Difference between revisions of "Belgrade"
Revision as of 17:05, 1 March 2008
Belgrade (Београд, Beograd in Serbo-Croatian)  – meaning 'White City' – is the capital of the Republic of Serbia. Various styles of arhitecture dominate the city, while its recent resurgence as the leading hub in south-eastern Europe make it a must see destination.
Belgrade is the capital of the Republic of Serbia and is, as such, the country's largest city with a population of about 2 000 000 people. The city has a long history, dating back to before the common era, when it was settled by tribal people. Later on, it became the Roman city of Singidunum, and relics of that era can still be seen in the city, particularly at Kalemegdan Fortress. As it entered the Byzantine Empire, Belgrade saw many conflicts, including invasion by the Ottoman Empire, until Serbia finally became independent in the 1800s.
After the Second World War, Belgrade became the seat of Yugoslavia until its collapse, and it saw violence again in 1999 with Nato's bombing campaign in response to Serbia's actions in the province of Kosovo.
This often violent history and outside influence has colored much of Belgrade's evolution, and that is evident in its culture and architecture. Often caught between the hammer and anvil of clashing empires, the city has taken on a unique character, reminiscent of both Austrian and Turkish influences, with a unique set of Communist elements thrown in as Yugoslavia was expelled from the Eastern Bloc in 1948. Yet, the city has its own spirit, and in it can be found some not only very unique features, but also a healthy joie de vivre in its café culture, nightlife and often Mediterranean flavor in its view of life.
Whilst there isn't much by way of ethnic or cultural diversity in Belgrade, in terms of different migrant populations – compared to other European cities – there are minority communities (largely Roma and Chinese), as well as people from other former Yugoslavian republics, such as Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia. There is also a small expat community . Cultural events from round the world, however, are starting to be increasingly common, particularly in the spring and summer months, thanks in no small part to both local arts and culture organizations, as well as foreign embassies/cultural centers. These attract a good deal of local attention, and will help in raising the city's profile as a cultural hotspot.
Belgrade is serviced by Nikola Tesla International Airport, about 12 kilometers west of the city center, and is the home base of Jat Airways – Serbia's flag carrier airline – which flies to nearly 40 destinations worldwide. Other major airlines fly to Belgrade, such as Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa. Discount and no-frills carriers such as Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz, however, have yet to make their entrance in the Serbian market, which makes the cost of flying to and from the city a bit higher than other destinations, although Germanwings does have a number of less expensive flights to Germany and Norwegian Air is another low cost airline operating to Belgrade.
There are shuttle busses to the city center from the airport, operated by both Jat and Lasta. These will pick up and drop off passengers at the Hotel Slavija (Jat) and the central train station (Lasta). The fares are about 160 RSD for the Jat shuttle, and 80 RSD for the Lasta bus.
Avoid taxi service being offered by drivers in the airport terminal; the drivers won't use their meters, and will charge many time the normal fare. Metered taxis can be rung in or picked up from the stand outside; just be sure to chose one with a roof sign indicating it's a city-regulated (see below) radio taxi, and insist that the trip be metered.
There is also city bus service to and from the airport. Line #72 from Zeleni Venac in central Belgrade runs twice an hour, and costs 45 dinars. The trip is around 40 minutes, but is decidedly less comfortable than a shuttle bus or taxi. A more comfortable city bus option is the E7 minibus, going from the airport to Kralja Aleksandra Boulevard in the city center, stopping at the major hotels (Continental, Hyatt and Park) along the way. The buses are comfortable and air-conditioned. The fare is 60 RSD, which is paid on-board; be sure to tell the driver what your destination is before departure.
The Central Train station is located, not surprisingly, in the city center. Most national and international trains stop here.
There are several international train connections from Budapest-Vienna and Zagreb-Ljubljana-Munich-Zurich, Normally, trains should not be too late (seldom more than 1 hour), and usually safe. Expect the overnight train from/to Budapest to be overcrowded in summer.
There are also direct (day and night) trains from Kiev, Moscow, Skopje, Thessaloniki and Sofia and an overnight train from Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade. It arrives early in the morning (around 7). This is a reasonably comfortable train with sleeper cars and nice views (even at night). Upgrade to the cabins with two beds only for 100% improvement. Prices are pretty reasonable.
