This is the last post about my fall break trip! And just in time for me to head off to Dresden, Germany tomorrow with CHP for a quick day trip I promise, I do actually spend time in Prague and it is more than just a home base and place to do my laundry (not that I am ever all that good at remembering to do my laundry…) The title of this post translates to “Serbia” and is in Czech. I just still find the lack of vowels to be entertaining. I mean, really, 5 consonants in a row?!
Getting from Zagreb to Belgrade, Serbia was by far the most stressful travel experience that I have ever and probably will ever have. Ever. We were waiting at the train platform for our train to come, fully expecting it to stop. Mistake number one. The train slowed in front of us, and people began jumping onto the moving train. Gavin had decided to leave us and head to Vienna, so at this point, it was just Rosie, Jonathan, and myself, and we all looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to jump onto the moving train too. (Please keep in mind that I have a hurt ankle still at this point and an inconvenient-for-jumping-onto-crowded-moving-transportation duffel bag.) When we got on the train, every little compartment was filled and we realized, in absolute dismay, that we were going to have to stand all the way to Serbia (that’s 6 hours). Thankfully, someone told us that there was another car with open seats, so with elbows out, we made our way there. This car was also really full, but we managed to find 3 adjacent compartments, each with one seat open – at least we weren’t going to have to stand. When the conductor came to tear my ticket, he told me that this compartment wasn’t going to Serbia – that only the first 4 cars go there and that I need to make it there by 8:30. Even though that is 2 hours away, I immediately begin to panic and can no longer focus on my book. The conductor also conveniently doesn’t mention any of this to Rosie and Jonathan, so I have to convince them that this is in fact true. Around 8, I gather the two of them and we start to trek (yes, actually, literally trek) to the first four cars. Here’s the catch though: none of the cars are labeled and no one speaks English. And because we clearly look American, no one wants to help us or move out of the way. I am still convinced that I bruised a few toes and a few kidneys on my way to the front of the train. Sorry, fellow travelers! We finally make it to what we think is the right place, and we say to someone, “is this car going to Serbia?” and they say, “yes!” and we begin to relax even though we again have to stand. But the woman behind us says something to someone in another language, and all of a sudden we are being brought by the nicest man to an even further car and after he confers with a conductor, puts us in some really comfy seats. Phew. We are in fact going to make it to Serbia.
Our train was supposed to get in at 11:40 at night, so I told our hostel that we were going to get there around midnight. Our train got in a little bit late, so we didn’t end up getting there until about 12:40. The hostel was in this office building (a little weird, but we are seasoned travelers, ready for anything), and you have to be buzzed inside this glass door in the lobby. We push the button and nothing happens. We try to call the phone number that we have for them and the number doesn’t work. As panic sets in, I reach over and manically push every button on the buzzer panel. Someone screams at us over the intercom but buzzes us through – thank god. When we get up into the hostel, there is no one there, so being the logical people that we are, we proceed to go to sleep in the common room. At 3 AM, this guy comes into the common room in his underwear and asks who we are and why we are sleeping in the common room. Finally, he figures out who we are, goes to put some pants on, and then brings us to our room. (Even if we were squatters who weren’t supposed to be there, don’t you think he should have had pants on? I mean, it was a conscious decision to come in there 1/2 naked…) Oh well, all’s well that ends well, I guess.
Belgrade completely exceeded my expectations. I thought that it would look a little bit like Belfast, another city which has been bombed repeatedly until recently, but it didn’t. It had some buildings which were definitely decrepit and run down, but also many buildings which had old-world beauty and charm. (Plus, with an exchange rate of 100 dinar to the dollar, you get to live like a Queen. Not too bad!)
Our first day, we went to go to Kalemegdan Fortress. We got there as the sun was just beginning to set and the lighting was beautiful.
Friday, we had big plans for all of these different things that we wanted to see. The first thing that was the Museum of Yugoslav History. The museum was outside of the inset on our map which had the bus and tram routes, so I guessed which one would be the right bus. Boy did I guess wrong. We ended up well outside of the center of the city on a highway, which we then ended up hiking alongside. Yes, you read that correctly. I hiked alongside a highway in Serbia. But we made it to the museum, finally. The museum had 3 parts and were all loosely about their leader Tito. One building was a collection of his paintings, which, I kid you not, were scotch-taped to the walls. The second building was supposed to be an “anthropological trip around the world” and had dresses and swords and china and other things from all over the place. I am still not sure how that explains Yugoslav history. And then the third building was Tito’s crypt. I wish that more information was presented to us because I really was interested in learning a bit more about Yugoslavia.
Later that afternoon, we went to Zemun, which is a cute town within Belgrade. While there, we climed Gardoš Tower for a better view of the city.
Saturday was perhaps my favorite day of all of Fall Break. We hired a man named Djani from Tourist Information to take us around for a day. He took us to all of these different places that we never could have found on our own. The first stop was also probably my favorite of the day: St. George’s Church. The entire inside of the church is comprised mosaics. 40 million tiles in 15,000 different shades. The church itself was built in 2 years, but the mosaic work took only 7 years!
Just as with the street art pictures, I could post a million pictures of the interior, but I’ll only post a few.
After the church we went to a vineyard and tried some of their wine!
And after the vineyard we went to a monastery which was in the mountains and was beautiful. There are 12 nuns who live there all the time. The church had these beautiful frescos which got destroyed when the roof was removed and melted down for bullets. But the ones that survived were beautiful.
And after the monastery we went caving! It takes 100 years for rocks to grow 1 centimeter – crazy, right?!
Our last activity in in Belgrade was a quick stop at St. Sava’s Cathedral, which is an unfinished cathedral in the center of the city.
You’re almost done guys, I promise! To get home from Belgrade, the only way that we could get home that wasn’t 112 EUR was a 17 hour bus. Yes, you read that correctly. The night before we left, we bought a loaf of bread, some salami, and some cheese and some clementines. Some horrible people in our hostel stole our salami and cheese! So we were stuck with only bread and clementines for 17 hours. It was awful. Our bus made a ton of stops for bathroom breaks, and about an hour in to the bus ride, we realized it would have been faster and probably cheaper if we had just rented a car. Oh well. The craziest part of the trip (I have learned by now that every trip will have some crazy moment, be it having to stand in the aisles of the bus (Cesky Krumlov) or jumping onto a moving train) was when we crossed the border from Serbia into Hungary. As we were approaching the border, someone made a very long announcement in Serbian which we didn’t understand and then passed around a cup to collect money. We didn’t know what it was for, so we all just pretended to be asleep. As we were standing next to our bus, like cattle, waiting to get through the border, a guy on the bus explained to us that they were collecting money to bribe the hungarian border officials to let us through! We actually could not believe that this was a real thing. Needless to say, when we finally, finally, finally made it back to Prague, it was wonderful to feel like we were home again.