heavily in Belgrade. Eagle Hills is a company based in Abu Dhabi that is investing heavily in revamping Belgrade’s waterfront. In a few years the city’s downtown promises to be ultra modern (skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and the biggest mall in Europe are in the plans). Read more about that here. Likewise, the Chinese have invested heavily in Belgrade. The city now has a ‘Free Economic Zone’ to attract more international investment. These investors see an educated, undervalued workforce that speaks excellent English. So chances are the cityscape will change dramatically over the next few years.
Related: Comparing and rating our favorite Balkan capitals
Our Highlights of Belgrade
What to see when you’re visiting Belgrade? Here are our highlights:
1. Knez Mihailova street.
This is the main walking street in old Belgrade. It goes from Republic Square on one end to Kalemegdan park (where the Belgrade fortress is located) on the other. It’s a pedestrian-only street and has some of the city’s most attractive buildings, cultural institutions, as well as lots of bars, restaurants and international shops.
2. Kalemegdan Park and Belgrade Fortress
At the end of Knez Mihailova is Kalemegdan Park where you’ll find the most important and impressive of Belgrade’s sights: Belgrade Fortress. This site, overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers (the best views in Belgrade), dates back to before 3 BC when it was an ancient Roman city. Known as the “White Fortress” it has been the site of a lot of battles and has been controlled by outside powers such as Bulgaria, the Byzantines, the Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire (for almost 350 years).
Related: Castles and Fortresses that you may have never heard of
3. The Orthodox Churches outside the northern gate of Belgrade Fortress.
There are two small churches outside the northern gate of Belgrade Fortress (Despot’s Gate) that we really enjoyed visiting. The first, Ružica Church, is the oldest church in Belgrade. The 2nd, the church of Church of St. Petka, was built in a cave. Like other Orthodox churches we’ve seen, these churches have incredibly colourful frescos.
4. Skadarska Street (Skadarlija)
This small, cobblestoned street was the gathering point for poets and artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today it is home to some of the most famous Belgrade restaurants and cafes, as well as a few art galleries (it is here that we had a fantastic meal at Dva jelena, which I’ll cover further below).
Zemun is a neighborhood to the northwest of Old Belgrade. It used to be part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, a border town facing Belgrade across the river. It is a quiet place that feels like an 18th century town. It’s most important landmark is Gardoš, the Millennium tower built in the nineteenth century to celebrate the thousand years of the Austrian empire. We also enjoyed, thanks to the recommendations of a Serb friend, the Balkan Ekspres Restaurant.
Some Organized Tours worth doing in Belgrade:
Note: That last tour above takes you to the pretty city of Novi Sad.
Other than the above, a highlight in Belgrade was just wandering around. Some more photos:
And finally, because I always like photos of public transport.
Related: The Spomeniks of the ex-Yugoslavia
Eating/Drinking recommendations in Belgrade
We didn’t go to a lot of restaurants and bars in Belgrade (mostly because of the smoking factor) but a few places stood out.
1. Dva Jelena (Two Deer) restaurant.
One of the most famous and popular restaurants in Belgrade, located in the bohemian Skadarska street. It’s a huge restaurant with different sections including a non-smoking area. Very good traditional Serbian food, huge portions, good wine selection (big surprise – there are some very good Serbian wines). Very reasonable prices by most standards. One of the best restaurants we’ve been to in a long time. Website.
2. Кафана СФРЈ (Yugoslavia Tavern)
This very cool retro bar is located a 10 minute walk from Republic Square. Belgrade was the capital of the ex-Yugoslavia and there’s lots of interesting memorabilia here. Great beer.
3. Salon 1905 (in the historic Geozavod building)
We always love to go to historic cafés (see my post on the beautiful cafés in Budapest). There aren’t many historic cafés in Belgrade except for this one. The Geozavod building is one of Belgrade’s most beautiful historic buildings and has recently been renovated and is being used as the headquarters of Eagle Hills (the Abu Dhabi based company that has recently invested in Belgrade). Located in the building is a gorgeous old style café/restaurant called Salon 1905. It’s pricey, but we just went in for a coffee and to take a look at the building.
Accommodation in Belgrade
Hotels are quite affordable in Belgrade and even a fancy stay at the historic Hotel Moskva or Hotel Majestic won’t cost you much.
We flew to Belgrade from Tokyo via Istanbul (using Turkish Airlines – they have good rates on Balkan destinations).
Summing up our visit to Belgrade
If you’ve made it all all the way down here thank you for your commitment.
We really enjoyed our time in Belgrade and would like to come back. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it is genuine and after 7 weeks in Japan we found that refreshing (Japan was nice but it was just too clean, perfect and too well organized. Belgrade reminded us why we enjoy travelling). Our 2 weeks was just a taste of Serbia. We’d like to come back and see Belgrade in the summer and explore more of the Serbian countryside. It’s a country that doesn’t get many visitors – but should. And, with the language factor, it is an easy place to connect with locals and have a richer travel experience. I mentioned that I sometimes go crazy on these Balkan posts (like the one I did last summer on Skopje, Macedonia). Well, that’s because we find the region fascinating with all of its different religions, culture, and history. Serbia was just another Balkan country we loved.
Related: A Guide to Novi Sad – and why we really like Serbia
Related: Wild, Wacky Skopje (Macedonia). One of the Strangest Places we’ve been
Related: 12 Surprising Places to See (that you may never have heard of)
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Interesting read. Have to disagree on two things: the first, party mecca? Maybe if you come from a provincial town. If you come from places like New York, London etc Serbian party scene feels segregated and really not “all that”. Plus no one can dance, with the men preferring to dance with each other, lol.
As far as “highly educated” that makes me laugh as well because many Serbians are notoriously historically revisionist with many not knowing their own history let alone others. It is weird to hear people claim Tesla as a Serb he barely spent 30 hours of his life in Belgrade let alone Serbia and his family were also not born or raised there. But you know how the nationalists get – one guy was smart so he represents us all. Um, no, lol. Doesn’t work like that, lol.
As far as people, Serbia is just like any other country. Nice people, and sh** people. Good to hear you met the nice ones because the sh** ones are beyond horrific and deeply intolerant. But the nice ones are always happy to share a laugh and hospitality.
Sorry but I think you’re the ignorant one. Everyone in the world knows, and every encyclopedia will say, that Tesla was an ethnic Serb born in Croatia. So both Serbs and Croats can “claim him”.
What an idiot ahaha first of all why is important if someone is from NY or London and cant have better time in Belgrade,you are just some butthurt jelous and envy ex-yugo who cant stand that fact that somebody would praise something serbian, serbian party scene is huge, all kind of music genres clubs,bars etc..Belgrade was nicknamed by foreigners as Little NY cos of so many jazz clubs and the city is alive 24/7,then your idiotic opinion on serbian being history revisionist and dont know history,first history is not the entire education system you clown so if somebody is rocket scientist and bad in history its not very well educated? what a moron i just cant stop laughing ahha and a guy that has country for the first time in last 30 yrs, that entire history was serving foreign rulers,entire nation working and serving so that foreign rulers can live better, even fighting your brothers,neighbors,cousins,fellow christians,used and discard by rulers, nobody likes ass lickers, then talking how Tesla isnt Serb cos he was once in Serbia ahahahah father serbian orthodox priest and mother comes from priest family,where he said and its on his monument in New York i hope ppl will appreciate things ive done and that is done by a Serb, Croats that are saying he is not a Serb and that he is croat but he doesnt have nothing to do with croats or croatia cos croats didnt even exist as nation and as country,croats that destroyed his house in ww2 and then in the 90’s cos he is Serb now cant accept the reality and they are so butthurt and want to claim ppl cos you dont have anything on their own,everybody famous from croatia are ser
bs,scientists,writters,sport person,politicians,generals etccc and then croats talk about history ahahah unbelivable,history revisionism is a good thing you fucking idiot,history must always go through revisionism cos new data coming up new facts but what you know about history,everything to you start and ends with 1991 and serbs are nationalists but you are here with all the negative things and not even true, tesla is not a serb thats just kockoglavi ustasa can say
Hey Frank, are you guys still in Krakow? Looking forward to your report. I enjoyed my time there in 2016 but my timing was terrible as the Pope was just about to visit and there were hordes of police and these pesky “int’l youth for Christ” groups everywhere breaking out into joyous song, even on the trams! If you want to check out a very pretty small town near the Czech border, visit Cieszyn. The original Habsburg town is actually divided by the Czech-Pole border. Lovely place, I’ve been there twice I was so charmed by it!
I’m still making my way through Serbia….currently in Veliko Gradistie on the Danube across from Romania. A few more days of cycling EV6, then turning left and heading back north.
I spent 5 days in Belgrade and i liked it for all the same reasons you mention above…..I was thinking that Belgrade is like the antidote to Vienna! It’s quite pleasant now, lush, leafy streets, especially in Zemun my favourite part of the city. The Balkan Ekspres bar is a bit of a hang out for EV6 cyclists, it’s right on the route. So I was there twice quaffing beers with some young Swiss cyclists I met.
I also went through several other notable serbian cities. Several readers have mentioned Novi Sad. I was there for 3 days, just after the Exit festival. It’s like a smaller version of Belgrade, not really that interesting….I wouldn’t say it’s a must place to visit (and neither is Nis for that matter). However Sombor, a small town in the north near the Croat, Hungarian border is really nice, full of gorgeous dilapidated Habsburg era buildings, quiet leafy streets, cafe lined promenade and friendly locals. A lot of Serbs mentioned that I would also like Kikinda in the NE for the same reason.
Quite the wrath of comments you received for this post! A lot of people seem to imply that you’ve shown too much anti-Serb bias in your report. I didn’t think so, I thought it was quite objective, balanced. It was probably the title more than anything. The thing is many of these hard ass nationalists are quite biased themselves in that they hear and read nothing but material that continues to reinforce their views….I think a lot this comes from within their own families and social circle. I have Hungarian friends in Vancouver, well they are actually first generation Cdns who after a few beers still trot out the anger they feel over the Trianon Treaty of 1920! What, where did that come from? I thought we were talking about hockey!
Nice new layout you got, functionality is good too……cheers, dg
Always informative comments Don.