Belgrade's central bus station is next-door to the central train station, in Ulica Karađorđeva. Whilst coach service to national and international destinations is frequent, departure times are usually reliable, but arrival times may be not. Timetables aren't clearly posted; the timetables that are there are in Serbian only, so ask for information inside the terminal.
Ticket reservations and purchases are made in the terminal building.
When buying a bus ticket, you will also receive a token to enter the platform area, for national travel. For international travel, you will be given a paper stub to present at the platform gate.
Be aware that most coach drivers will charge you a fee for baggage handling in the cargo compartment, though this is not a uniform practice with international travel. Also be aware that drivers rarely speak English or any other foreign language. Inform yourself about your trip prior to departure as much as you can; if in doubt, ask a fellow passenger for assistance.
Coach travel in Serbia is a hit-and-miss experience; whilst there is a huge number of companies to chose from, not all of them have clean, modern coach fleets, particularly for travel within Serbia or to neighbouring Montenegro. Coaches are more often clean and modern when embarking on trips to western Europe.
For international trips to the rest of Europe, Lasta is the Eurolines carrier.
For long trips, drivers usually stop for 15 minutes breaks roughly every two hours, though this isn't by any means guaranteed. Pack appropriately with food and bottled water. When disembarking on breaks in the trip, make sure to either secure your belongings, or take them with you.
Coming north from Subotica and Novi Sad, the E-75 motorway is recommended, as well as driving to Belgrade from the south. There is also a major road called Ibarska magistrala, which provides approach from south-west. From the west, use the E-70 motorway. Major roads can be used coming east and north-east from Vršac and Zrenjanin.
Motorways have toll stations, which are moderately priced. As of summer 2007, there is major roadwork on the E-75 motorway north, so expect occasional delays.
Belgrade lies where the rivers Sava and the Danube meet. Passenger ships enable you to reach every place along the Danube in a very convenient and meditative manner with many fascinating attractions along it, but it is a quite slow and rather expensive way of travelling.
Belgrade has an extensive public transport network, covering almost all areas of the old city, Novi Beograd, Zemun and other out-lying areas. The network itself consists of a large fleet of busses, trolley buses and trams - 1,000 vehicles to be exact, but even this is not enough, and public transport in Belgrade is always crowded during rush hour. Tickets for the public transport network cost 29 RSD when purchased at a kiosk (known locally as a trafika), or 58 RSD when purchased from the driver. All tickets must be validated in manually-operated stamping machines inside the vehicle. Transport authorities routinely check tickets for validation – particularly at peak hours on major lines – and an infraction can land you with an uncomfortable fine.
If you are going to spend an extended period in Belgrade, and intend to use public transport a lot, than you can buy passes that range from 15 days to 1 month. Those must be purchased at the public transport department, and can be somewhat difficult for foreigners to acquire, since the process is long (filling out forms with most of your personal information) and attendants do not speak English.
There are over 120 urban and over 300 suburban bus lines. There are also several seasonal lines, including Ada1-Ada5, the five lines which can take you to Ada Ciganlija, and one seasonal, weekend-only line (400) which goes to the summit of Mt Avala. As of July 2007, most of the bus fleet is less than five years old. The area around Zeleni Venac is a major bus hub in the city center, with many lines going to and from Novi Beograd and Zemun stopping there.
Trams are mostly old and cramped, with few being restored; some have been donated from Basel, Switzerland, but they are also well beyond their serviceable lifespan. There are 12 tram lines in Belgrade, three of which are connected to New Belgrade.
Line 2 is famous in the city with a circular route, running in both directions. The circle is known as krug dvojke (#2's circle) and rings the central city streets.
As of summer 2007, there have been many interruptions in tram service in Novi Beograd due to road work, and new track being laid down on existing tram lines.
Trolleybuses fleet in big majority consist of old soviet made ZiU-9 and new belarussian made Belkommunmash vehicles AKSM-321 and AKSM-333, and they run only in Old Belgrade, connecting the city center to east and south-east. There are eight trolleybus lines.
