Read, Write, Run, Roam

Belgrade in three days…or three years


I’ve lived in Belgrade for over four months now, and I still read travel articles about the city. They’re all pretty similar:

“BELGRADE IN THREE DAYS. Dinner at a kafana, lunch at a burek stand. Walk through Kalemegdan, Knez Mihailova and Strahinjica Bana for a couple of hours. See Sveti Sava, some museums, and maybe Zemun. Have extra time? Drive to Topola or Fruska Gora.”

Sure, you could see all these things in three to four days. But I must tell you: even after all that, you still won’t see Belgrade.

After several months here, I’m discovering a new side of Belgrade, one hidden in apartment courtyards, down dark staircases, and behind locked doors.  Belgrade’s secret bars are well-documented, and we’ve also been to parties in the strangest spaces, like an old house with outdoor plumbing, and the basement underneath a clothing store. Addresses are more guidance than direction. For example, the address for my pilates class doesn’t indicate that one has to go through the building, into the courtyard, enter another building, and go up a flight of stairs.

One of Belgrade's first "secret" bars, The Federal Association of Globetrotters

There’s also the whole delivery system—firewood, coal, ice—that is largely unadvertised. I guess you just have to “know someone” a phrase that can evoke smiles or grimaces in Belgrade. Sometimes we know someone, or get lucky. When we learned our beloved vegetarian restaurant was closing, we were simply given the chef’s cell number; he’ll deliver the food from now on. There were no signs on the door about closing or the new delivery system. If we hadn’t walked in the week they were closing, we’d still wonder what happened.

Shopping can be just as elusive. The stores along the main streets are nice, but there’s a treasure trove behind, you guessed it, closed doors. The embroidered cloth bags I see around town? They’re made by a designer who sells the bags out of her home, or at the occasional craft fair.  The Serbian painting I loved? I’ll need a referral to meet the artist. Sometimes things aren’t locked away, but they might as well be. After fruitlessly looking for hangars, I found a store devoted to nothing else in a dark, pass-through tunnel underneath a major intersection. A wrong turn down an alley once led me to a couture dress shop. The glittering brooch on a chiffon dress bounced light toward the decaying building across the street.

And then there's the hidden graffiti in random alleyways...

Secret Belgrade may be frustrating sometimes, but I’m up for the challenge. And I encourage visitors to see it, too. It will take a lot longer than three days—more like three years—but it’s the best way to “see” Belgrade.

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2 responses

  1. I absolutely have to get that chef’s contact info from you! Cooking three veggie meals from scratch every day is driving me to a dangerous reliance on pizza.

    March 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

  2. Alas, I spoke too soon–the phone goes unanswered. But there’s a take-away veg spot called Fenix on Palmoticeva, right behind the National Assembly Building. And the great thing about Lent is that you can say you’re “fasting” (going vegan until Easter) and restaurants are quite responsive. I feel your vegetarian frustration! Even though I eat meat here, I do crave more vegetarian options. And Pizza Haus isn’t going to cut it. Another option is the website Donesi.com-they have a mediterranean menu that will deliver falafel.

    March 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

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