We’ve be going through Serbia again next January. Just a shame we are passing through in winter again, would have loved to see it in summer. I see Sombor and Kikinda both accessible by train – but slow. A bit disappointed by what you say about Novi Sad and Nis, thought of stopping on the way through. Of the 2 which would you choose? Answer might be Novi Sad I guess if considering visits to Sombor or Kikinda…
I’d love to do a trip as your describing it. And I can imagine being at the Balkan Ekspres this time of year on the bike. Good for you!
Belgrade antidote to Vienna. Ha! Yes. Vienna is for people who have their pinkie sticking out while drinking tea. Belgrade is for people who drink black coffee with thick black sludge on the bottom.
Cieszyn. Last stop before the fun of the Czech Republic! I’m joking, I’m sure it’s beautiful. But I never would have thought we’d see such a contrast between two countries on either side of a border. From the Poles who are the most religious in Europe, to the Czechs who are among the least religious. How does a country like Poland, with great beer producing countries as neighbors, produce such crap beer?
You can probably tell we’re not great fans of what we’ve seen of Poland. More in a future post.
Typical Balkan post Don. People who love you, people who hate you. We love the Balkans, the people,and all the countries in different ways. Love the region. But they take pleasure I think in not getting along or agreeing on anything. I don’t know if you ever saw this post? https://bbqboy.net/visit-sarajevo-microcosm-everything-thats-wrong-balkans/ As much as I like the Balkans I would never invest. Always something brewing. Had to laugh about your comment about the Trianon Treaty because so typical. When in Belgrade we were invited to the house of our Airbnb host for nice conversation and cookies…which somehow turned into a rant about how Serbia is perceived in the “West” and how it was the victim of history in the Kosovo war (which I’m not disputing). Never boring in the Balkans.
Enjoy the rest of your bike trip and thanks for the report!
That’s interesting re the rants of your AirBnB host …..after several days of nice chit chat, my host also went off on some conspiracy tangent that NATO is not finished with Serbia and will attack again, Kosovo dispute, blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, it seems that part of the Serb psych has “personalized” the attacks of NATO as an attack on all Serb people/culture. There seems to be a kind of disconnect – my understanding is that NATO was targeting the actions of the atrocious Serb nationalist leaders motivated by their “Greater Serbia” ideology rather than the people. Yes, unfortunately many innocent Serbs and their property became collateral damage of the bombing, which is the case in all wars (the horrors of the American war continue on the Vietnamese and the Lao people to this day).
My AirBnB host lived an interesting life. She was the daughter of Yugoslav diplomats and her father opened the first Yugoslavia embassy in La Paz, Bolivia. She was just a girl at time -the mid-70s, but remembers the sailing trip to Buenos Aires, living along the Prado in LP, the Aymara campesinas, the nightly gun battles, etc. When I told her I worked in Bolivia for a year and showed her photos of LP today, her face just lit up…..it turns out her parents split up there, her father hooked up with a boliviana and is buried in Santa Cruz……she wants to visit his grave before she is gone.
Yeah Novi Sad…..ok as a base to visit Fruska Gora, Sremski Karlovci…..the city has a nice pedestrian section, full of cafes that is just buzzing at times….but that’s about it. Novi Sad was the first European city I’ve been to where a gelateria I visited actually weighed how much gelato they put in my copeta……as an italian I was shocked! I told her to keep her gelato, took my money and walked away…..I mean what is the world coming to when they start weighing scoops of gelato?
Too bad about your impressions of Poland …..yeah if the beer is no good, it’s all downhill after that! I rather liked Żywiec beer…..sure went down good on a hot day……just like Zelen here in Serbia. My beef is with the awful pekaras (bakeries) here……the grossest bread, pastries……you’d think that after 400 yrs of Habsburg rule, some of that good Austrian baking would have stuck around!
Wow! Your post and comments are fascinating. We only had one short day in Belgrade a couple of years ago on our Eastern Europe Train Trip. We would have loved to stay longer, but the heat in August was oppressive. Riding the train, we had so much fun with out Serbian cabin mates, but alas, they did not speak English. We would love to go back and do more, and as you say get out into the countryside.
You are right, summer in the Balkans is oppressive. We were in Macedonia in July and the sun bore a hole in our heads.
We will for sure go back to Serbia, so much to see.
I really love Belgrade and loved reading your impressions of the city. It definitely is such a livable city filled with vibrant and amazing people. Ugh… I can’t wait to go back. And yes, it is indeed a party mecca 🙂
Agness of aTukTuk
Belgrade seems like a great destination. Thanks for the awesome and sincere review, Frank!
Oh wow a refreshingly honest blog post and a very interesting read! I was just thinking how different is seems from Riga which is known as the pearl of the Balkans!
Hi Becky. Riga – pearl of the BALTICS? 🙂 Never been but I hear many people rave about it.
Balkans have an interesting and complex history and we seem to meet nice people wherever we go. We’ll be back to Serbia for sure, nothing but good memories and very affordable.
Interesting post, Frank. I have to admit I know very little about the region so I took your post as a cultural/history lesson. I need to learn more. When I have a bit more time I’m going to return here, read your post again and then read through the vast number of comments on this post because I suspect I will learn a whole lot more, based on just skimming a few of them.
I love the photo of the big yellow bus donated by Japan!
I did read that you rented an apartment in Split for the next year. Kudos to you and Lissette. We are hoping to make it to Croatia in 2017, who knows, our paths may cross yet!
Thanks Patti. As you can see, people are always passionate in the Balkans! Honestly, every country in the region is unique in its own way which is why we love exploring this part of Europe.
Thanks for your note on the apartment. If you ever make it here we would of course love to meet you 🙂
Travels and Tipples
I love the Balkans as well. I liked the grittiness of Belgrade. And I was actually surprised by how much green space it has. We were there in late spring and the weather was beautiful. We sat outside a cafe for a cold drink. The owner started talking with us and then introduced us to his wife, who is from Westchester, NY! We had some fabulous meals there as well.
Thanks Patricia, I went over to your blog and read about it. Including it for others here. You seem to have had some fun, quirky moments and as many people here have said, Belgrade is indeed prettier in the summer.
Thanks for a great post, Frank. As a Belgradian (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, if I’m honest), I thought the post was balanced and marked all the main points anyone wishing to my beloved hometown should hear about. In a way, I share many of your viewpoints, as I’ve come back to live here after 24 years abroad (events in the ’90s etc.). I can, hand on heart, say that in the three years I’ve been here now – things are definitely improving. So, feel free to reach out when you next plan a visit and I’ll be glad to help you plan the visit over a rakija or beer or both. Travel safe.
Thanks so much Bojan. Good to hear that things are improving, I always say that the people are a country’s biggest resource and I hope that brings in more investment. I was surprised to meet a few Belgradians who mentioned they worked for US companies. Wells Fargo, among others, has technical services in Belgrade and pays its employees a fraction of what they would pay in the US (one of the employees I spoke to worked for them in both the US and Serbia). Isn’t it ironic that the same people who bombed them are now profiting from their education and language skills? As someone else mentioned, better to have technical services in Serbia where they don’t have a heavy Indian accent. I guess globalization the way of the world, I’m hearing that in Croatia they’re hiring people from Bosnia because they’re cheaper.
Anyway, I got sidetracked. I’m sure people will wake up to the fact that Serbia is a good investment (in addition to the ones that already have). And after hearing about all the changes planned along the waterfront I expect the city will incur a lot of changes over the next few years. I hope this trickles down to the average citizen.
I am glad you carry such nice memories from your stay in my hometown. One thing that Serbs cannot forgive and forget is injustice. Serbs fought and died in WWI and WWII in large numbers. We were allies with Britain and France; we fought against Nazis and hundreds of thousands of Serbs died in German concentration camps. Never throughout their history were Serbs aggressors attacking foreign countries.
Yet, somehow, in the last 30 years, a drug-smuggling KLA (officially recognized by FBI as a terrorist group), gets US and international support and Serbs again get killed in their homeland.
At the same time, pro-Nazi forces are again gaining strength in Croatia (Germans and Nazis had strong support base in Croatia during the WWII and they built a large concentration camp Jasenovac, check Simon Wiesenthal centre’s documentation). The western countries (lead by Germany and USA) are hiding the truth about ethnical cleansing committed in Croatia in 1990s against its Serbian population.
Due to its geographical and political significance, Balkans have always been a playground for powerful countries which can easily manipulate the truth for their own benefit. We’ve seen it recently in Libya, which was once a prosperous independent country with strong and free educational and health systems but with, unfortunately for them, huge oil supplies. It was turned into a country in ruins, but its oil supplies are now easily controlled.
I am scared of what future will bring to this world…
Thank you Maya. What is consistent is how the media, everywhere, is a pawn to governments. I’ve learned more about Serbia from visiting and researching for this post than I ever did listening to the news in North America.
I thought that some very important information about Belgrade’s history are missing.
There has been a human settlement on this location for over 7000 years.
Belgrade was involved, one way or another in 152 wars in its long and hard history
The city was leveled 42 times
Lots of great buildings, including the Serbian National Library with millions of books, letters, pamphlets…. etc, were destroyed when Germans bombarded Belgrade in 1941. The US did the same thing in 1945, destroying and killing even more people. Some 50,000 citizens of Belgrade were killed during the WWII.
I often wonder, if my city has not been destroyed so many times, and considering 7000 years of its existance, would there be a more beautiful city in the world?
Anyhow, welcome to my city
Thanks for the background history Goran. You’re very right, but the blog was long enough. I’ll eventually have a follow up post and will cover more of the older history.
What strikes me is not just the long history, but all the different invaders and conquerors – even the Mongols made it to Serbia. And of course the Ottomans. Lots interesting history and you’re right, if only most of it had not been wiped out.
Watch the National Geographic Travel video from November 29th 2016 about Belgrade and Serbia to see and enjoy your stay in Summer time in Belgrade and other places in Serbia.
Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, sparkles in this dazzling time-lapse. The “white city”, as it’s known, is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers and is one of the oldest cities in Europe
Serbia’s Capital City is Stunning in Time-Lapse
Thank you Veca. Is THIS the video you are referring to? Yes, it is stunning!
OK…This is the guy you should ask about Serbia. I believe that he knows a lot.You could even see at his YouTube channel what he thinks and has to say about this country.Please contact him.He will help you to understand everything about Balkans. His name is Charles Cather.
I’ll check it out Marina, thank you.