As of April 2007, six minibus lines were introduced (E1-E7, except E3) which criss-cross Belgrade. Later, two more lines were added - E3 and E8. Minibuses are all air-conditioned, smaller and generally quicker than regular city buses. However, tickets are bought only inside a minibus and they are more expensive than ordinary ones. As of September 2007, minibus fare is 60 RSD.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful, and you can either stop one in the street, or call a taxi company. Make sure that you ride only in licensed cabs, which carry a little blue sign with the city coat of arms and a number on it, or you may end up paying too much. Never take a privately owned cab (the ones with the white marker on the top that does not list the name of the company), since you can pay up to four times the normal price.
Throughout 2007, major changes are being implemented in the taxi system, as cars are modernized to include receipt printers and an option to pay by card, though it will take some time for the whole taxi network to include this.
Not for the faint of heart, particularly during peak hours.
There are many streets which have yellow lanes. They are reserved for public transport, ie buses and taxis, and you are not allowed to use them. The yellow lanes are marked with a yellow line, and are indicated on traffic signs. Some yellow lanes, though, are active only in certain periods of the day, usually during rush hours.
There are new spaces for parking in the city center. There is a large carpark with 500 spaces under the old palace in the city center, over the road from the national parliament building.
Also, take into consideration that in the center almost all of the parking spaces in the central streets have zones marked with green, yellow or red paint on the street (yellow zone spaces are actually marked with orange color, to avoid confusion with other marks). You can only stay for 3, 2 or 1 hours, correspondingly, in those spots. You can pay using the machine usually found near the parking spots, buy the parking ticket at a kiosk or by your mobile phone (just send a message with the number plate of your car (for example: BG123456) to numbers 9111 (red zone), 9112 (yellow) or 9113 (green)). Every message you send is valid for one hour and, some 5 minutes before the hour has passed, you get an SMS telling you that you can send another SMS if you want to prolong your parking for the next hour. Of course, this only applies for yellow and green zones, in which you can park for more than 1 hour. After the time is up you'll have to re-park or risk paying a fine (around 10 euros). All of this only applies on working days, from 7.00 to 21.00 and from 7.00 to 14.00 on Saturdays. After that (Sa 14.00 - Mo 7.00) the parking is free.
There are also several public car parks where you can park for an unlimited amount of time during day. Fees are charged on an hourly basis. In some non-zoned areas, parking is also charged depending on duration of your stay and this is payed in cash to parking attendant.
Old Belgrade is pretty hilly and the bicycle infrastructure is scarce, so bicycle transport isn't in wide use. However, New Belgrade and Zemun are relatively flat and offer enough space for bikes to be used. Bicycle tracks link Zemun, Dorćol and Ada Ciganlija, while others are placed in Bežanijska kosa quarter. Some 50 kilometers of new tracks are being built in New Belgrade. There is a bike lift on Brankov bridge and the ride is free of charge and there are also some 50 bicycle racks around the city.
Unfortunately, you are not allowed to bring bikes into public transport vehicles.
Note that many of Belgrade's museums are closed on Monday. It may be wise to check before making a visit.
Public Observatory (placed at Kalemegdan fortress) - There are four panoramic telescopes installed for daily observations of the city's panorama. This is the unique place in Belgrade for panoramic observations. 
National Museum - located at Republic Square has an enormous collection of world painters.
National Theatre - watch opera, ballet and plays - the main hall is simply amazing. Decorated with gold and artworks.
Visit a splav (literally: raft) – a floating restaurant located along the Sava and Danube rivers. There you can dine and eat with the extra feature of being on the river and enjoying the view.
If you have time visit the Belgrade Arena. It is the second largest arena in Europe and the largest in the Balkans. You will definitely be impressed by the architecture. The 2005 European Basketball Championships were held there.
Be aware that use of the English language isn't as widespread as it is in other European cities. Chances are young people will speak it to varying degrees, however the vast majority of older people will not.
French and German are spoken by younger people on occasion, as it is often taught in local schools.
Be patient, and always ask if someone speaks your language before making any assumptions. A great way to make friends in Belgrade is to try using Serbian phrases - no matter how elementary. This will produce many good-natured and mirthful chuckles at hearing foreign pronunciation of the Serbian language, but it is a very good ice-breaker and local people do appreciate the effort, particularly since not many foreigners count themselves as fluent speakers.
Useful phrases in Serbian include:
The letter "J" is pronounced like the letter "Y", or "J" in German.
Also expect to hear analogues to words in other languages used in everyday conversation, such as kul (cool), ekstra (extra) and super.
