Read, Write, Run, Roam

A beogradjanka no more


A year of adventure ended in one final voyage: a walk to Kalemegdan Park.

Though I was sad to end my time in Belgrade, the finite time frame had helped me make the most of it. We arrived in Serbia knowing that 365 days would not be enough to learn a new language, experience different cultures, and explore Europe. Still, we tried.

We spent hours conjugating verbs, looking at maps, and speaking with our hands. We listened to haunting guslas and ear-blasting horns.  We got lost; we found adventure. We ate anything put before us–including pihtije. We drank rakija, to forget the taste of pihtije.

I spent my last weeks in Belgrade trying to remember all these memories and more. My last day in the city, I tried to cement a favorite memory: the walk up Knez Mihailova and through Kalemegdan Park.

Kalemegdan isn’t part of the hidden Belgrade I liked to explore. It doesn’t have the dusty, odd shops of Sarajevska. It doesn’t sprout funky alleys like Kralja Aleksandra, or offer the charm of Skadarlija. There are plenty of other parks to wander in. But none of them, in my opinion, top Kalemegdan.

Kalemegdan embodies Belgrade. It’s where the city’s Celtic, Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish footprints collide. It sits at the rivers that brought those footprints to Serbia, creating the subtle diversity of Serbian culture. Kalemegdan is the Muslim Turbe and the Roman Well, Mestrovic statues and military relics, nuzzling couples and lone dogs. It was where I went to say goodbye to a city—and year—that I would always cherish.

My last morning in Belgrade, I strolled past people waiting at Trg Republike and turned right on Knez Mihailova.

The walking street was quiet that morning. No accordions or violins, just unhurried people buying popcorn and window-shopping. I passed Kralja Petra, resisting the urge to walk down its cobblestone path flanked by perfumeries and expensive boutiques. Instead, I continued to Kalemegdan’s tree-lined entrance.

 

Leaves crunched under my feet as I passed silent chess players and babbling toddlers. Pigeons gobbled up popcorn as I admired the river and turned back to the main path lined with vendors. I had walked through this gauntlet many times to look at the unchanging array of hats, sweaters and cheap souvenirs.

I stopped short of an Italian tourist group shopping for gifts. One tried on a šajkača (traditional hat) as his friends laughed. Their guide stood off to the side with a bored expression, scrolling his cell phone for new text messages.

I slipped in with the group and shook an overpriced snow globe.  A crude rendition of The Victor become fuzzy with white flakes. As I listened to the Italians chatter I realized that soon, I would be like them: just another tourist in Belgrade.

When I return to Serbia, I won’t know the names of clerks at the Mini Maxi. I won’t find the best pijace stall, the shortcut through the underpass, or the new “secret” bar. But I will see Kalemegdan, and admire her timeless grace all over again.

It will have to be enough.

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10 responses

  1. I have SO loved reading about your adventures – I’ll miss them 😀

    February 14, 2012 at 10:51 pm

  2. Thank you. I miss them too….though I promise to write more about my less exciting life here…

    February 15, 2012 at 12:33 am

  3. a beautiful and very moving post…..and my day to write something similar will come, i think this city will imprint itself on anyone who visits before it changes……if you are reading this and wondering if you should visit….stop wondering…

    February 15, 2012 at 1:03 am

  4. Agnieszka

    Oh! What a nice surprise! A new post! Here in BG life is the same, more snow tho. Your photos dont show our wintery atmosphere we have here. I am going to NYC today but when I’m back I promise to send you some cool photos of Kalemegdan Park if you miss this place so much.
    We miss you here too!

    February 15, 2012 at 10:59 am

  5. Anonymous

    What a warm and fond goodbye. Thanks for sharing your Serbian and European adventures. But I’m glad your home!
    Love Mom

    February 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  6. @Agnieszka, I can’t believe the snow there! NYC will seem tropical compared to BGD. Have fun!

    February 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm

  7. Andy, I’m eager to visit. Hoping to come later this year….when it’s MUCH warmer…

    February 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm

  8. bojan

    Hey RHOB glad you writing again.

    How is everything, found job already, resettled to your old roots and routines?

    Here is a link to convey what Agnieszka is talking about, and to show you how Kalemegdan can offer endless fun in the winter too.

    February 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

  9. Bogi

    Wow RHOB, I dropped a tear, you reminded me with this beautiful post, how much I love my Belgrade.
    I hope you’ll return soon!

    February 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

  10. Looks like fun! I hope you’ve all recovered from the cold and are wearing rubber boots. 🙂

    February 27, 2012 at 9:22 pm

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