I found your blog at the Blic site, and have to say that you did a great job by describing capital city of my country, I’m glad you liked it. Nevertheless, one thing about serbian people you missed, very strong feeling of injustice has been made to them (us) . Someone here mentioned names of Srebrenica and Sarajevo, and no doubt, some of my countrymen’s made war crimes there, and not only there. F. M. Dostoevsky said, ‘all ideals of this world is not worth the tears of a child’ so I believe that one innocent man died is too many. But the fact is that biggest atrocities in the history of Balkans has been made against serbs, jews and gypsies. I will not bore you with the history this time, anyone who is interested can find it. A lot of it you will find in the book that you are currently reading.
Once again, I am glad you liked Belgrade, and hopefully you will visit Serbia again to discover more of our beautiful country. In that matter I will give you a only one tip. Near the city of Niš ( primarily it was the Roman city Naissus, the birthplace of the Roman emperor Constantine, editor of the Milan Edict ) , there is a very unique monument, world unique, Ćele Kula ( Skull Tower ) , the tower made from human skulls, serbian rebels sculls. It will show you that serbs had been victims sometimes, not only ‘bad boys of the Balkans’
Cheers, and see you in Serbia.
Thank you very much Dejan. I looked up the Cele Kula and the history behind it. I think North Americans always fascinated by European history, but I especially find Balkan history very interesting because of all the different empires that have dominated the region at one time or other. Serbia is no exception.
Thank you for the kind words 😉
I really liked your post, thank you. You should definitely go back in the summer and make sure to visit more than just Belgrade and Zemun. Lakes, mountains, monasteries, etc. are incredibly beautiful. I am both Serbian and Canadian and a traveler (as often as I can), so I am really glad to discover posts similar to yours. Again, thank you very much! Safe travels!
Thanks Sabrina. We are looking to make Split, Croatia our base for a while so we’re not far away. I think Serbia would be a nice place to visit when it gets too crowded in Croatia during the summer.
Lucky you 🙂 In Split and not under all the snow that we have in MTL! But it was a very mild and sunny day today, so I will not complain too much.
Frank, when in Croatia, you need to see Plitvice if you haven’t already. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, truly magical. Especially so in the fall, with reflexion of all the colors in the lakes/cascades/waterfalls…
And on the coast, further south, the bay of Kotor. Not as well known as Dubrovnik, but really amazing. It’s a gem.
There are so many beautiful places to see all around you. The Istra peninsula is also not to be missed.. But I am sure that your friends in Croatia will know to guide you well. Enjoy 🙂
A fellow Montrealer!! Cool.
We’ve actually been to all those places as we’ve spent quite a lot of time in Croatia. You’ll find posts on Plitvice, Kotor, Istria, Rovinj, and Dubrovnik on the blog (I’ve linked them).
You’re right about Kotor, it’s incredible and for me more impressive even than Dubrovnik. Another favorite place is the small town of Omis, 30 minutes south of Split. Amazing geography and great hiking.
We love the Balkans and are actually making Split our base for a year…during this time we hope to explore much more of the Balkans including the country I’ve pissed off a lot on this post – Albania. But I’ve heard the people there very friendly as well. People just get heated up over politics and history in the Balkans.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Sabrina.
please do not pay much attention and loose your energy in writing and eventually arguing with people who have it a lot, especially when it comes to a political stuff. 🙂 Anyway, thank you so much for a lot of good words written and spoken back home about Serbia. I’m someone who have never been in Canada nor U.S. before. Hence, I would not try to say much about some country before I make a visit, and when it comes to Serbia, I keep your every word true. Travelling makes us a lot more open minded, so if you are making plans to visit Serbia again, I’ll be more than glad to help you visiting almost anything you want in my country. Not to mention free stay in my own house for the time you want… Very friendly and welcoming… That’s exactly how most of our people here feel like, and I am not an exception. 🙂 Best regards from Serbia…
Awww, one of the nicest comments ever. Thank you very much for your offer Dalibor.
We had a great experiences with the people we met and I’ve received a lot of very nice comments on this post. Not just nice, but well thought out, well written and intelligent…even those that argue about politics. And I know for everyone writing that English is a 2nd language, so I cannot tell you how impressed I am. As a blogger who says what he thinks, I get a lot of really crappy comments from people who basically don’t know how to write and/or are just ignorant and uneducated. Not on this post – agree or not, I’m really really impressed by Serbians (I better not say that too loud to my Croatian friends).
Thank you very much Dalibor.
[email protected] 🙂
Come to Serbia, Serbia is beautiful, good people .
When you visit Belgrade again, hope that will be summer- visit cafe in Zemun called MOJO best is when is hot weather because terrace across Danube quay. 1st drink on me 🙂
HA! Thank you for the recommendation.
Just don`t forget to mention KLA was labeled by FBI as a terrorist group and biggest mob for distributing narcotics, until USA had some Balkan agenda about breaking of YU. My family was living in Kosovo, no one harassed them, was quite opposite since `60s-`70s. You won`t see bilingual documents in other countries, flag of for example Mexico next to the one of USA, won`t have Mexican university nor Chinese one, and all have to speak official language to become citizens. That wasn`t the case for Albanians whom fled during WWII and after cause they had all of that, and still apply for Serbian passports, while they still harass Serbs who stayed. Same thing they are doing in Macedonia and will probably do in Monte Negro, in Greece they can`t cause it is EU.
Problem are double standards that USA and NATO apply, they don`t count their bodies nor they pay for starting wars cause of greed. When someone raises hand against regular army is called terrorist just not in the part of the planet where they have some gain from the conflict. Then they call them fighters for freedom and independence, and back them up with money, trained mercenaries and weapons, not their citizens killed nor their country. Putting their noses while they in general have no clue what was going on there for decades nor they care about facts, money talks money walks. I blame king Aleksandar and Serbs who made country with nations who were collaborating with ocupators, back stabbers and were enemies in the past and then Tito made fake borders we stayed with Slovenians, Croats, Muslims in Bosnia and Bosnians, imported Albanians who were officially fascists, not sure should I apply majority supported them or…etc.
There was article about Kosovo with title ˝Serb killings ‘exaggerated’ by west ˝ in Guardian that ended with ˝”Nato doesn’t want to admit the damage wasn’t as extensive as it said. Local Albanian politicians have the same motive. If you don’t have the true figure, you can exploit the issue.”(can be found on the net and many others) Plus when it comes to back stabbings and how history is written and rigged by winners there is longer video on you tube and others can be found from other TV stations interviews with saved pilots called Operation Halyard and the Forgotten 500 posted by Greek Orthodox Christian Television, not allowed to add links so I am just sharing names. People were scaring and marking as bloody criminals calling Serbs chetniks who were BTW formed from members of regular army of Kingdom of YU, multinational not just Serbs, who fought for King not communists but against Germans, so makes no sense. Ustaše we all know what they did even Germans were disgusted by some crimes so fear for was logical. Same back stabbers bombed Belgrade during orthodox Easter with bombs written in Cyrillic wishing happy by killing more civilians than Germans.
There was always some Balkan agenda, we were on a wrong spot all the time. Not saying crimes are not committed by Serbs in act of nationalistic passion as retaliation but I am kind of sick of blaming just one side while all others wear fake clean white gloves, starting from the USA and EU countries in NATO that committed much more atrocities and killings cause of greed, by bombs and then cancer later for decades 10-20 countries against one such a fair play, and never labeled as killers and war criminals EVER, sick double standards. Cause when they break rules that doesn`t count, it is democracy brought to your country with bombs death and poverty, tja. Politics sucks and ruins lives of common people, they don`t send their families to fight, nor their yard, and they are doing it by same pattern over and over again. And guess what not Serbs, BTW Serbs didn`t start it Slovenians did, how come in Serbia people other nationalities weren`t poked and harassed or made them leave Serbia, they stayed and many fled in Serbia no matter what nationality while others are almost ethnically cleaned never returned homes to refugees or pay for them.tja. Stupidity kills. Thank you for great post and pictures. 🙂
I’ve read some of the same about Kosovo and how Serb killings were exaggerated by the West. In fact a famous Canadian general was very much against the bombing of Belgrade in 1999 as well as other Nato countries…it was the US that pushed it through. And yes, I mention the KLA being labelled as a terrorist group.
It’s ugly history and I think we will never know what 100% of the truth is. But I know you’re right about double standards and I think what happened at Srebrenica in 1995 probably caused a huge bias against in Serbian cause in 1999.
I don’t think ordinary people want war and many people in these comments have mentioned that people just need to move on and look to the future and not the past. I’m sure that is easier said than done (and I can’t say it not being from the Balkans).
Thank you for having taken the time to write your thoughts.
We, the youth of Serbia, are friendly oriented to all people and races here in Serbia, and I’m glad that you noticed that, we are well-educated and polyglots. You are welcomed to Serbia to come again, and you can’t imagine how beautifull my country is, Belgrade is just a small part of it, the real beauties of our country are not in Belgrade. The bad games are still played, and in those games, the biggest players are only the politicians, not us, ordinary people. Noone want’s war here, we are fiendly nation, and we had it enough in our history (our UNBELIEVABLE Serbian history, which runs from 9th century). Those bad things like war in Bosnia (where the guilt was 50:50%, but we were in U.S. media 100% bad boys) and NATO bombing are the past, we just want to go forward. It is hard to forget, and we’ll never forget, but we must go forward. I would like to recommend you Serbian national food like prsut,kackavalj, sarma, pogaca, proja, kiselo mleko (and a lot of them more, google it), Serbian national drink RAKIA (very strong, but it’s nothing for us Serbs 😀 ), Serbian wine (maybe one of the best qualities, but our marketing is poor, so people around world don’t know about it), you should visit mountains Stara planina (planina is a word for mountain on Serbian language (and also on croatian, bosnian, macedonian-you can see on that example that politicians divided one nation on three, we were the same, and still we are), Kopaonik, Goc, Tara planina, Zlatar, Zlatibor, Fruska gora and her 17 monasteries, then city of Nis and specialities of pork meat (rostilj on Serbian), Novi Sad, Subotica, our thermal-spas like Bukovicka banja, Vrnjacka banja, Niska banja, (near city of Nis) (”banja” is a word for spa in Serbian (and croatian too, imagine that haha 🙂 and the best part of the year to visit all of these are from april till october. Believe me, the journey won’t be expensive, but you will see all the beauties of my country, which is not the richest one, but we have the biggest heart. We love people, you had good experience about Serbia, but, you can discover it even better, and you will be impressed 🙂 (like other tourists are). p.s. Don’t be surprised if you will think about buying a property somewhere in Serbia, because there are lot of foreign people who did it, after discovering Serbia haha 🙂 Wish U all the best!
