Prague and Budapest were perfect stepping stones on our journey to the less traveled parts of Eastern Europe that include Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.
As we left Budapest for Belgrade, the capital of Serbia I wondered if this time we would begin to leave creature comforts behind. Serbia certainly isn't a third world country, but it is definitely off the tourist path and has some unique challenges as it tries to balance a historical attachment to Russia and the present-day desire to be a part of the West and the EU. Serbia earned its reputation of being the neighborhood bully while Yugoslavia fell apart after the death of their founder Josip Tito in 1980. We wanted to visit Serbia, the supposed instigator behind the conflict in two recent wars, as well as visit the "breakaway" republic of Kosovo.
Last year we spent time in three of the former Yugoslavian republics of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina so we were familiar with this part of Europe and it's past. WWI and WWII took place before we were born but the Bosnian War (1992-95) and the Kosovo War (1998-99) are painfully recent. Last year while in Sarajevo we learned in-depth about what happened during the Srebrenica massacre and the Siege of Sarajevo. We wanted to learn more by visiting "the other side" and the home of the infamous war criminal, Slobodan Milošević. We both were moved by the book The Cellist of Serajevo.
|Belgrade is a beautiful city full of surprises|
|Just off the train in Belgrade.|
We had an eight hour ride ahead of us, so we certainly had time to recover. And at least three of those hours were spent chugging along at about 15 miles an hour because apparently train tracks in Serbia cannot handle fast speeds. There wasn't a dining car on this journey which seemed crazy for such a long distance - there wasn't even a tea trolley. Thankfully, I had a few snacks and water tucked away for situations like this. Once a mom, always a mom.
|Gummy Bears and peanuts continue to be staples in our emergency snack bag.|
|Choose your taxi drivers carefully in Belgrade. These fellows assured us this was non-alcoholic beer. Really?|
|The destruction from bombing in the nineties was widespread in both residential and commercial areas.|
|These very welcoming utility boxes sat outside our front door.|
|Our balcony facing the park.|
|The Belgrade Fortress with stones dating back to the 2nd century.|
|My favorite spot in the morning - bench in the park overlooking the river.|
|Street art abounded in Belgrade. These red umbrellas danced across a little side street.|
|Grilled meat is a staple of the Serbian diet. Here's just one of many fast food kiosks.|
|Just one of a dozen robots made from salvage that stood tall on the main street.|
|Our walking tour guide Jovana. She was so proud of her city and very knowledgeable.|
|Final resting place for Tito. Love him or hate him.|
|The lovely neighborhood of Skandanska.|
|I had a haircut that cost 15,000 dinar (about 17 US dollars) It could have easily cost billion dinar a few years ago!|
Earlier in the week we trekked through some grimy parts of Belgrade to the equally grimy bus station to buy tickets to Pristina, Kosovo's capital city. We'd learned our lesson about Serbian trains and there wasn't any straight forward service to Kosovo, so it bus by default. In the past we have enjoyed bus travel, so we thought it would be okay. The weather was hot and sticky and nothing was coming easy to us Nomads (including my MacBook Air deciding it would no longer provide sound). We'd meant to scope out the buses before buying tickets, but we'd spend a good deal of time with an Apple tech with no results other than a good cleaning and reboot of my system. We were tired and grumpy. There were challenges to buying tickets and after a lot of hard work, we discovered we'd bought them for the wrong day, so we had to get back in line and replace them. Should have noted that the journey was now longer (a grueling 8 hours) and had a dozen stops along the way.
|The rattling city buses were in very poor condition.|
The two most startled faces on the scene were mine when I realized we would be traveling in this rattle-trap and the driver's when he saw the size of our suitcases. Somehow the bags were crammed in the back and we were crammed in the last two remaining seats.
People got on and got off regularly along the way. Sometimes we picked up passengers from the side of the road (seemed to be the polite thing to do) and they stood in the aisle for a ride to the next stop.
There were three children in the van that were so well behaved, you wouldn't have known they were the winding roads made one of them sick. Lovely!
|Our ride to Kosovo. I wish you could see the 80's carpeting that lined the interior.|
|On the road. Every seat full and every disco song you've ever loved on the radio.|
|Pit stop in the rain about half-way to Pristina.|
|The press conference for the joint efforts between Kosovo and the U.N. to register their diaspora.|
|Michael having a great conversation with Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga|
|The Senior Nomads with the president and the Minister of Culture, who is obviously wondering "who are these people?"|
|The flags of nations flying in front of the hotel near our apartment.|
Thanks for following along!
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads