Our stop in Belgrade, Serbia was not planned. We just happened to find a train going there, decided to stay a night, then take another train to Slovenia. We were all extremely keen to explore and make the most of our short Serbian adventure.
We had barely left the train station, walking the 3km to our apartment when it started bucketing down. Totally drenched, we at last came to an old apartment block. The foyer door was open and even though it was dark and dirty inside, we went in and sat on the stairs. A minute later, Nikola, our very friendly host came down to welcome us to a warm, clean, neat and perfectly equipped little apartment. We were very apologetic for being so late, but he answered casually that he saw that the train was late on the internet, and that this is Serbia! I didn’t quite know whether that meant the trains in Serbia are always late or if it meant something else.
It was too late for dinner and the only priority was to get to bed. It was such a relief to crawl into a clean, soft, comfortable and big bed.
The next morning, we woke up to the rain’s soft tapping on the roof. Despite this we made our way towards the Independence Square where we would start our customary “free walking tour”.
The tour turned out to be excellent. Although the few sights of Belgrade are not very interesting, Bonja, our amazing tour guide made them come alive with meaning and colour.
Belgrade has gone through a number of very severe wars. At some apartment blocks, the obvious damage of recent bombings is clearly visible. Unlike many other cities and towns we have visited, Belgrade does not have a specific or unique style. It is a mish-mash of old, new and in between.
There was one particular area that was really special. It was kind of a preserved area and had old bars, pubs and traditional kafanas (coffee bar). Every morning, locals come here to have their strong cup of ‘kafa’, a traditional Turkish style coffee to start the day. It is a colourful, unique and interesting strip that attempts to brighten up the grey and mostly miserable war remains of the city. Being the photographer that day, I could simply not take enough photos!
Halfway through the tour, the gentle drops turned into full scale rain. We were all soaked to the bone. Everyone else in our group was equipped and prepared with umbrellas and rain jackets, however, our family was totally exposed to the elements. Well, not everyone. In my little “survival day pack” (that was now drenched) I had everything I needed for any situation or disaster. For this wet scenario, I had my trusty poncho with me. Mum had only her singlet and shorts on, and it looked like she was freezing. I offered the poncho to her. She very gratefully accepted it from me, and quickly slipped it on.
The last five minutes of the two hour tour was simply unpleasant. All of us were cold, hungry and tired. We would run to measly little sheltered spots each time Bonja would stop to explain or talk about something. I craved (and could almost taste in my mouth) a delicious warm bowl of spaghetti bolognese. When the tour ended, we quickly set off, running in the rain to our apartment. Not long after, we were sitting at our little kitchen, wolfing down the warm toasted ham and cheese sandwiches which mum had made for us.
We had the option to stay longer in Belgrade, or take the day or night train today to Slovenia. Nobody volunteered for the overnight train as we have had sleepless nights on trains before. However, after some research we saw that the night train was the more practical option.
At around 3pm, we decided to pack up our belongings, then headed towards the train station. We were also looking for a nice place to have a late afternoon dinner on the way. It seemed like hours before we found the perfect place, after nearly breaking our backs with our heavy backpacks. The food was great, but what really made it a memorable and special experience was the conversations we had. I will never forget our one and only dinner in Belgrade, Serbia.
At one stage, Ruzow casually asked Mum the time. She looked at her watch, then in shock she said: ‘It’s half past eight!’ The next ten minutes was a flurry of flinging the bags onto our shoulders, then racing to the train station while still trying to inhale the last of our meal and Belgrade. We got to the train station with only a few minutes to spare.
We were all surprised when clean bedding arrived in plastic bags and stunned when we received the ice cold water bottles. We just laughed when the chocolate croissant were delivered. Five star!
Within minutes, we felt the jolt and slowly the sights of Belgrade started disappearing in the distance. Mum and I looked at each other with a sigh of relief. If we had arrived at the train station five minutes later than we did, we would’ve missed our train. Thank you Ruzow for saving the day!
Ruzow and Dad shared the compartment next to us with a lovely young Irish couple. We could hear their faint laughter and chatting. Our carriage, with Eulain and Esto on the top bunks, quickly fell silent in sleep. I must admit, I have never slept well on a train before, but this time, I had a restful night. I only woke up when Dad came into the compartment and told us that this was our stop. I was still half asleep when rushed off the train, grabbing all our things hastily. We aimed for a bathroom to freshen up, then found a nice place to have muesli and yoghurt for breakfast.
Our adventure in stunning Slovenia has started.
Until next time,