A City of Underground Gems
30.05.2017 - 30.05.2017
Day 6 Tuesday May 30 2017
Zagreb to Belgrade / 393 km ( written as Beograd in Roman script on maps & roadsigns )
- A fine, if slightly hazy day. It's gradually getting hotter. At breakfast it's already 25 C. Fleeces for chilly evenings can be put away.
- The Jägerhorn Hotel allocated to us the coolest, quietest, darkest of rooms. No bird, bell nor traffic noise. Which is amazing since the building is located right in the city centre and on the edge of the Upper Old Town. However SG has had a terrible night's sleep - fortunately and more importantly, the driver slept well. That's the very real downside of constantly being on the move and perhaps eating MSG food. Last night's risotto was served an extraordinary vivid green colour - one of the signs of MSG enhancement.
- An instructive incident also occurred at Carpaccio last night - when the waiter brought the card machine to the table for us to pay, he had already converted the bill into £ sterling. Martin' s Money tips says NO! Don't let this happen. So we didn't. We made him void the transaction and start again in Croatian currency. Our previously jovial waiter suddenly lost his good humour. We suspect that the restaurant has a deal with their bank to encourage 'foreign' transactions. You are inevitably given a very poor exchange rate. It is a good reminder to us of how to play the card transaction game. Thank you Martin!
- Until we have breakfast on the first floor terrace we do not realise just how convenient our hotel actually is. There appears to be a public right of way up through the lobby that leads directly to gardens at the rear and to a long flight of steps that zig zag up the rock face to the Gornji Grad of Zagreb. We recommend highly.
- Its another motorway day that takes us SE to Serbia & its capital Beograd. The wooded countryside & pastureland is fairly flat and uninteresting. We are hoping to arrive in Belgrade early enough to do some sightseeing.
- There is passport control leaving Croatia and entering Serbia. As always we check if we require a vignette. Once bitten twice shied. Serbia operates a toll system. There are long queues of trucks awaiting border control. The Schengen Area ( EU 's borderless zone ) must correlate with those countries within the Eurozone only. Outside the inner circle, travel is more carefully regulated.
- Some unlucky (suspicious ) passenger vehicles are being searched inside out & upside down. It looks to be a thorough and lengthy affair.
- Immediately past the Croatian / Serbian border the road surface becomes less pristine, more patchwork.
- We arrive in Belgrade around 4. It is immediately noticeable from the architecture, transport infrastructure & ubiquitous graffiti that Belgrade is in a differnt league to Zagreb.
- Our small 'design' led boutique hotel is within short walk of the Stari Grad, the older part of town. Parking of the truck is a challenge for both AG and hotel staff. It has to be parked off site.
- Unfortunately we are too late to join the start of the free conducted walk around the old city. It happens twice daily @ 11 a.m. & 4 p.m. The meeting place is Rebublic Square behind the statue. Look out for a guide dressed in red. No prepayment or booking is required - but tips are appreciated. From our experience in other European cities - Berlin, Bucharest &. Budapest for example, the free walk offer is a great way to learn a lot about a city within a couple of hours. You then have the option of exploring in depth whatever interests you the most.
- So from the rudimentary tourist guide map we set off on a self navigated walk up to the old fortress area. Here it is green, traffic free and you get wonderful views of the city skyline and the Rivers Sava and Danube. Belgrade sits at their confluence and is no doubt why it has also been considered a strategic possession by the various fighting powers of Central Europe down the centuries. Belgrade has had various identities: it has belonged to the Roman, Slav, Ottoman & Habsburg empires. In 1841 it became the capital of Serbia and between 1918-2006 it was the capital of Yugoslavia.
- Up in the Fortress Park, there are chess tables available for public use. Some are occupied - we watch a couple of matches. one between a young contender & a senior citizen. They attract quite a crowd. What a lovely idea - to offer facilities for cerebral exercise in a public area. It is just a shame that the park has an air of general neglect - rubbish strewn over the lawns and flower beds that grow only weeds.
- We stop for refreshments at the Kalemegdan Tavern adjacent to the fortress. It is a sophisticated bar & restaurant with great views of the Danube. Sunset here would be glorious - but as usual we have no time to linger.
- We walk back to our hotel via Republic Square where predictably there is statue of a man on a horse. Why is it that Central European cities have so many statues with an equestrian theme?! The man sitting on this horse is Crown Prince Mihailo who was leader of Serbia 1839-42 and then again between 1860-8.
- This evening we are eating vegetarian. Trip Advisor and the hotel Mgr both recommend Radost Fina Kuhinjica , Pariska 3 . We have to search very hard to find this little gem. Appearances deceive . It is only because AG smells cooking that we venture through a non descript house door. Take a look at the photos to discover what we find inside! The exterior of the building may be shabby, even grimy, but inside there has been a transformation. There is even a little garden for outdoor dining in the summer. We love discoveries like this. It adds to our sense of adventure.
- We ask the ( very cute ) restaurant owner about his wish for 'obscurity' which is unusual when running a business. He explains they are part of the Belgrade underground scene, always have been and prefer it that way. What this means exactly we are not sure.
- After a reasonable meal of vegetables and very drinkable Serbian wine we go on the hunt for some 'underground' live music - Belgrade old town reputedly has quite a few. We are searching for a place called 'Basta' which Trip Advisor warns is difficult to find, giving only approximate directions. We use the GPS system of the Maps Me app to home in. A small Amstel sign advertises a gateway that leads into the gorgeous garden of Basta. Fab jazz music is playing surround sound but sadly it is not live. Come back Thursdays Fridays and the weekend and you will hear a live jazz performances. It's only Tuesday - easy to forget.
*We are recommended an alternative jazz venue in the upper old town, so off we go again. Old Belgrade looks better in the dark. It is undergoing a major renovation project and many streets are construction sites. In 5 years time this part of town (around 2 km square ) should be amazing. But right now the transition has a way to go. You can envisage how it will all turn out by walking through the pedestrianised streets of the areas already completed. It's crowded with local people eating and drinking across a huge spectrum of venues. No international chain is in evidence. No Starbucks, no KFC, no Pizzahut. Just wonderfully idiosyncratic Serbian bistros and bars.
- We actually find a venue with live music but it is loud ( difficult for AG to cope with ) and not jazz. Instead,mindful of another long motorway drive to Sofia tomorrow, we head back to our hotel.
- Belgrade obviously has an underworld of emerging sophistication & idiosyncratic style - you have to delve under the surface but it's there and fun to find. Little gems known to insiders, just awaiting your discovery. How we love them!