The Balkan Barrier
This morning involved another early morning departure (6am), and another long day of bus riding (7 hours). This bus ride was thankfully a little straighter (though still not anywhere near riding on an interstate), and also had fewer stops. Also, thankfully, the sweet hotel staff at Hotel Story packed me a nice lunch to go! The best part of the bus ride came at the very beginning, with the jaw-dropping sunrise that I was able to see. The bus was going through the snow-covered mountains, through these giant, beautiful trees and the sun started to rise and it was truly magic looking! I tried to take some pictures but they just don’t do it justice. It was so great that I was even glad that I had woken up so early if only to see it. And it was completely unexpected, to boot!
I watched a few movies, took a nap, and before I knew it I was in Belgrade, Serbia. I walked from the bus station just down the street to the train station where I bought my ticket for the sleeper train tonight to Montenegro. I wasn’t convinced that they sold me the correct ticket, but I also had made it as clear as I could what I wanted to buy. I decided to go out and see the city and deal with it later as my train was really late and I would have plenty of time then. My next task was to store my luggage which was, of course, much harder than it sounds.
I knew that there were luggage storage facilities, and there were even signs to follow, but they kept taking me to a dead end. I asked multiple people who spoke broken English and they tried to help to no avail. After walking around the train station and its surroundings I finally found it. Literally right outside of the ticket office, and in the complete opposite direction of where all of the signs point. It was a rough start to my time in Serbia, and a reminder that English in the Balkans is common but not as easy as Europe has spoiled me to expect.
Things only continued to be not exactly great as I was then overcharged by a taxi (not too much but not enough to argue over) and then couldn’t convince the Belgrade tourist office to sign as my witnesses. They were so interested in my trip but refused to sign for some bizarre reason that I still don’t know. Luckily I found witnesses at the Serbia tourist office around the corner and a shop next to that. All in all, it took me a few hours to do a few things that normally take a tenth of the time. Luckily, things really only went up from there!
I had a great traditional lunch at a great spot called To je To. I had meat with some bread and a special sauce, which was described to me as what butter is a copy of. So trust me when I say it was really good and I’m sure very unhealthy. My next stop was to walk down Skadarlija, a unique street in the heart of Belgrade. From there I walked for a while to Church of Saint Mark which was very pretty both inside and out. I then walked a little farther down the street before taking one last long walk to the Temple of Saint Sava. The outside was stunning but and very unique, but in something that I have never seen before, the entire inside was under renovation yet it was still open to the public.
After having walked myself almost to death I decided to take a taxi across the city to the Belgrade Fortress. It was a really cool open fortress that was huge! It was also very spread out so it didn’t really feel like a fortress when walking through the middle. I spent upwards of an hour walking around and seeing the area around the chapel in the fortress called Saint Petka. By this point, the sun had gone down and it was very cold so I started to head back towards the train station with a few more stops on the way. I stopped by another church which was small yet beautiful and a service was going on inside which was very interesting to watch for a few minutes. My last stop was to walk up the busy Kneza Mihaila street, which is basically the main heart of the city. There were so many people! It was a really nice area and I walked along it for a while before taking a taxi back to the train station.
When I arrived I decided to deal with the ticket situation. I was pretty sure that, even though I had specified that I wanted a one person compartment, I was given one bed in a six-person compartment. I figured this out for sure once I found what the price was supposed to be was significantly more than what I was charged. I was able to communicate with one of the ticket staff in okay English but still, we were effectively communicating what it was that I wanted. Finally, somehow, it clicked and she figured out exactly what I was asking! She refunded my earlier ticket and put me in a two-person compartment because it was half the cost of a one person. I would have a full bed and plenty of space for only about twenty extra dollars, and am so glad that I took the time to get my ticket situation straightened out as it is a very long train ride!
I still had a few hours to wait so I decided to eat at a nice looking place outside of the station called Stanica 1884. I had a much needed hot chocolate and a small bowl of pasta. I then headed to pick up my bag and waited for another hour before boarding my train. The compartment was older but good and the bed was very comfortable. I had the bottom bed and waited for the second person to come. And I kept waiting. But get this, no one ever showed up! So I had the entire compartment to myself for the entire night, and it made me very happy that I hadn’t paid the price for a one person compartment. I went to sleep very soon after departing and look forward to waking up in Montenegro tomorrow!
86 countries down, 110 to go.