This morning we continue the Topdeck Mega European Tour and make our way across another border from Bulgaria to the capital of the former Yugoslavia and now the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. This area has seen its fair share of conflict and many communist regimes, most recently being the war during the 90s that saw the break up of Yugoslavia.
31 May, 2012 – Sofia to Belgrade
Today we head to Belgrade for another one night stop over to check out this war torn city that has now risen to become one of Europe’s up and coming destinations, features of the city include checking out its history to its now vibrant nightlife.
On arrival into Belgrade we were taken on a quick driving tour of the city to see the main attractions before going on our walking tour. One of the main attractions is Republic Square where the coach would normally drive through, however on this occasion there was a large gathering of people in the square so we couldn’t drive through to check it out. Either there was a demonstration rally going on or a new President had just been sworn in, I can’t quite remember why all the people were gathering around, but it looked peaceful.
Once we finished our short driving tour around the city we went and checked into our hostel for the night, for a hostel it was pretty good and well maintained, it was also easy walking distance from the main city centre. The coach dropped us off on the other side of the street where it would park for the night, the road has a tunnel underneath it for crossing the road, so make sure you bring your mussels for carrying your luggage a short distance, but so long if it’s heavy.
We all then gathered outside the hostel once checked in to go on our walking tour of the city. One of the striking things you will start to notice in these former Yugoslav countries is the number of buildings left as a reminder of the terrible war that occurred during the 90s. A few buildings like the one above still stand in Belgrade and there seems to be no intention of knocking them down and building something fresh. The area around these buildings has been fenced off, as you can imagine it would be pretty dangerous to enter.
Our walking tour then continued down to Knez Mihailova which is the main shopping strip in Belgrade and is allined with historic buildings and fountains along the street. The pedestrian street then links up to Kalemegdan Fortress which offers impressive views over the Danube and Sava Rivers. Within this fortress you will find several museums, galleries, monuments, a planetarium and it is also the location of the city’s Zoo.
After looking around here it was fair to say most people were wanting to head back to the hostel, so some of us made our way back now having spilt up from the main group. Tonight most people are heading out on a bar crawl which includes visiting two bars then finishing up at a floating nightclub on a barge in the river.
Personally not being a fan of nightclubs at all I wasn’t looking forward to this, the bar crawl was organised through the hostel, the first two bars were in the city and they were pretty chilled out and relaxed. The sticking point was that as part of our bar crawl it included a taxi fare to get back to the hostel, however after the second bar we needed to catch a taxi to the nightclub, something we were not told about. A number of us were questioning this and were prepared to call an end to the night not knowing how we would get back from the nightclub if we were using our taxi fare now.
In the end the leader of the bar crawl was pretty desperate for us all to go so he took care of the taxi fare, later we found out why he was so desperate to get us to this club, everything at this club had very high prices and they gave us a VIP area, the only catch was to stay there we had to buy a bottle of Vodka worth about $200. When I start seeing things like this happen I’ve had enough and want to get out of there, so for me it was the end of my night and waited outside for some of the girls who I knew would also want to cut the night short soon.
The problem now was we didn’t know where we were and how to get back to the hostel, we had the address so it wouldn’t be a problem just getting a taxi and heading back. However we had been warned that the taxi drivers will take full advantage of tourists and will overcharge or take you the wrong way, all sorts of dodgy stuff. The best way to catch a taxi was to ring up and book one, but how do you do that when your in a country for one night and don’t speak the language.
While I was waiting outside a local guy came outside to have a smoke and was chatting to me, asking where I’m from and the places I’m visiting. During this time some of the girls in my tour group came out and were ready to head off. This local guy also reinforced the whole don’t catch the taxis in front of the club as they will rip you off, you need to call one. I told him well we wouldn’t know how, plus our phones don’t work here, he then rang up the taxi company for us ordering two taxis. This was really great of him and it just goes to show there are some nice people out there after all.
So now we started walking up to where all the taxis were waiting, halfway up I came to the realisation asking one of the girls, hang on how will we know which two taxis are for us… Anyway we came to the taxi area and all the drivers were trying to get us to go with them, we asked how much, it seemed pretty steep and they had that stench of dodgyness about them. We all looked at each other and thought, lets keep walking and see what happens. Luckily for us we walked a couple of metres down the road where two taxis were waiting and they called out to us, they were the two booked for us.
Three of us got in the first taxi, two other girls got in the second taxi and told him to follow us, our trip back to the hostel cost 5,000 Dinar, which wasn’t too bad. However in the other taxi the other two girls weren’t getting out so I went over to make sure they were ok. Turns out they asked the taxi driver if they could pay in Euro, he said yes but he now wasn’t taking it, they didn’t have any local currency so I payed there fare which cost 6,000 Dinar, which goes to show they will take you for a ‘ride’ when they can. At the end of the day it didn’t matter how much it cost, the main concern was that everyone got back ok, which is more than I can say compared to the experience many others had getting home in taxis that night.
Some people were charged up to and above 10,000 Dinar for the same trip, others never made it back as an agreed price was asked before the trip started and half way through the trip the metre would go above what they agreed on and they were kicked out of the taxi in the middle of no where. There are many more detailed stories of that night, the main thing is to be careful when catching a taxi in Belgrade, make sure you fully understand and agree on what it will cost to get you back safely. At the same time don’t let these experiences stop you from going out and enjoying yourself.
After an eventful night it was off to bed as tomorrow we will be heading off for another one night stop to the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sarajevo. A city seeping with history and a country that I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it is.
DOWNLOAD: Topdeck Belgrade City Guide