One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the Balkans is the unpredictable weather. Waking up to a Weather.com forecast that says 100% chance of rain might frustrate the average tourist, but one of the joys of slow travel is that I’m not pressed for time. I can sit at a café and watch it pour – something that never happens in Doha!
But, perhaps the more interesting thing is how many times the forecast here is completely wrong. Take yesterday. I left the apartment near the Nikola Tesla Museum armed with my rain jacket and umbrella because the afternoon looked pretty dicey. I figured I’d walk as far as a I could, exploring the city and then take a taxi back if need be. So I set off on a mission to see as many sights as possible on foot before the rain set in… only to wind up enjoying what turned out to be a lovely day. Classic Balkans, or so I’ve learned.
Walking up Bulevar Krajla Aleksandra, I avoided the McDonald’s and stopped at a local bakery for my morning pastry — this one filled with potato, to my surprise. As I looked across the main thoroughfare, I spotted this amazing site — the Church of St. Mark, an Orthodox church plunked at the edge of the gorgeous Tasmajdan Park.
St. Mark’s isn’t particularly old, having been rebuilt by two Serbian brothers in the 1940s. But, it’s Serbian-Byzantine styling is pretty breathtaking.
Throughout the Balkans, the Orthodox churches have had some amazing artwork — most of which is inside, where I’ve not taken photos out of respect to those worshipping. But St. Marks has a gorgeous illuminated fresco over the entryway, as you can see.
Further along my route, I wandered into another park — one of my favorite pastimes — to find this historical marker, Osmatrachnica sa Kajmakchalana. It represents an observation post made from stones of a nearby mountain and commemorates a Serbian victory over the Bulgarians in World War I. It is located across the street from Serbia’s beautiful National Assembly building.
Throughout Serbia, you can see reminders of the NATO bombing campaign — including this banner in front of the National Assembly. I remember these events — or at least Western media portrayals of them — pretty vividly. But, being here and seeing the lasting destruction was far more emotional than I expected. I couldn’t help but think that the average Yugoslav wasn’t personally responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo in the same way that the average American isn’t personally responsible for the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their families. Yet, nearly 500 civilians died in the NATO bombings, which weren’t sanctioned by the UN. Hundreds of structures, including bridges, apartments and public buildings, were destroyed. And, around Belgrade, the destruction remains visible — tucked between new buildings that have sprung up and older buildings whose damage has been covered or repaired.
Water features… if there’s one thing the Balkan countries aren’t lacking, it’s water features. This fountain was located Nikole Pasica square. He was the fourth prime minister of Yugoslavia and lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
I wandered further, into Republic Square, the main gathering spot in the city. Here, a giant statue of Prince Mihailova can be seen marking the start of Belgrade’s largest pedestrian street, which bears his name. The street is lined with shops — including an IKEA — and cafes.
Knez Mihailova is the perfect place to grab a drink and watch the day-to-day life here in Belgrade. Families are out for a stroll. Business partners are having coffee.
Along the car-free streets of this part of Belgrade, the architecture is fascinating. From gorgeous older buildings, to modern Communist-era concrete bunkers and intriguing Art Nouveau designs, you can find a mishmash of styles in just one block.
Later in my walk, I mistakenly took a wrong turn that landed me square between two gorgeous structures, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (an Eastern Orthodox Church) and St. Michael’s Cathedral (a Serbian Orthodox Church).
The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (above) was built in the 1930s while St. Michael’s (below) was finished in 1840 on the site of a church dating back to the 1500s. Both have stunning gold leaf on the outside that sparkled even on an overcast day.
Gorgeous old buildings, like the Museum of Contemporary Art (above), are situated adjacent to modern new shopping centers (on the left) containing all of Europe’s top clothing brands. Instead of heading further into the shopping area, I detoured toward Kalmegedan Fortress and Park, where I was told you can get some of the best views of the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.
Looking over the Sava, toward New Belgrade, you can see the “splavs.” These floating barges are Belgrade’s well-known restaurants and nightclubs, which come to life at night and create quite the after-hours scene.
Eventually, I made my way to the King’s Gate (above) of the fortress. Dating back to 279 BC and eventually reconstructed by Emperor Justinian I, the fortress marks a key location above the confluence of the rivers (seen below, with the Sava in the foreground and Danube on the right).
One of the more interesting features of the fortress were its many “drinking” fountains. The grounds were quite impressive, and I could have easily spent an entire afternoon wandering through the fort and park.