Great comment, very helpful for anyone thinking of coming. Thank you so much. You mention wines – yes, we had GREAT Serbian wines which were not expensive. Very, very impressive. We’ve also spent a lot of time in Croatia so we are familiar with Rakia. Love the stuff.
Thank you so much for this detailed comment Stefan, really appreciate.
Hi Frenk, excellent article, extremely useful for people who are visiting Belgrade for 3-4 days. The bad boys of Balkans? Well, sometimes, the bad commercial is good commercial. But, politics aside, people are really coming to Belgrade recently. In city center, you can hear English and other languages more frequently than Serbian. Speaking about Belgrade, its position makes it unavoidable in this part of Europe and I believe that Belgrade has bright future in this region. Also, that development may largely contribute to pacification of this part of the world. When we all start to speak about business instead of politics, there will be a hope. Welcome to Belgrade!
Thanks Igor, you are bang on. Our Croatians friends tell us the same, focus on the future and not the past. They have their own problems here and most stem from holding old grudges. I can understand that but it doesn’t make for constructive dialogue.
You have a very nice Airbnb apartment, located very close to where we were!
let me do just a small effort for the people out of Balkans, which is self-explanatory: (for example)
Mirko Filipovic – Croatian – famous heavyweight kick boxer (son named Filip)
Filip Filipovic – Serbian- famous water polo player (titled the best in the world)
Muhamed Filipovic – Bosnian muslim academic and historian
For sure, once upon the time, they belonged to the same tribe Filipovic.
Now they are Serbians, Croats or Bosniaks. Do not ask for reasons :).
You can do the same exercise for almost any Balkan’s country.
Ha, that’s pretty crazy. As I mentioned in another comment, we have friends in Croatia who have cousins in Bosnia as well as Serbia. It’s a complicated region.
Thanks for this example.
I really loved your post. I moved to Belgrade in 2004 and I love the city… it has something special.
Berlin reminds me of Belgrade (Berlin as an upgraded version x]).
Considering the fact how many times Belgrade was bombed I think it’s doing well. I do recommend visiting Belgrade during Spring or Summer. As for the rest of the Serbia, there are many beautiful places I myself need to revisit and visit for the first time. One of my favourites is Golubac Fortress (medieval jewel).
Best of luck on your future travels! :]
I had seen a photo of Golubac Fortress in a Serbian travel magazine and had been amazed. Looks absolutely fantastic and I’m sure most people outside Serbia have never heard of it. Thank you for the mention. I remember also seeing photos of some beautiful rivers in mountain valleys that reminded me of some of the fjords in parts of Quebec. Again, I’m sure most people don’t know that there is this kind of geography in Serbia.
Must visit Novi Sad,second largest city in Serbia (around 400.000 inhab.). AKA Serbian Athens. So different than Belgrade. So beautiful.
You are the 3rd person who’s mentioned Novi Sad. Thank you, we will make sure to visit.
Congratulations, you made it to one of the best read tabloids in Serbia! I read your post and some of it reminded me of what my husband sees in Serbia – he always gets amazed when no one is trying to sell anything after a tour! He loves Serbia simply because it is not touristy. Serbs unfortunately are not too curious about other countries unless it’s about stereotypes of wealth or distance (the farther/exotic the better). It is most likely that when you visited the family they were happy to tell you about themselves but did not have many questions about your world. If you go to small towns you might think for a moment that you came to Paris or London, even New York 🙂 It sounds like big things are happening to them or to someone they know and there is always a story to tell. I find the unnecessary attacks on your perspective quite sad, even boring, but that is Serbia again, a lot of confrontation over nothing. Do come back!
Thanks Nia – Blic approached us this week for a few questions on our visit and I’m surprised how popular it is. We’ve had a large spike in readers since the article came out yesterday.
Your husband is right about it not being touristy. We love Croatia as well – but one of our complaints is that some bars/restaurants now cater only to tourists and not locals. And that the quality of food goes down in high season (they figure they can feed tourists shit because they won’t be back). That’s the problem with tourism and I’m glad it has not affected Serbia. Skopje (Macedonia) is another place we went last year where there were not a lot of tourists and we really enjoyed that as well, cheapest place we’ve been to and the food was great.
There’s negative people everywhere Nia, after a while you just learn to tune them out.
Thanks for your nice comment.
Frank, I love the write up! I am from Belgrade originally (living in Milton for many years now) but I visit Belgrade every year. Now with 3 kids to ensure they understand their culture and where they come from. I was quite happy to see your blog featured in Blic which is how I got here. I hope you visit again. Be sure to catch an opera at the National Theatre (best seats around $20) and reserve a dinner at the Aero Klub-a remarkable restaurant with a magnificent history. (By Student Square at the last stop of bus 31, parallel to Knez Mihajlova street. All the best!
Thank you very much, I think it’s great that you bring your kids to understand their heritage.
Aero-Club – I thought it would be some kind of plane museum. Wow, it looks quite incredible. I’m including the link here for others that might be interested. Will check it out next time.
Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Hey Frank, this is more than amazing post, it’s awesome, like we use to say “do jaja!” 🙂 You are right about our people, we are good hosts and not vengeful as you may expect. Of course, there is always a minority of “really bad guys” like anywhere in the world. As you mention we have good education system. Well, that depends of angle of view 🙂 But in fact, we’re “smart people” (at least we used to be). I have started to learn english before elementary school, have a very good teacher in elementary school and thats it 🙂
I hate to write much, so I will tell you one interesting joke, which may be true 🙂 When is the best time to occupy Slovenia? At the New year eve. Why? more than 50% of their citizens are in Belgrade cause here is a fun and left their country empty :))
Again, I’m glad you find our country and my town are beautiful (not talking about Belgrade, I’m from Zemun). Hope we can meet when you come at summer! best wishes from Serbia!
Ha! Yeah, Slovenia pretty but not the most exciting place…We arrived in Ljubljana on a Sunday once and it was the deadest capital city I had ever seen. You have to be careful though when saying “occupy” because that might be taken the wrong way 😉
Thank you for the kind comment, very much appreciate it.
Great post! I hope you will never ever return to Serbia and that you will continue reporting about your glorious friend state of independent Kosova. These crimes of bombing innocent people have been done by your money Frank paid through the income taxes in your country and directed toward NATO. You got encouraged and destroyed after that Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan…. but failed with Syria. I am so upset because of my benevolent Serbian countrymen who even talked to you.
Thank you, I am happy you were not the immigration agent who stamped our passports.
Haha Frank, this is one of the haters, and 1 man in 37 comments show that every country have ”bad guys” in some percentage, so Serbia have too. Be sure that they don’t hate just America, Canada, they hate everything, they are bitter, and so, don’t look back after them. As I said, come again and go out from Belgrade, visit our other cities, mountains, monasteries, fortresses like Kalemegdan (there are a lot of them, the most beautifull are Golubac, and Nis fortress), spaas, try our domestic, organic food and drinks, visit a basketball game of KK Crvena Zvezda in Euroleague (the best team in Balkan region ant 5th in Europe), find a good guide which can explain you our tradition, and you’ll stay without words… All the best. (There are no nations, there are only good and bad people!)
Thank you very much Stefan. Very much appreciate your optimistic outlook. I think you are correct when it comes to people 😉
Great post Frank! Glad you had a nice time in Serbia and hope to have you back in the summer – do not miss it! Cheers! 😉
We will for sure be back and I hope more people visit Serbia in the future. Thank you very much Milan.
A lot of people who have visited Serbia were amazed how fantastic Serbian people are.
I like your email address 🙂
Yes, we were surprised, not just by how welcoming they were but the general level of education and culture. Very impressive.
Thank you for the really great description of my native city, but I would like to read about your travelling to Japan.
Wish you all the best,
Thanks Ricky. I have some posts on Japan here: https://bbqboy.net/category/japan/ I have a few more to write though, including on our favorite visit to a place called Nara. I will have a few more posts on Japan over the next month – it’s a fascinating place.
Nice post. Just wanted to say that Serbia is actually visited a lot in past few years but not during the Jan-February period because it’s cold ( except during New Year when there are many people from adjacent countries ). I think that April – September period is very visited by tourists. My personally favourite city is Novi Sad, I am a Belgrader but NS is prettier. Have you visited it? If not, you have my recommendations.
I’ve heard of Novi Sad and everyone says good things. We will make sure to visit in the future and will do so when it’s a bit warmer. I know December wasn’t the best time to visit but we didn’t have a choice this time.
Thank you for the comment Milos.
Great post! You should visit Vrnjci Spa ( Vrnjacka Banja ) next time. It’s is one of most popular spas in whole Europe. Book at hotel Solaris or Sunny Hill, and come in July to have summer fun. Cheers!
Great post. As already written in some comments above, You should visit Belgrade and Serbia in the spring or summer. Also, You should not visit only sites from travel guides. There are many nice hidden places in Belgrade, so You should stray of the track and explore. Only one comment regarding Kosovo and Metohija. You wrote: “Today Kosovo is regarded as an independent country by the UN while Serbia still considers it a part of their territory” which is not a fact. Kosovo is not recognized as independent state by UN .
Thank you for your comments Miroslav, very much appreciated. And I’ll change the wording on the UN recognition.
I can see you got into a political dispute… I love the Balkans, I like all: Serbia and Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece, Bosnia, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia… I know these countries had a lot of conflicts between themselves… But as a tourist, we don’t want to get involved who is right and who is wrong… I’m sorry to see so many aggressive comments here. I must agree with you that in Belgrade you can feel strong ties with Russia and in Kosovo with the US – sometimes it’s getting ridiculous (like Bill Clinton monuments etc.)
Anyway, I liked Serbia (I have the weak spot for the East) and will return there to see the Uvac River, Devil’s Town rock formations and some beautiful towns like Novy Sad. Nevertheless, I must say that I didn’t enjoy Belgrade too much, it was the grayest and most depressing capital of the Balkans. No cozy little center, and the overall atmosphere was kind of gloomy. Of course, there are beautiful streets and monuments like everywhere but central Belgrade reminded me of the huge, soulless cities (for me) like London or Vienna. But these are only my own impressions. I liked, however, the views over Zemun and I’m sad now I haven’t been there.