Written Serbian – on outdoor signs, et cetera – will either be in Serbian Cyrillic, Latin characters or both. There is no hard-and-fast rule about this. Taking the time to familiarize one's self with the basics of Serbian Cyrillics helps enormously.
The currency in Serbia is the dinar . Money can be exchanged at official exchange offices (locally called Menjačnica, often carrying the emblem of the National Bank of Serbia outside the building), which are clearly labelled and they are numerous in central Belgrade, or at the airport. There are many ATMs, which accept foreign bank and credit cards without a glitch (note: they are new machines so you wont have any problems with them). The dinar is not widely convertible outside Serbia; it is advisable to re-convert your remaining dinars to Euros or other major currencies before leaving the country.
The stores work into late hours during work days while on Saturdays they normally close around 15.00 and most of them are not open on Sundays. Therefore, finding an activity for the weekend must be thought of beforehand. At night, however, there are bars, cafés and discotheques that are open, selling cheaply priced drinks. Belgrade is reputed to have some of the best night life in Europe.
Clothes and Accessories
Import taxes make clothes and shoes in Serbia very expensive. Many items from common European chains can be found for 20% less in neighboring Budapest. Still, Belgrade has many flagship stores, mostly located on Knez Mihailova Street, or the pedestrian zone. They include Escada, Max Mara, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Sweet Years, Paul & Shark, Lacoste, Zara, Gas, Diesel, Miss Sixty, Energie, Tom Tailor, Tally Weil, Springfield, Mango, Cortefiel, Pedro del Hiero, Levi's, and Marella.
There are also many multi-brand stores selling higher class designer clothes and accessories. The most known ones are Artisti (a chain of stores throughout the city) who have the new Gucci, Prada, Bikkembergs, Dior, Tod's, DSquared2, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino collections. The second store chain is Land featuring brands such as Just Cavalli, D&G, CNC by Costume National, Iceberg. New stores include Marks and Spencer, Top Shop, Sephora and New Yorker.
The official distributor of Armani Collezioni, Emporio Armani, Armani Jeans, Versace Jeans Couture is a store Alta Moda in Kralja Petra street. Close to Alta Moda are other designer multi brand stores such as Monobrand and EuroModa . Also, there is a shop called MilModa that is oriented to the younger population. Thus, it features Armani Jeans, Missoni Sport, D&G, Etro, Bogner, La Martina and BluMarine constantly, and (from time to time) fashion brands such as DSquared2, Richmond, Prada, creations of John Galliano and many others (they are official dealers). It is situated near St. Sava`s temple.
The multi brand concept stores are developing very quickly, so it's not going to be a problem finding all types of clothes. Best concept stores are Buzz (Knez Mihailova street), chain of street-wear stores called Urban and Avanguardia.
Searching for accessories, watches: You can find also a variety of brands from the cheapest (Swatch) to the most expensive (Breitling for Bentley, Cartier, Boucheron, Rado...). Accessories can be found everywhere but for the hippest you can see Dve Smizle (Millennium Shopping Mall, Knez Mihailova) and Time Zone feat. Kenzo, Christian Lacroix Bijoux, Miss Sixty Jewelry and others (Makedonska street, next to Politika newspaper headquarters).
Serbs are very proud of their food, which is heavy on grilled meats and sausages, local cheeses and bread. Salads are primarily tomato, cucumber, and onion, or cabbage. Local produce is fresh and organic.
Belgrade has hundreds of restaurants specializing in local cuisine and a few international restaurants. On the whole, prices are cheap compared to western Europe with main meals ranging from 8-25 dollars per person.
Most Serbian restaurants offer rostilj, a large plate of various unseasoned grilled meats, or any possible variety of grilled chicken wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese. It is possible to order fresh salads, plates of grilled vegetables, crepes, or omelets if you are not carnivorous.
Snacking and eating on the go in Belgrade are easy and cheap. Bakeries – called pekara – are ubiquitous in the city center, and you will find a wide assortment of breads, sweet and savoury pastries, sandwiches and pizza on offer. A snack or light meal of pastry and drinkable yoghurt will give you an added boost when walking about the city center.
