So with a farewell to our good friends Peti, Evi and Bensi in Budapest (and leaving a little bit of Frank behind as well) we headed south to territories uncharted by ourselves, and Peti was correct with his description. It was flat. Very flat. Flat, flat and a little more flat across the plains of Hungary towards Serbia. We crossed the border with minimal hassle and were in the first new country that Julie and Rob had visited for close to 2 years (since Greece with our friend Michail). New language, new food, new culture, new drinks, new music… very exciting. But still very flat. We drove for over 3 hours with a very large horizon, until we saw a small range of hills in the distance. We were planning to stop at Novi Sad due to Rob wanting to go to the Exit music festival for quite sometime, but not quite finding the holidays to be able to make the adventure through to Serbia. The plan was to stop in get a quick Serbian meal and then head onto Belgrade. It didn’t quite go to plan as Novi Sad is a big city and as all the really nice looking places that we passed and went to check out for food, happened to be selling all kinds of western dishes. Spanish and Italian were the main ones, and it seems that Serbians have a big love for pizza and tapas. After quite a bit of walking through the central district we finally found authentic Serbian restaurant and we settled down to some pork neck in Novi Sad style marinade (possibly just salt) and lamb meat and liver wrapped in tripe (or wipe as the menu said) cooked in milk and eggs… Both were very edible and the beer went down easily. After a lot of flat driving and skipping past pizza places it was good food.
And then onto Belgrade, however, not quite as we planned. We followed signs out of Novi Sad only to realise it wasn’t taking us onto the main motorway but through the little foothills around the city. These were filled with small winding roads, tractors, wineries and little goat herders. Much more interesting than the big skies of the plains.
We arrived in Belgrade and greeted by a large concrete tower block on the freeway that bisects the city and found our exit and the hostel quite easily. We had found that Belgrade had an “In Your Pocket” guide, which we highly recommend for any of the cities covered by it. Julie had already pinpointed a Serbian restaurant for dinner, except it happened to be about an hour walk from the hostel, out into the suburbs. As we had been sitting all day in the car, this wasn’t so much of a problem, so we set out with our little map in the direction of dinner. It was a very nice walk through the city and out into the Belgrade burbs as the sun set. We finally found our street and wandered back and forth only to find that the restaurant wasn’t open (although it was meant to be according to our In Your Pocket guide…). This was about 9pm now, and we hadn’t past anything else on the way that looked like hearty Serbian food so we headed back into town. Finally at about 10.30pm we spied a restaurant up a little street and wandered up to see if it was Serbian food. Our tummies were protesting and as we looked in the window and there was a live band playing with double bass, guitar and what we found out later was a traditional Serbian guitar. We asked if they were serving food, expecting to sit down in with the musicians and enjoy their music only to be shepherded into the restaurant section which was completely empty, but very cute. Hunger was the driver now, so we opted to eat and then have a drink after in the bar with the musicians. The food was certainly Serbian and Julie ordered fried trout with a tasty potato and possibly spinach dish whilst Rob ordered a schnitzel that was rolled, filled with a Serbian speciality sour cream and fried, along with our favourite Shopska salad (variations on tomato, cucumber and grated sheep cheese) that we had discovered in Bulgaria a few years previously. We also ordered some Serbian red wine. We hadn’t appreciated Serbia would produce it’s own wine, and it tasted fantastic.
The food arrived and we started eating. The food was very tasty. The rolled schnitzel was longer than the plate. And then suddenly the band appeared behind us. It could have been very cheesy but wasn’t at all. The 3 piece that was in the bar was joined by another two traditional Serbian guitarists. While we ate, the played a large variety of traditional music for over 20 minutes. Just to us. It was great. After dinner went back to the bar to join the musicians and ended up chatting with them about local events and drinking their local rakyja (strong distilled fruit alcohol).
The next day we were pinching ourselves over how lucky the night had played out. But little did we know our luck was going to continue. We explored our local area in the morning checking out the local markets with amazing fruit and vegetable. We bought half a kilo of strawberries (40 euro cents) and half kilo of cherries (€1.50) and went to the local park and ate our tasty breakfast. The aim was to meet a guide at 3pm who was going to take us on a “Mysterious Free Tour” of Belgrade.
We met our guide Dusko (u with a little upside down hat on it, that Rob can’t find on the keyboard) who then gave us an amazing walking tour to take in the history of Serbia and Belgrade. We were the only 2 people who turned up for the tour, but Dusko was a fantastic host answering all our questions and giving us interesting facts the whole walk. It is really scary how recent the wars were in the former Yugoslavian countries, and that it had been going on for centuries as many of the large powers came through these areas and claimed Serbia for themselves and in doing so destroyed a lot of the buildings, culture and in the process history to stamp their name on the land. Even with the sometimes dark pasts of Belgrage and Serbia, Dusko was able to keep the conversation and tour light and funny whilst giving a local insight to the present.
At the end of the walk we offered to take him for a drink as thanks. He took us to this fantastic bar that was in the courtyard of a big block of flats that would never be found by passing tourists (a name translating to mouth to mouth which is a cheeky way of saying you would only hear about it from someone else). One drink became two and before you knew it we were back on our feet continuing with an unofficial tour. We went out to the suburbs and met up with some of Dusko’s friends, had what we describe as a burger that is in the top 3 of all time (called Serbo Burger – veal and pork mince with herbs, cooked over flamed barbecue, lettuce, onion, tomato and some amazing sauces with lots of garlic and chilli), we then bought some roadies and continued our night tour through the Belgrade Fort (which as one of the legacies to the Soviet era is open for free to the public like many of their museums and galleries). It was one of those magical nights filled with lots of giggles and amazing views and eerie lighting.