Oh well, would be boring if everyone agreed with me. But the thing about the Balkans is that everyone is sure to disagree 🙂
I don’t agree with you though about soulless, we found plenty of life and I’m sure in the summer its a happening place (totally agree with you about Vienna though). But like you, we’ll be back to see other spots in the country.
Tom, as I wrote in my comment below, the one should not visit only sites from travel guides. There are many nice hidden places in Belgrade, so You should stray of the track and explore.
It’s real shame that someone starts something that is meant to be TOURIST article with BIASED NEGATIVE POLITICAL PROPAGANDA. How about you starting to work in some political party? I have almost nowhere in the world heard that there ar “mostly negative feelings about Serbia”. Apart from being openly BIASED, you spread blatant LIES. I am quoting you: “Today Kosovo is regarded as an indeoendent country by UN”. You are LYING. Kosovo is NOT regarded as independent country by UN, Kosovo is not UN member, 2 out of 5 UN security council members DO NOT recognize it and it us partially recognized disputed region. Out of 193 UN members, 113 recognize Kosovo, while 80 do not recognize Kosovo.
Have these people in Belgrade you visited commited mass murder? No. Why your story about Serbia and Serbians starts with such negative remarks then?
Why haven’t you instead mentioned that Serbia has one of the worlds greatest scienists if all time Nikola Tesla, that it has great scientist Milankovic, that it has great sportsmen such as Novak Djokovic, great basketball team? Instead, you mentioned it just of topic. It shows that you are BUASED and that your article, despite touristic part what should be it’s topic, is your SHAME.
The real bad boy here us actually you.
“Mostly negative feelings about Serbia”. I never said I agreed with it – but if you don’t acknowledge this fact you have your head buried in the sand.
As your numbers state, the majority of countries do recognize Kosovo as an independent country. Again, I never said I agreed with that.
Have people in Belgrade committed mass murder? Of course not. I’m of German blood – still to this day many people won’t go to Germany because of what happened 80 years ago. Is that fair? Of course not.
Read again – I do mention Nikola Tesla as well as Novak Djokovic (my favorite tennis player by the way).
Funny enough, most comments I’ve received (especially on FB) tell me that I’m biased as pro-Serbian. So I guess I can’t make anyone happy.
And CAPS don’t make you more understandable – they just make you sound crazy 😉
Gile (from Tripologia)
I can see you have some problems with Facebook and blog comments on your Serbia post. Well I’m not surprised, welcome to the Balkan. 🙂 I’m sorry for that, you wrote a good and objective article, it was pleasure to read it and see things from reasonable angle. Unfortunately this ex-Yu area is still like gun powder keg and I’m afraid it will remain like that forever. I think you made a mistake with article title, I’t is tempting for each side, I have expect that somehow it will lead to this. It’s so sad that we are still able just to look at 20, 50 or a 100 years in history but doesn’t have a clue what to do tomorrow. In meanwhile young and smart people leaving this countries. 🙁
Stay well and keep writing good articles. 🙂
Thank you so much Gile for the nice comment. I learned last year how passionate people in the Balkans are when I wrote what I thought was a pretty innocent post on Skopje. Oh, well. People are entitled to their opinions, it is just disheartening when they stay stuck in the past. I know people who even now would never, ever travel to Germany because of what happened almost 80 years ago.
Thanks again for the kind words.
I want to improve you when you write “Kosovo War which started when Serbs in Kosovo were targeted by the Kosovo Liberation Army” that is not true war in Kosovo started because Millosevic regime he stared ethnic cleansing of Albanian in Kosovo and to stop it Nato bombed serbia!
I’m not 100% sure. I read here that it all started in 1995 when the KLA “launched attacks targeting Serbian law enforcement in Kosovo”. According to that source in 1998 “Serb paramilitaries and regular forces who subsequently began pursuing a campaign of retribution targeting KLA sympathisers and political opponents”.
According to Noah Chomsky, ethnic cleansing was equally distributed by both sides and Serb ethnic cleansing only started after the NATO bombing. Here. In fact, according to this (reported by some NATO commanders) Albanian rebels engaged in “almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs…out of the province.”
I’ve also read other accounts (mostly American) that blame it 100% on the Serbs. But most detailed accounts I’ve read say that it was initiated by the KLA who wanted independence from Serbia.
Anyway, I’m not picking sides and just as I’ve told some Serbian commenters above, there were atrocities on both sides.
Nice article! You guys should definitely visit during the summer time, it is a completely different vibe 🙂
Thank you Ija! We will.
Thanks for a lovely read and a balanced picture of Belgrade 🙂 but yes, you’re right, December is a rotten time to visit. Come back during summer, or at any time between May and September, it’s totally irresistible – only then you can wholly enjoy the unique flavour of the city.
Thank you very much Ognjen. Yes, no place is at it’s best without leaves on the trees. I’m sure Belgrade must be an attractive city in the summer.
I was quite young when the war in Sarajevo was going on, too young to fully understand the politics on anything more than a very superficial so I found this post really interesting, insightful and informative, especially hearing about the Serb view towards the Clinton administration and the differences in perception about what went on at the time. Although I haven’t been to Serbia, I have never felt more short than when I have visited other Balkan nations (I’m little anyway but feel like a Borrower when I travel to that part of the world!) 😀
I didn’t know much more Shikha, I think our views really shaped by the media and there’s always a bias. Sometimes it takes travelling somewhere to WANT to learn more. I’m not saying Serbia holds no responsibility, I’m just saying there’s always 2 sides to a story and I’ve tried to be objective.
Agnieszka (Wandering Owls)
Another great and honest post from you guys – always love reading about your thoughts and impressions 🙂
Belgrade looks like a place I would love to visit, I like this “rough around the edges” factor and the history that happened in my lifetime and not so far from where I was growing up. I’m gutted because I nearly ended up doing a part of my PhD in Belgrade (which I’ve chosen over Indonesia, however weird this may sound) for 6 months later this year, but the plans fell through…
Thank you Agnieszka. PhD in Belgrade, I’m sure that would have been an interesting experience!
Amazing pictures and very interesting post! I think Belgrade is a city we would like to explore. We are planning for the Balkan in summer – right now we are thinking about the Peak of the Balkans trail combined with a little bit of sightseeing in Albania and Macedonia.
Peak of the Balkans trail: thank you Natascha because I had never heard of it before (I’m including link here for others). The geography so amazing in that region I can imagine it must be spectacular. Would love to do it.
Thanks for the kind words about the post. We’d definitely like to go back and see more of Serbia.
Sand In My Suitcase
Yes, NOT a good start to a visit to be told you might be kicked out of the country! You’d think Serbia was like the U.S. :-). Oh, they are similiar – Serbia didn’t kick you out, and the U.S. courts overturned the ban :-). Sorry… Couldn’t help get political :-). Anyway, a very interesting read! Didn’t know Belgrade had a party city reputation. And the waterfront should look quite attractive in future. Great photos. Thanks for the introduction to a country we knew little about (except for its involvement in the war).
I read your post a few days ago when you first published it and have been thinking about it off-and-on between now and writing this comment. As a US native, I remember watching the war in the 90’s: the atrocities on both sides, the bombings and the staggering numbers of civilian deaths. Your post is a great reminder that history, especially recent history as well as through the centuries, is a tangle of facts and interpretations, grudges and injustices, all filtered through the lens of time and served up through a biased filter. (That in fact, makes Serbia all the more fascinating as a travel destination for us.) Loved your photos of the Orthodox churches with their fabulous frescoes and jewel-like colors but my favorite photo was of the smiling man surrounded by all the yellow flowers in planters. Looked like he’d found his “happy place!”
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment Anita. The media often paints the news in black and white and I’m happy to have gone to Serbia to find out their version (and travelling someplace also makes you more curious about reading more about it).
We went to some bigger churches but the smaller ones were for us more impressive because of the ornateness. Yes, the smiling man who wanted us to come into his restaurant. Oh well, next time.
Suze - Luxury Columnist
This is so insightful, and it’s nice to hear how friendly the locals are. Sounds like you communicated very well with the bus driver despite neither of you speaking the same language!
The beautiful people made up for the gray buildings and sky. Never mind JJ, I found no propraganda here….you do a great job Frank not stepping on any toes. I’ll keep Serbia in mind, I tend not to listen to nay-sayers. Your experience with Turkish Airlines just adds to the story 😉
Thank you Paula, appreciate your comment.
Thanks for all that Frank. Fascinating. Yes, you’re right . It always is more than a little disappointing to me to see how poorly an officially bi-lingual country like Canada manages to teach (or not…) each of its official languages to each group – and how poor the overall end result can be – and so often is ! I think the immigrants often have the best and most efficient deal with the ‘triple-five’ immersion programmes that I benefited from as an immigrant over 40 years ago …. There may be a significant minority in Canada who are perfectly fluent in both languages, spoken and written, but they generally have gone to top-notch bi-lingual schools or have been in intensive immersion programmes. Overall though they seem to do a far better job in most European countries, with whatever foreign language is being taught and spoken. As for the USA ? Well …. its probably better to hope that they concentrate on speaking correctly their alleged English mother-tongue , rather than the mumble-rich, vocabulary poor lingo that seems to substitute for it generally …
So right Tony, Lissette mentioned exactly the same about her USA and the standard of English. Yo, yo yo, dollar bills y’all!! 🙂
Nice post Frank ! You often seem surprised at the level of English spoken in many of the Balkan (and other) countries, but the reason is usually pretty simple…the smaller the national group and their language spoken, the more the people will speak other languages, including the major international language, English. Almost all small nations and linguistic groups (Denmark, Norway, Sweden etc) are proficient in a major foreign language (in this case, English) ; In other smaller countries, such as the Nederlands or Switzerland, a very large proportion of the population – 30% and more – often speak 3 or more major languages (in these cases, English, French and German ) . In other areas close to or bordering on major countries, the populations there often speak that major language – like Slovenia, where most are also bi-lingual in Italian; or Italians or Catalunyans close to France who speak French.
