Upon arrival in Belgrade, we realized we had done zero planning of how how we wanted to spend our time; therefore, Belgrade was going to be a spontaneous visit and our next stop in Brasov, Romania, was shaping out the same way. While the hotel receptionist at Hotel Indigo in Belgrade provided us with some private tour options, we found them short and expensive in comparison to what we were seeing online, so we decided to do some more of our own research. However, it wasn’t straightforward. For whatever reason, TripAdvisor, Viator, GetYourGuide and other tour booking aggregator sites were not selling tours for Sunday and Monday in Belgrade, with availability only starting on Tuesday. The problem was that Tuesday was the day we departed Belgrade, so we obviously needed to make our own arrangements since we did not plan anything in advance. It was difficult in general to find precise information about tours, and make online bookings directly without getting in touch with the Belgrade tour agency via WhatsApp, which we once again found ubiquitous and important to have. Belgrade was certainly a city where you needed to contact the tour agencies directly (Serbian Inspired Tours, Belgrade Adventure, Belgrade River Cruise). Even finding precise information around the Free Walking Tour in Belgrade, Serbia required us to reach out to the operator and inquire if it was running and whether there were spots available. Luckily there were, so we reserved two places for a Sunday morning Belgrade walking tour through the Free Walking Tour concept.
Unfortunately, our time in Belgrade, Serbia was marked by this heat wave, putting a damper on both the local spirit as well as our energy level until the evening when the sun went down. Shops were closed a little more than usual during the day, and it was challenging by find a cool spot with decent air conditioning to take a rest. Also, people smoke indoors, and everywhere else for that matter in Belgrade, Serbia, making you kind of not want to be indoors in the first place. As is also common throughout the rest of Europe, ice is not a common amenity and Americans are often scoffed at when it’s requested. But for heat this hot, we thought it was silly not have on offer. Finally, we were facing the urban heat effect – Belgrade, Serbia is nicknamed The White City – and while this makes the city charming, the white concrete everywhere (and lack of mature integrated trees and smaller parks directly within the city blocks) made Belgrade very hot indeed. Escaping from the fully concreted pedestrian area of old town to the lovely Kalamegdan Park to the Northwest offered a brief escape and a stroll through nature.
After a cold shower to cool off, it was time for dinner on our first night, with the sun going down and also cooling off the city. Belgrade was also clearly a city that came alive in the evenings, known also for its clubbing culture in particular on small river floats docked along the Sava and Danube rivers – in this way Belgrade reminded me of Prague, where I lived in the summer of 2010 and frequented the floating jazz clubs often. We decided to stick to the old town area on our first night, not venturing to the river or the park yet, but rather just wanting some convenient (but not as convenient as the hotel restaurant). After some Googling we wound up at Restoran Mihailo, named after one of the Obrenović princes (one of the two 19th century dynastic families of Serbia) who built some of the famous buildings in Republic Square, nearby. It was also conveniently located directly behind our hotel on Knez Mihailova street.
We opted to eat inside because of AC, but that ended up being a huge mistake due to the fact everyone smoked, even indoors. The table we chose, unwisely and unbeknownst to us, was right next to a table of 2 Spaniards who barely ate, yet drank and smoked the entire night. We were quickly reminded that, while Europe is modern and progressive in many regards, the backwardness of cigarette smoking still remained, making it quite unlivable for both of us for many cities (Paris included!) that indulged the habit. We consistently wondered why vaping had not yet taken off more in Serbia, as it at least doesn’t leave the nasty scent everywhere. In contrast, when in Romania later in the trip, we saw more vaping, but smoking was still common (although not indoors). Our tour guide the following day explained that Serbians love to enjoy live and live to party, smoking, drinking, clubbing, eating, gambling, socializing – they believed life was short and as a result over indulged in all the things, with the culture building up around it. It reminded me a bit of Middle Eastern excess but with less judgment and more overall cultural acceptance of vice out in the open, rather than being in the shadows. Serbian culture also seemed to align closely with Russian culture in this regard – live your life now because tomorrow you may be dead. Present over future thinking.
If it weren’t for the smoking, and lingering cigarette smell everywhere in the restaurant and furniture, we would have enjoyed the evening much more. The ambience was really charming, with old curio cabinets filled with Serbian tchotchke as far as the eye could see, but arranged tastefully in a modern aesthetic. The local beer, Lav, was good, and we had 2 each, and shared a large sparkling water, a Serbian salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, and surprisingly, hot peppers (the salad was surprisingly very spicy, and hard to finish even for me), and cheese stuffed, deep fried bell peppers (they were heavy but delicious!). For our mains, I had a steak in mushroom sauce over mashed potatoes, which was excellent and on recommendation from the waiter after consultation with the chef, and Brendan had pork schnitzel with mashed potatoes and a white sauce.
We were too stuffed for dessert and decided to forego, opting for a small walk before turning back to our hotel and some of the delicious wine and snacks they left for us.
Other than the heat, the bed and room were comfortable and that night at least we slept somewhat soundly due to the sleep deprived state were in.