For our last day and a half in Serbia, and with our big day of touring completed, we spent our remaining time relaxing in Belgrade. Due to our lack of planning, none of the tour companies had space available for day activities we were interested in such as kayaking around Kalamegdan Park and War Island, a speed boat ride outside of the city on the river, or a river cruise. So, we opted for a Thai massage in the morning at a nearby spa, a walk around the city and then a nap in the afternoon, and a river cruise in the afternoon followed by cocktails and then sushi near the pedestrian old town Skardalija area where we had yet to check out.
Because the purpose of the day was to be spent relaxing in Belgrade, we were able to sleep in and enjoy some of what the hotel had to offer. Of course we started with the complimentary hotel breakfast, which always feature a local choice we enjoyed trying – today it was pancakes! After breakfast we checked out the patio and some of the murals and art the hotel had, working around a commercial that was being filmed.
The Thai massage was at 1030AM and was a few hundred feet from our hotel on the main pedestrian street. It was easy to find and the receptionist promptly greeted us, asked us what style massage we wanted as well as pressure and problem areas, and ushered us inside into the couples massage area. Two Thai women worked with us for the next 70 minutes on a combo massage of Thai and Swedish ad we enjoyed relaxing in Belgrade. While they didn’t speak English, they were very excited to see Brendan’s sak yant tattoo that he received from a monk in Thailand and conferred a special blessing on the recipient. While the massage was only OK, it did set off the day of relaxing in Belgrade right, and paved the way for a nap as our next activity to beat the heat of the day.
Before our 430PM river cruise, we wanted to do some Christmas ornament shopping to add to our collection (our Christmas tree is global and reflective of all of our travels). We did not have a lot of luck, but were eventually able to find a small shop that had some Serbian houses and bell ornaments with various scenes of the city. We decided on a bell with a painting of some of the bridges in Belgrade (that we would see later), including the Most na Adi.
After a quick stop at the hotel, we continued on to the riverfront to pick up our cruise, a 15 minute walk away, and boarded with no problem, paying with credit card inside. Luckily we had been able to reserve it with the Belgrade River Cruise tour company via WhatsApp in the morning. We tried to find a breezy location out of the sun and shuffled around a bit throughout the cruise to stay cool, moving to the left and the right of a Serbian family who located themselves on the middle of the bow depending on which way the boat was pointed. It was still very hot, and it was nice to be on the water, continuing our day of relaxing in Belgrade. The only slight annoyance with the river cruise was that it kept going back to the dock to pick up late passengers several times during the cruise, and we felt this cut short some of the sightseeing on Danube portion, which was extremely brief after just peaking out from War Island. The Serbian culture was much more tolerant of lateness than the American and German cultures were, clearly.
After 90 minutes on the rivers, we were able to see the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers, the eastern slice of Great War Island (which used to be an island as pirate shelters and later for military staging and housing horses, with a protective defensive position to Belgrade city), and then finally the bridges on the Sava such as the famous cabled Most na Adi bridge on the bell we purchased. We also enjoyed seeing what I can only describe as a turtle boat up while it was docked.
The cruise ended about 10 minutes late, and we decided it was appropriate for shower #2 to freshen up before dinner given the heat. After our energy boost shower, we headed to Skadarlija, which exceeded our expectations, offering a charming cobble street with traditional Serbian building housing restaurants, bars, and shops.
It was also the first time we saw moderately aggressive beggars, using children to collect money (there were very few though so it didn’t spoil the atmosphere).
Brendan had previously researched cocktail bars as we were always looking to recreate the Bar Am Wasser experience in Zurich, and we found a great option in Skadarlija called The Riddle Bar to continue relaxing in Belgrade. The only bummer was that they wouldn’t let us sit inside due to our flip flops, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because inside was a smoker’s den (side note: apparently only Brendan’s flip flops were the problem because a lady was able to enter with sandals we observed later). A gentlemen came outside and explained the drink ordering process, and that they make the drinks to taste without having a set menu. After a brief conversation explaining what we typically like – I like everything but absinthe/licorice and dry please and also yes please to gin, with Brendan preferring whisky and scotches and also dry – some drinks appeared a few minutes later and they were creative and delicious. Mine was a gin concoction with thyme and fruit / nut garnish, while Brendan’s was whiskey based with a sage garnish.
We enjoyed talking to the bartender, who worked in the cruise industry previously and had been to the US several times to visit his father, who had moved to NYC 15 years prior to open a small restaurant, while the family stayed back in Belgrade. For our second round, a rum drink with beer infusion came for Brendan, while a blackberry syrup and rakija gin drink came for me. For the second drink, a woman took our ordered and asked if we wanted her to go crazy, and of course we said yes.
After finishing up at The Riddle Bar, it was time for dinner, and we were craving something light and fresh. We wound up at a place called Bad Sushi a few blocks over outside of the cobbled street area. At bad sushi there is no bad food, just bad food habits (or so they said). As we walked in we were immediately greeted but told it would be a while until we could order and that we had to be patient, since it was the dinner rush. We got seated quickly but it was a while until the waiter could come back and take our orders, but he had properly set our expectations. While we waited, we enjoyed debating the odd nature of the geisha painting on the wall and in particular the shape of her upper body not quite looking right given the position the artist had put her in.
Most of the drinks were unfortunately warm, and it was really hot inside. We ordered a variety of rolls (a combo platter with 4 different varieties), some edamame, gyoza, and miso soup. It was a way to much food, and I found it incredibly salty, which is unusual for me because I love salt. Brendan thought it was fine, which was also odd because he doesn’t typically prefer salt. We identified that the culprit was either the miso or the ginger, which I had but he did not. All in all we found the rolls really tasted, but over-ordered and had trouble finishing the other items.
I left not feeling great given the high salt quotient and the heat (my blood pressure felt higher than usual and something was just off), so we decided to walk back to the hotel and call it a night. However Brendan was totally fine so I’m not sure it was the restaurant, and it could have just been me feeling some heat stroke.
The next morning, we continued relaxing in Belgrade before our flight to Bucharest in the afternoon by going to the National Museum, located just steps from our hotel in Republic Square, next to the horse.
We had only an hour until our airport taxi, so we decided to spend our time in the top two floors which housed the Serbian artists so we could see something unique and local. Even though we only had a short time, we did not feel rushed and enjoyed learning more about Serbian history through the 18th-20th century paintings and sculptures we took in. My favorite part was the Uroš Predić paintings, a late 19th century Serbian realist painter (who I had never heard of), whose works were magnificent and displayed the lives of ordinary people. In the 1800s he painted a series displayed at the museum including “Happy Brothers”, “Orphan on Mother’s Grave”, and “Refugees from the Herzegovina Uprising” playing on many themes from the Christian Serb uprising against the Ottoman Empire from 1875-1877. The depictions were moving and spoke to me.
After a great final day and some change relaxing in Belgrade, we were ready to move on to Brasov, Romania (via Bucharest). We grabbed a taxi to the airport and started the next leg of our journey.