But there is nowhere in the world where there is such a variety of peoples, culture and languages in such a small, crowded area , as in the Balkan states. It is unique – and not just for the languages spoken, but the diversity of the languages’ origins too – each one being very distinct and different. Its amazing that such small groups and languages have survived and thrived over the centuries! English – especially since the breakup of Yugoslavia – has become the ‘lingua franca’ for the entire region; far easier for each to use a neutral common international language than to try and learn 3, 4 or more of each others’ very different tongues ! Logically so – just as in the old British, French or Spanish colonies, where the local small ‘tribal’ languages have been supplanted by the common Metropolitan tongue, for ease and clarity in communications. We can only hope that as elsewhere, the local languages will continue to thrive as well – to add that unique and most important element of the richness of man and Mankind.
Thanks Tony. If I seem surprised it’s because you come to a place like Serbia and they speak BETTER than Quebec for example. Especially young people. It’s astounding the proficiency in the language. And I know what you are saying, but in Serbia it goes far beyond “getting by” (ie. Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro. Forget Romania where they barely speak any English). Not only do they speak the language, they understand the humor (which is something that usually flies over the heads of non-English speakers).
No, actually English is not the lingua franca of the ex-Yugoslavia. Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and even northern Albania all speak Serbo-Croatian and can understand each other the same way Americans in different states understand each other. The level of English in these countries varies greatly depending on education and culture. Funny enough, ask most young people why their English is so good and they say it’s from watching TV, playing video games or speaking to tourists. But certain countries, specifically Serbia, are helped by good education systems.
Gile (from Tripologia)
You have pointed at probably two main points regarding very good knowledge of English in Balkans. Tony pointed at first one, we are small countries and using of foreign language is must if you want to keep any communication with the world…and we like to communicate with it. 🙂 It’s not the case just in English. Frank you spent a lot of time at Croatian coast and you have probably noticed that many people beside English speak also at least a little bit of Italian and German languages, especially if they work in tourism.
You Frank pointed at second one and I think it’s even more important – and that’s TV. I’m so grateful that we always had subtitled instead of synchronized movies, we could hear original words and that was very important for us when learning foreign languages in childhood. Kids are fast learner, if you take the sound of original language away from movies (and the original language is mostly English) than you took the opportunity from them to learn foreign language.
I don’t know what is the practice in Canada, do you subtitled movies? I know that many countries in eastern Europe synchronize movies and you will find that majority in that specific countries doesn’t speak English, for example Poland or Hungary (probably Romania as well). When you turn TV on in these countries you will hear only their local languages and non of English. That could even be funny like when you look American western movie and John Wayne enter into a bar and try to say something cool but on Hungarian. 😀 It’s not natural at all.
You also pointed on good education system and you are right. It’s not the case only in Serbia, all countries in former Yugoslavia had for decades similar education system and it worked well. Even today we have some good things inherited from old common education systems, many things in schools are still similar, except the history of course, each nation learn completely different history in school. 😉
Thank you for another great article from Balkan. We like to read your view at us. You become a real expert for this part of world. (y)
Thanks for the kind words Gile.
Totally agree about subtitles, I love movies with subtitles. In French Canada most foreign language movies are dubbed which like you say sounds ridiculous (Arnold Schwarzenegger with a French accent?) and I could never get over the lips not moving with the words. But you’re right it’s really a learning tool having subtitles, I speak some Spanish and find just watching a couple of Spanish movies refreshes my knowledge.
And yes, have noticed the German and Italian as well. Another place we were very impressed was Hungary where locals can speak multiple languages.
Thank you for having taken the time to comment 🙂
This was an interesting, yet balanced, post to read about a complicated area. I agree that Quebec is sometimes a difficult area to speak English (unlike in France, it’s one of the few places where the stop signs don’t say “Stop”) but disagree about Romania. We’ve stayed there a lot lately and in our experience it was easy to get by speaking English. Maybe it’s your Canadian accent. 🙂
Thanks Michael. Quebec, especially outside Montreal, can be iffy especially the further east you go. But I’m talking as much about the quality of the English as the ability to speak it. You’ll always find someone in the tourism industry to speak but often not in the general population.
Romania honestly has faded into the back of my brain, I just remember thinking that again, you can get by but the ability was iffy…I actually spoke French there a bit.
Great comprehensive guide to the good looking Serbia! Glad you noticed the women. I can’t imagine feeling average at your height.. How did Spanky feel then? Looking at the shopping areas, I immediately thought of the shopping district in Malaga. Even though it’s not a place l have the urge to visit, l am still glad to see it through your eyes. You must have been sweating at immigration.. :-).
Thanks Kemkem. I always notice the women 😉 Yes, they’re tall here. Maybe that explains why they’ve had such a good track record at basketball and tennis.
Yes, we were a bit nervous at immigration but honestly I figured we could talk our way out of it or, worst case, buy a cheap onwards ticket if it came to that. The fault lies with Turkish Airlines. No thanks to them.
I love Serbia and the Serbians (my nanny was of Serbian origin). The way that country has been treated by the West is an utter shame.
Thank you Lionel. You are right and I didn’t realize that before meeting Serbs and also doing some research for this post. Very educated, cultured people.
First, you should come in May or June, Belgrade most favorite months…Serbians are very proud people, and allied with USA, England and France in both World wars, somebody needs to be bad boy in civil war in Yugoslavia…There is info that we wanted all Serbs in one country, we already have that in Yugoslavia:) if you want new countries from one big country you should have PR on your side like Croats, Slovenians, or Bosnian Muslim…Finally I think that we are just case study for NATO how to desintegre USSR(or Russia) …
Thank you Ivan. Yes, next time we will come in the summer. This time we didn’t really have a choice as we were coming back to Europe from Japan and really it was just about seeing what our impressions were. Know that we know we would like to come back we would plan our stay better and longer.
Thank you for your thoughts and opinions.
Nice round up! Belgrade is a but rough around the edges but that gives it character, I think! I also like the fact that it sees way fewer tourists than other Balkan cities. And you are right, people from Belgrade do speak excellent English. It’s a city we keep thinking of using for an extended stay and in fact, we finally have a plan and leave the UK tomorrow for Morocco and from there we are planning to slowly make our way back to the Balkans via Southern Europe so will more than likely end up in Belgrade at some point. I would love it if we had the money to take up residence at the Hotel Moskva for a couple of months, I love that hotel and the history attached to it!!! I feel we are finally getting close to meeting up, assuming your onward plans are still the same :-). It needs to be somewhere with good beer!
Hey Mark! We just signed a lease today on a gorgeous apartment in Split. So we’ll be spending the next year here and renting it out when travelling (which we intend to do at least 6 months of the year). So if you ever want to rent an apartment in Split let me know. We’ll planning to be travelling during the summer months but will be coming and going in between – either way, we’d really like to meet you guys and show you around Split. Let’s hope dates work out.
We have a reader couple (not bloggers) who are also in Morocco right now using it as a base for the next few months. They’re in Essaouira for a month and in Fez for two. I don’t know where you guys are going but if ever you want to exchange notes with other travellers let me know, I can give you their info. Either way, I’m very curious how you and they enjoy Morocco. Certainly seems beautiful and based on what you/they tell us, it’s a place I’d like to revisit in the future (I was there when I was 17 – over 30 years ago – and don’t have good memories).
Have a great time and I’m psyched with the idea of finally meeting the two of you 😉
Hi Frank, we arrived in Essaouira a few days back and are meeting the guys you put us in touch with tomorrow. I’m like you when it comes to bad memories of Morocco. I was 21, so a little older than you, when I came here last. My friend and I got eaten alive when we got off the ferry in Tangier and it remained the case for the couple of weeks we stayed in the country. In fact I made it quite clear to Kirsty that I would never return but here I am! I’m hoping I am wiser and smarter (some would disagree on both scores) and won’t get taken for a mug this time around. So far, so good but it’s early days!!
Sounds like we had similar experiences. I was 17 and it was the most traumatizing place I had ever been in. People begging, lepers clutching at my arm…and they had other people with some kind of disease where their eyes were white and bulging and I felt they were all staring at me. Holy shit, it was like a horror movie. I didn’t want to leave the hotel. I know the touts are still frigin pushy but hopefully you don’t see lepers or zombies..
Great to hear you’re meeting up with Paula and husband. Hope you have a good time!
Frank – i agree with you that the Serbs are incredibly friendly. I really loved Belgrade – it was 2004 when I was there – something about the city. A great buzz, warmth with cold at the same time. There was still a bit of damage to see in 2004 from the war. Nice work – and yes, you do not seem to know how to keep post sizes down!
It must have still looked like a war zone in 2004. I wonder how locals can be friendly to Westerners after having just been bombed. I think, based on our 2 weeks, that the young (who are educated and speak English) are very outwards looking and want to be part of the global community. They want to engage and are curious of travellers. That might be part of it.
We are welcome to foreigners despite the bombing and killing because of a simple fact-we know you ordinary people who visit Serbia today have nothing to do with what your governments were doing in the 90s. Judging ordinary people because of that would be idiotic.
Thank you Mihajlo. As you see from other comments, not everyone is as forgiving.
they should never repair those buildings just to keep it as a memory of what America has done and is doing in Serbia and around the globe… destroying everything just for their own profit where dumbest people are becoming the richest in the world. That is the way how they are creating their nation and ‘culture”. people should not forgive, people have to learn what is really going on and how things work in order to change the world and stop these big forces and rapists like America, Russia and China are…
You are still going with too much propaganda and lies against Serbs.
Sarajevo had several contingents of the UN stationed and living there throughout the war, and the Yugoslav/Serbs handed the Sarajevo airport to the UN near the very beginning of the war and when the Yugoslav forces withdrew and only the local Bosnian-born Serbs were allowed to stay and hence made up the Bosnian Serb army.
The city was DIVIDED and parts of it were controlled by Serbs, including Sarajevo suburbs, and where the Serbian population was the majority. Sarajevo had a very large Serbian population before the war – somewhere close to 40%.
This population was attacked and ethnically cleansed during the war and now Sarajevo is almost pure Muslim/Bosniak, which is something the media ignored during the war.
The Sarajevo forces were larger and more numerous than the Serbs – they numbered 40,000 in Sarajevo, while the Serb forces were around 17,000.
