I went on a work trip to Serbia. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen since the region had their worst flooding in 300 years. We found out a few weeks before that all systems were go, so off I was to Belgrade!
Over the course of my time here I was struck by how much Belgrade reminded me of an American city…maybe that’s why I felt so comfortable here. I found absolutely nothing to complain about, everything was good – nothing amazing, but nothing terrible…everything good. My hotel was 4 miles from the city centre, but taxis were very reasonably priced here and very easy to find. Most of the younger Serbians spoke good English, so communication wasn’t a problem. ‘Living’ here for 5 days seemed very easy and stress-free, so I give the city a lot of credit for its welcoming atmosphere.
I went down to the main city square and walked around quite a bit. There were some very nice shopping streets, that eventually led to Kalemegdan park. Besides some obnoxious street vendors, the park was very nice, and littered with cool statues and the fortress in the background.
For ‘Game of Thrones’ fans, which I’m not, HBO had brought the iron throne to the park on the day I was there. There was a massive line of people waiting to get there picture sitting on it!
I didn’t really check out the nightlife during my time in Belgrade, but from what I saw it seemed active but subdued, just the way I like it. The food options were good, there was a great restaurant serving local cuisine right across the street from my hotel, so I ate there three times. I swear I’m such a creature of habit, I find something I like and do it over and over again…just ask my former co-workers who saw me bring in the same breakfast from Subway every day for years.
The meeting was okay, made up mostly of retired, high-ranking medical officers from more than 40 countries. The Serbians were outstanding hosts, with a posh opening ceremony full of song and dance, and some of the most lavish lunches I’ve had at any meeting I’ve ever attended.
We spent a few hours in a Belgrade suburb touring the flood damage, which was a sobering experience. Many residents had been cleaning out the water-damaged stuff from their homes and putting it outside to get hauled away.
We also got a tour of the Serbian military’s field hospital set-up at one of the local bases, so that was pretty cool. Worst part of these tours was having to wear my dress blue uniform in the heat and humidity, it was sticking to me by the end of the afternoon.
Before my flight left I had a few hours to check out the Nikola Tesla museum. He was a very eccentric Serbian scientist who is credited with a multitude of inventions that moved the energy industry forward significantly. I recall first hearing about him on an episode of the ‘X-files’, and later David Bowie played him in the outstanding movie ‘The Prestige’. The museum stayed away from his eccentricities and focused more on his inventions, which were in direct competition to Edison’s in the early 1900s. He seemed to have been responsible for a lot more than he is given credit for, or has patents for, but I couldn’t tell if that was more due to him getting the screw-job from competing scientists or just him not caring that much about accolades…maybe a bit of both.
So…Belgrade was good! Maybe it has the feel of a more normal city because it hasn’t been tarnished by the tourism industry yet. You won’t see canals like in Bruges, or statues like in Florence, or grandiose buildings like in Munich and Vienna, but it’s one of the most comfortable atmospheres I’ve encountered so far in Europe.