The train ride here was a life test.
I generally find that the longer your trip- albeit on a bus, train or airplane, your propensity for wanting to kill someone goes up exponentially as time marches on. Leaving the city of ‘Bar’ on coastal Montenegro at 9:00 am on the local train started as a Bordain or Brysonesque affair, but as the hours marched on, we got more squeamish and impatient. This happens on a long plane ride across the pacific too; the first hour or two are filled with excitement and longing but by the 8th and 10th hour (3rd or 4th movie in), you’re ready to throw up or commit hari-kari.
Don’t get me wrong, the morning of chugging through the Balkan mountain range was breathtaking. We brought some salami, crackers and cheese and nibbled on them the whole way through. At 4:00 pm however, the train came to one of its many stops, and didn’t go anywhere for 45 minutes until we took notice. The air conditioning died and passengers amassed on the platform to keep cool, have a smoke break, drink cold beer and to circulate boozy information. I don’t know if it was the tiredness of being on a train for almost 8 hours, but the conversations sounded comically asinine:
“The engine is dead.” One passenger said.
“Yes, the workers said that they are changing the engine.” said another.
“The engine that was pulling the train?” One asked.
“Yes, that one.” Replied another.
Sure enough, our old engine had been detached and taken out of sight, like a relieved baseball pitcher, while it’s younger looking replacement was brought in to finish the game. The passengers were assured that the conductor would drop the hammer and cut our remaining 4 hours down to 3 to get us into Belgrade by 9:00 pm. By the time we arrived at 9:30, anything that anyone said to me sounded reasonable. I had no local currency (Serbian Dinars), nor knew the local exchange rate, and was not in the mood to negotiate further than anything to get our family to our hotel for the night as soon as possible.
“You have a meter taxi, right?” I asked the taxi driver.
“Yes, no problem, meter.” He replied.
When he hit me with the butchers bill upon arrival with the local currency, I didn’t bat an eye, or offer much of an argument.
“Will you take euros?” I asked. “How much?”
“8 kilometers…..that’s about….30 euros“.
“Here you go.” I said handing him the money not even questioning the number on the meter.
Belgrade: An Old Capital for New Times
At the confluence of the great Danube and Sava rivers sits Belgrade, one of the oldest cities in Europe. If you listen closely, you just might hear the crumbling buildings whisper tales about the tumultuous history of this bohemian city. Immediately after arriving, you catch glimpses of its checkered past. It’s covered in graffiti. Abandoned buildings are everywhere. Things are dirt cheap. We staggered, zombie-like, into a restaurant around the corner from our hotel upon on arrival and before the waitress could even finish telling me about the local dishes, I interrupted her spiel and said “I’ll take it.” pointing at a menu item. Ava fell asleep on the table midway through dinner and I got the check for 3 entrees and three beers. 22 euros. Cheap.
The next morning we checked into the Hilton Belgrade for the remainder of our stay. I’ve written about this hotel loyalty program of ours before, but this check-in took the cake. With our diamond status, they upgraded us to a two bedroom, two bathroom suite with complimentary executive lounge access that served as our free dinner during the second night. The gym was one of the best I’ve seen and the spa had a Turkish hamam, jacuzzi, and sauna. Even when you’re a long term budget traveller, it’s nice to get pampered every once in a while.
Top Things to Do in Belgrade
- Belgrade Fortress – This fortress sits on a ridge where the two great rivers meet and used to contain the entire city for over 2000 years. Now kids and families walk around the walls and ramparts, using the angled aeroslits as a place to play hide and seek, where young Ottomans once stood to protect their precious lands. The ruins range from Roman to medieval, and every nook and cranny is filled with history. With street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs, there is enough to keep a family busy for the day.
- Church of Saint Sava – Against the backdrop of the cerulean sky sits the shiny white marble stones of the Church of Saint Sava, the largest Othodox church in the balkans., The cross that sits at the top of the enormous central dome is central beacon not for the devoted, but for the entire city. It is currently still under construction, however beneath the heavy floors the gilded ceilings of the enormous crypt serves as a cool respite from the hot summer sun.
- Knez Mihailova Pedestrian Street – Iron gas lights line the streets, music echos from the city’s bohemian troubadours, cafes spill onto the cobbled streets and vestiges of the new shiny glass storefronts and old neoclassical mansions meet on the street corners. Lined with upmarket boutiques and restaurants, this pedestrian street is a lovely place to stroll, sit and relax your feet after a tour around the city.
- Nikola Tesla Museum – This museum is a collection of artifacts and reproductions of Tesla’s inventions. There are tours given on the hour and demonstrations of the copper Tesla coils are the highlight. Ava had the electrifying experience to hold on to a light bulb as the free ions filled the air and her body acted as a conductor and lit up the bulb.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Book Review
Since Ava finished her first book of the summer: ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing‘, we decided to do a video short highlighting important passages, text based evidence, inferences and summarizing key details on our last night in Belgrade. I taught Ava how to use ‘iMovie’ and we recorded 4 videos through the webcam addressing document based questions that related to standards in this literature study.
We used a google drawing as a graphic organizer to organize her thoughts before the recordings and went through her readers notebook to make her summaries more succinct. The only ‘cool’ feedback I gave in my evaluation of her work was to bolster transitions more for her audience as she tends to jump from detail to detail in her summarizing without much contextual reference or segues which may be confusing to the listener/reader.
She is only 9 after all.