The Sarajevo government forces STAGED attacks and was most often provoking and starting the attacks – this according to UNPROFOR official documents. UN officers did witness the Muslims mortaring their own people, knowing Serbs would be blamed. The president, Alija Izetbegovic, was pushing for western intervention and even clearly stated it to the UN.
UN officers did testify at the ICTY that Muslim snipers were using SEVERAL BUILDINGS in the infamous sniper’s alley and they shot at civilians within their own lines, and at the Serb-controlled part.
The UN was bringing in fuel and food throughout the entire war for the city, and this including many trucks and convoys which did cross through Serb lines and territories. Serbs did not block these – except in cases where they found weapons and even fighters being smuggled in.
Even so, these were temporary stoppages.
There was plenty of food getting into Sarajevo but the Sarajevo government was no distributing it to the civilians. That is documented in UN reports.
The UN said that 60% of the food that Sarajevo received was not distributed at all. They believed it was being WAREHOUSED.
Of the 40%, that was going to the army/military or else ending up on the black market, which thrived and there were many violent gangs controlling it and Sarajevo.
So the Bosnian Muslim government in Sarajevo was PURPOSELY restricting and withholding all the UN food getting in from its civilians to HELP SELL THE WAR and have Serbs falsely blamed.
The government also interfered with the utilities and the repair of them more than the fighting itself. That too is from UN reports and testimony. Also, foreign aid people who went to help with the water and utility supplies were blocked by the government.
In Srebrenica, there was an entire brigade under Bosnian Muslim commander Naser Oric. He and his men destroyed dozens of Serbian villages all around Srebrenica in the spring, summer and fall of 1992 already.
This commander also showed video tapes, at his home in Srebrenica in January 1994, to John Pomfret, of the Washington Post and Bill Schiller of the Toronto Star. They saw videos of Serb homes being burned, Serbs being chased by the Srebrenica 28th Brigade’s attacks, they saw scenes with dead Serb bodies, including a pile of headless bodies.
Naser Oric was smiling and bragging as he showed these scenes of destruction on the Serb villages and towns around Srebrenica. He was proud of the numbers he killed – and when a scene of a ruined village showed, but no dead bodies, he hasted to add that they killed 117 Serbs there.
Also, Srebrenica deaths are all virtually all military men and they are using those who died from the entire war as well as those who were never in Srebrenica, such as Zepa, a city south of Srebrenica where there was another Bosnian Muslim military base.
This is know due to captured military records during the fall of Srebrenica.
They included Bosnian Muslim soldiers who died back in 1993 as victims of the fall.
Only full divulging of their military records would give the true score, but obviously the neither the “international community” nor the Bosnian Muslims themselves want that, as it would damage their propaganda which they used as a weapon against the Serbs and for political reasons.
The west even uses it to bomb other countries. For example, they referred to Srebrenica when they were bombing Libya a few years back. It promotes interventions for U.S./western agendas. And none of it is genuinely humanitarian, despite how they push that angle.
Also, Srebrenica only fell because the large army in there was deliberately moved out the day before.
The UN and the brigade commanders ordered the soldiers off their positions (which were strong and all-around Srebrenica, according to a soldier there interviewed in St. Louis, Missouri (where many were later settled) for a book about Srebrenicans in that city. They were told to gather in the north, and from there they left in three shifts in the direction of Tuzla.
The estimated numbers from the UN and the soldiers themselves ranges from 12 to 18 thousands.
Some died in running battles through Serb-held territory, but most arrived in Tuzla starting a week later.
And many were armed because Serbs also died (hundreds in one major battle) in the fights between the Srebrenica Muslim soldiers as they were going to Tuzla and the Serbs, no doubt shocked to see these large groups of men inside their territory.
Thank you for the very detailed comment – I only wished you had not stated that I was continuing with “propaganda and lies against Serbs”. There WAS a mass killing of men and boys at Srebrenica (which is well documented. But not the 8000 figure which is listed everywhere) and the Serbs WERE in Sarajevo for 4 years and did terrorize the local population. I don’t know if there is anything else I wrote that could be construed as “propaganda and lies”. I intentionally didn’t go into specifics because then it starts a whole argument about who did what to who and it never ends…
But other than that you’ve made very good points and I believe you. I know the Serbs have often been on the wrong side of ethnic cleansing in the past and doing some reading for this post I saw that many countries were against the bombing of Belgrade (including our famous Canadian general Lewis Mackenzie). Although a NATO bombing this was pushed through by the US at the time. And I know many scholars (including some Jews very familiar with the term) didn’t agree with the term ‘genocide’ when describing Srebrenica. Yes, the West probably picked a side – based on geopolitics – and it probably wasn’t fair.
It was war and people/governments do anything they can. I’m sure the Bosnians did some of the exact things you state above. But the Serbs weren’t wallflowers either…and in the end, fair or not, history is written by the victors.
This is a travel blog and I try to stick to travel but sometimes you can’t write about a place without mentioning history, especially recent history. I don’t want this post to become a political discussion or a forum for people spouting hate (which is not the case with your comment but I’ve had in the past with other posts on the Balkans). But I appreciate your input – you obviously know your facts.
First, inform yourself better. Mass murders have occurred, but first around Srebrenica when the Muslim forces slaughtered in several times, about 2500 Serbian civilians, women and children. This is the Western media, of course, did not say to you – and knowing the mentality of Western man – If CNN does not publish this never happened. After that, the Serbs committed crimes against captured Muslim soldiers (soldiers, not civilians) and shooting (shooting, not torture, cutting heads, eyes digging to children and women, etc.), 2000-3000 prisoners. Each number over this is propaganda and then served for the NATO attack on Serbian positions, and today serves as a justification Muslims to ethnically cleansed Serbs of Sarajevo and other cities. Before the war, in Sarajevo was not the burqa, hijab, etc. It is now flooded with that. You wil realize that at the moment when thay start from Bosnia to sow death among your citizens… Oh wait, they’re already doing this… So, turn off the TV and do the first step towards the truth … you are the first step already crossed, and we are glad.
This is one of those posts where you can’t make anyone happy – you’d be surprised by the number of Albanians I’ve had to block on facebook because of offensive comments. And then I get comments like yours from the other side. Oh, I love the Balkans 🙂
It’s not a political post, it’s a travel blog and I’ve touched – only touched – on politics. And I’m informed (I don’t watch CNN, I’m not American) and have read the allegations you speak of. All the numbers are disputed, on both sides, so even if this was a political post I wouldn’t be publishing numbers. I think there’s a lot of misinformation on both sides.
As I say, hard to make anyone happy when writing about history in the Balkans.
Thank you for taking the time to comment.
I am glad you enjoyed your time in Belgrade. We (Serbs) are often perceived as bad boys. Perhaps that is reason why we try to be so kind to foreigners. With all due respect, I think that Westerns (and probably ”Easterns” also) can’t understand relations in the Balkans. I do believe that Serbs are betrayed by many former western allies, but you have probably heard enough of it. Instead of starting various endless political arguments, I would rather give you an example of how complicated relations between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks are.
Example: Have you heard of Ivo Andrić? He was the famous Yugoslav writer and the only Yugoslav Nobel Prize winner. He was born in Travnik (1892), Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Bosnia, name and religion determines your nationality. There are people whose surname is Andrić or Filipović or Kovačević and that doesn’t mean almost anything. They could be Serbs, Bosniaks or Croats, you never know that. However, Ivo Andrić was born in Catholic family and his name is pretty much Croatian, i.e. he was born and raised as a Croat. But, during his youth, he started to declare himself as a Serb (it is not clear why he ‘changed’ his nationality; some people think that he did it because he was inspired by the fact that Serbia was a ‘Piedmont of Yugoslavia’, i.e. the country which planned to liberate other South Slavs (Croats and Slovenes) and to form a Yugoslavia (literally South Slavia)). Moreover, his main novels are mostly about Bosnian Muslims. This is a (quite short) story about one man. Can you imagine how complicated things are between three nations which can perfectly understand each other, which formed not one, but two Yugoslavias? Did you know that, during the WWII there were several various political and military movements – Partisans (communists; Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Slovenes, etc.), Chetniks (Yugoslav/Serb nationalists – mainly Serbs, but also a small number of Slovenes and Muslims), Ustaše (Croatian fascists – Croats and small number of Muslims), Nedićevci (Collaborators in occupied Serbia – Serbs)…? Did you know that official languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, but that ALL people speak the same language? I recommend you to read Andrić’s ”Na Drini ćuprija” (Bridge over the Drina river). It will be useful for understand relations in Bosnia, but also Serbia and Croatia (or just put politics aside and enjoy trips 🙂 ).
I strongly recommend you to visit Belgrade in May or June. Belgrade is pretty dirty and grey during the winter and that fact probably caused your belief that city is poor (you could say that I am biased, but I don’t really think that Belgrade is poorer than Zagreb and maybe even Budapest; Belgrade has been destroyed so many times in its long history (four times bombed in three different wars during 20th century), so strategic plans of constructing were impossible).
If you visit Serbia again, here are some recommendations: Drina river, Uvac river, Sombor (city), Novi Sad (city), Niš (city; you can find famous scull tower there, google it), Studenica (monastery), Žiča (monastery)…
Thank you for reading this,
Thank you so much Petar for this comment…very very helpful and I appreciate it.
I’m actually reading “Bridge over the Drina River” right now. You are right it’s complicated. And I couldn’t help shake my head over Nikola Tesla who is Serb…but after leaving Belgrade we arrived in Zagreb where we saw a statue of Nikola Tesla who was born “in Croatia”. Everyone wants to claim these heroes. We saw the same in Macedonia when the Macedonians and Greeks fight about their historical figures. And you’ve explained it perfectly including some details I wasn’t aware of. It’s hard for people outside the Balkans to understand how interwoven all the people in the region are. I’ve got Croatian friends and they all have family and friends scattered in Bosnia and Serbia. I guess that’s normal…
Again, thank you for your comment as well as your recommendations. Very kind of you.
I posted a reply, but it seems that my net or this site broke down for a moment.
First of all, you are welcome!
Tesla is Serb, born in Lika (region in Croatia, beautiful (nothing strange for Croatia, huh) and poor; a lot of Serbs lived there until the war). There are several schools in both Serbia and Croatia (probably in Bosnia and Herzegovina or at least in Republika Srpska entity) which are named after him. The airport in Belgrade is called ‘Nikola Tesla’. He visited Belgrade only once, I think. However, his urn is in Belgrade. It was located in Nikola Tesla museum in Krunska street (I hope you visited it, one of my favorite streets and one of my favorite museums), but recently they have moved it to Saint Sava Cathedral. Speaking of Saint Sava Cathedral, you had an opportunity to see that it is unfinished inside. However, there are two underground floors; those floors are used as museum or gallery, I think. It is true that everyone wants to claim these heroes. There are many ‘disputed’ ones. E.g. Rudjer Bošković or Meša Selimović.
Macedonians are trying to form their identity. If you exclude Alexander the Great, Macedonia didn’t existed until 1991. Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks and from recent times Albanians have claim there. The first Serbian emperor Dušan was crowned in Skopje. Their language is mixture of Serbian and Bulgarian. We can understand each other, but hardly. They are small and poor nation, but obviously very brave and proud. However, I don’t think they are right about Alexander the Great. For god sake, he spoke Greek language. His name is Greek. (Macedonians would kill me if they hear this lol).
I am ready to share my thoughts on Balkans if you want. I typed my email in the box. Write me if you want. I will try to be objective as much as possible. It’s not always easy, especially when you have to admit that your people had done something bad. All Balkan nations have problem with that, you can be absolutely sure about that.
Thank you Petar for all the information!
Thank you for presenting Belgrade in a good and realistic manner.I am Serbian born who live in Canada for the last 11 years.I have a lot of Canadian friends who are interested to see Belgrade.
This is a very good material,and hopefully will attract some other people to visit my country.
I also feel Canada as my second home.
My daughter was born in Toronto..so I really have sympathies for both countries.
Also I truly understand your impression about the grayish buildings…but I am glad that you really enjoyed.
My advice to you..visit the Belgrade in summer time..you will feel the energy.
I wish you all the best.Alex.
Thanks Alex, I think there are a lot of Balkan people spread out all over Canada. Just last week met a Croatian with family in Vancouver.
Yes, we will come back in the summer, I am sure it must be an exciting city.
Thank you for the kind words.
If you wished not to get this soirt of comments, you should not have named your article “bad boys” of the Balkans and you should not have prefaced it by not only speaking right away about “muh Muslim victims” but even going all the way into emotionally manipulative territory as to use expressions such as “will not be foirgiven”. By who? Whom? Are you a proponent of a notion of some collective guilt? And even if you are, do you really want to go there? If we are to go by that logic, what happened in the 90s amounts to merely a fraction of what happened previously and has directly influenced said conflict. So who, then, here, has anything to “forgive” and whom? Now, had you not used that expression in the first place, there would not be someone like me bothering to challenge it.
In your own statements and expressions, you have called for “” controversial”” responses and should not be surprised by them or even bother trying to subdue them, it is mere causality, you reap what you sow.
And yes, it is, indeed, possible to preface an article about a country without going on about ‘muh Sarajevo’ or any equivalent of it and without basically throwing dirt at it from the very beginning (even the title).
You wouldn’t begin an article about the US by referencing the Iraq war or Vietnam, would you? And none of that “you cannot” argument.”One who wants, finds as way, one who does not, finds a ‘reason’ (=excuse)”, as we say. Regardless of what you wrote afterwards, it is the first impression that is the most significant.
And it is as shame since the rest of the post is decent, albeit “predictasbly western” infused with misunderstandings and ‘alien’ perceptions of the world and society. But still could have been decent, but instead it gets ruined from the very first paragraph.
Furthermore, it has come to the point that all these “references” such as the ones found at the start of this and thousands of similar articles do not even look like historical references but plain old whining and virtue signalling.
And it is getting really, really tiring.
For the record, this is from someone who used to enjoy reading about people’s experiences in our country and who was happy to see that they liked it, even if their attitudes masy have been flawed. Oh how years go by and we become bitter and jaded…
Allow me to illustrate to you what most posts from foreigners who “loved so much their experiences with not-evil-just-misunderstood Hollywood villains called Serbs” look like these days:
1. ~Today we’ll be talking about Serbia, BUT FIRST, let me tell you how poor and oppressed Muslims are! Where do I collect my social justice activist prize? I am an activist for social justice now, right?~
2. ~Today we’ll be talking about Serbia. Did you know, they are so poor! I feel so sorry for them! My pity! Do I get my big humanitarian bragging rights already or should I donate to some international pyramid sch… Umm I mean charity?~
3. ~Today we’ll be talking about Serbia! So sad that they arr still *names cultural traits which are different from us* but there is improvement! There is already more *names examples of how wee want everyone to be like us*. I am sure soon they will stop being their own people and bend over to our will because after all, only the wsy we do things is accepotable and permittable.~
Yes I am oversimplifying, but you get the idea.
Wow. Where to start with a comment like this.
Your issues seem to be with the 1st paragraph so I’ll address that.
When I write about somewhere new I will often start with general perceptions about a place and through the article I’ll address them/debunk them with references to our own experiences. I could just as well have said replaced Serbia with Germany by the way – I know people who still will not visit Germany 73 years after the end of WWII. That might sound ridiculous but people do have ideas about places and stereotypes die hard. So when I refer to events in that first paragraph, I’m talking about perceptions in the west as portrayed in the mass media. It might not be ‘the’ truth, or your truth, but that is the perception of Serbia among many in the west. And as I say, I’m prefacing the post with these generally held perceptions. Maybe you’re thinking these are my opinions? I don’t know.
But while I’m at it:
– “bad boys of the Balkans”. Look it up on the internet. I borrowed the phrase, I didn’t invent it. Again, I’m not saying that Serbians are actually the bad boys of the Balkans, I’m saying that is the perception.
– Nowhere do I say “Muslim victims”. In that paragraph I refer to a specific, factual, historical event. I didn’t refer to the number that died because that is contentious, nor did I call it a genocide as many in the world community have called it. I was intentionally not being judgmental or emotional about the event. Again, I stated it because it is a historical event that has shaped the perception of Serbia in the eyes of many.
In fact, I deliberately stayed as objective in voice as possible in this post because this was a travel post, not a post on politics. I of course mention some background because you can’t write about a place without some history. But this was not one of those. Honestly, if you can get that excited about a post based on that paragraph I think that says quite a lot about you. It is why I enjoy these posts on the Balkans: I’ll get a lot of great feedback, but I’ll ask get a lot of people who have a huge chip on their shoulder and just need a word or misplaced comma to get upset. And it’s not because you’re Serbian, I’ve had the same from Croatians, Macedonians and Greeks (have a look at my post on Skopje if you want to see people bickering about the stupidest things).
I always appreciate comments and I don’t have issues with different opinions. I only ask that people are civil and that they write their points in a logical, understandable manner. In your case I’m sorry, you kind of lost me after the first paragraph. And again, I look at that post (which is almost as non-partisan, non-political as possible when writing about Serbia) and wonder what I could have possibly written to send you on such a bender.
Now, if you really want to get excited, read this post entitled A Visit to Sarajevo. A Microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the Balkans. But have a couple of drinks first, or something stronger, before you do. I wouldn’t want you popping any more brain cells.
Sarajevo was a DIVIDED city, and the Serbs controlled (and lived in) parts of it, including the suburbs. These Serbian-held parts ended up the most damaged by the war’s end.
The Muslim forces outnumbered Serbs and their President Alija Izetbegovic was going out of his way from the very start to bring in a western intervention – including claiming it was being shelled/bombed when it wasn’t or was relatively quiet.
Even UNPROFOR (UN command) in Sarajevo mentioned how he did not want peace and was willing to sacrifice his people to bring about an intervention.
The UN was living in Sarajevo for the ENTIRE war (and even arrived before it started). They had several permanent contingents are were fully able to rotate, feed, and fuel their personnel amidst the so-called “siege”.
You seem not to realize that ethic Serbs were a large part of Sarajevo’s population before the war but are mostly gone know, while the Muslim population is even GREATER than before the war.
So the ethnic Serbs were disappearing from Sarajevo the whole time the west was screaming about Serbs.
Sarajevo Serbs were being DECAPITATED and thrown into a gorge (called Kazani) in the Sarajevo area by the commander of the 10th Mountain Brigade and his men.
UN officers did witness that the Bosnian Muslim (government) forces did stage attacks and mortar their own people.
Also, British politician, Lord Owen, witnessed this during his tour of Sarajevo.
He went in angry at and blaming the Serbs, but after being there and touring it (and being witness to a bunch of staged attacks, after which, the Muslims would run up to him and say “Serbs do this everyday” – yet he and the UN soldiers escorting him spotted Bosnian soldiers atop the hospital removing their equipment, where they had been provoking the Serbs just before his plane arrived, and many other similar, including an attack across the street from him, which killed civilians, timed to when he was getting out of his vehicle. Only he HEARD the LAUNCHING of that mortar and realized it was from quite close (less than 200 meters) and knew this was firmly in control of the Bosniak forces.
So yes, they DID kill their own civilians within their own lines.
Also, it was the government forces which blockaded the roads and wouldn’t allow people to leave without their permission. The Serb-controlled parts of Sarajevo didn’t keep people from leaving.
That is why the international community had to pressure the Bosniak government to allow the buses of Jews leaving Sarajevo at the beginning of the war. It was the Bosniak forces who were holding them back and controlling the “gates” to who got in and out.
Also, the Bosnian government was withholding the UN food from the civilians and warehousing it. This is in UN reports and was brought up at the ICTY. The UN witness said that despite more convoys of food sent to Sarajevo, it wasn’t getting to the civilians – but was diverted to the military or ending up on the black market. But around 60% was not being distributed at all.
The Bosnian government was going out of its way in Sarajevo to make things WORSE for the civilians in order to sell the war.
Thanks JJ, I’m not going to argue with you about these things as I’m sure they happened along with many other atrocities during the war. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
William van Praagh
Great article i have been here for 6 months,just love it.
6 months, really!! Then you should be writing this post, I’m sure you must really know the city inside out by now. Glad to hear you love it. If ever you have a chance, feel free to expand on that, would be interested in why you’re there and what you enjoy so much about the city.
What an interesting city.Just roaming around exploring is one om favourite ways to get to know a place too. Such an amazing variety of images you’ve shared…the mulled wine got my attention!!
Thanks Jane – yes, it is interesting city. Might not be the most beautiful place but it has a lot of character.
Nothing better than mulled wine when it’s cold out!