Foods that vegetarians and meat eaters alike should try include kajmak (something between cream cheese and butter) and ajvar, a savory spread of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. It is also worth visiting a pijaca (green market) to buy some fresh fruit, vegetables and other grocery items. The farmer's market at Zeleni Venac, close to the Hotel Moscow, is one of the largest – and the one with the least expensive merchandise – in the city. Contained in a newly-built complex, it makes for an enjoyable Saturday morning experience, with the lively hustle and bustle of people milling about and stall-owners trying to attract customers. Depending on the season, an amazing assortment of fruit and veg can be found in farmer's markets, including watermelons, olives, wild mushrooms and fresh figs. Take the time to explore the stalls, and compare the quality and prices of the produce.
There is also pljeskavica, the Serbian version of a hamburger, which is about five times larger than an American hamburger and can be purchased from fast food restaurants. You can find your typical McDonalds and Pizza Hut, but most of the fast food restaurants in Belgrade are local and sell baked goods, pizza, sandwiches, and palacinke (the Serbian version of a crepe). Some may go beyond that, selling Turkish delicacies such as baklava, tulumba and other Greek/Turkish treats.
There are a handful of international restaurants, including Chinese and Indian. These are moderately priced to very expensive. Many dine out at "Peking" restaurant, and "Mao Tao" is an excellent choice as well for Chinese. Zapata's is the best (and pretty much only) Mexican restaurant in town.
Skadarlija is a pleasant street filled with Serbian and Italian restaurants.
The tap water in Belgrade is probably safe, but should be avoided according to the U.S. CDC. There is a wide range of bottled waters on offer in groceries, supermarkets and pavement kiosks ('trafikas').
Serbs love beer, and it is possible to buy a variety of domestic beers, along with a few imported beers, at very cheap prices. The domestic beers are quite decent. Imported beers include Heineken, Tuborg, Bittburger, and Becks. Belgrade holds a Beer Festival annually in September.
For the sober crowd, Belgrade has blueberry, raspberry, tomato, peach, apple, strawberry, and any other kind of juice you can think of.
There are a couple of places worth visiting if you are a fan of cafe culture. The street best known for its trendy cafes is definitely Strahinjića Bana. On this street, cafes are full even on weekdays. All cafés serve the usual continental coffees, such as espresso and cappuccino. However, regular coffee comes in the form of Turkish coffee, not filtered coffee. If you want a filtered coffee, you need to specify this when ordering, and not all coffee shops have it. Also very popular is whipped instant coffee, commonly referred to simply as 'Nes' (as in, Nescafé). A cafe called Mani Prag (across from the Hotel Prag) is thought by some to offer the best "Serb Coffee" in the world.
The best atmosphere is on Friday evenings when the trendy youth of Belgrade descend to enjoy the music and eachother. Out of numerous cafes, the best ones are: Insomnia, KontraBar, Buongiornio (also a pastry shop), Nachos, Veprov Dah (a scottish pub), Duomo (Italian and Mediterranean restaurant and cafe), Ipanema etc.
The second cafe zone is Obilićev Venac (a street parallel to Knez Mihailova). The best cafes there are Iron, Jelena, Zu Zu's, Irish pub, Simbol and many others.
Third cafe zone (also a going out zone) is quay next to hotel Yugoslavia in Zemun. On the quay are numerous river boats (splavovi), many of them are cafes, restaurants and clubs.
Other places worth visiting:
Several hostels have opened up in Belgrade recently, mainly in the center of the city. Some are only open in the summer, but a couple function all year round.
There are also several hotels right around the train station that are relatively cheap (30-40 EUR) that are actually quite nice. Just walk around and you should find one with empty rooms without much difficulty.
Hotel Astoria - side street just opposite the railway station. 61 Euros a double including private facilities and breakfast. Many thoughtful extras. Bistro restaurant good menu , good value.
Belgrade is a relatively safe city, but be wary of pickpocketing (see sidebar note on staying safe at the train and bus stations). Keep money, mobile phones, travel documents and other valuable personal items in secure places. If you own your own car, it's preferable for it to have a security system. Traffic laws are for the most part observed (nervous drivers during rush hour change lanes or make dangerous turns when avoiding traffic). Taxi drivers can be notorious for swerving in and out of lanes. Pay close attention to traffic signals as a pedestrian, as Serbian drivers tend to burn red lights.
There are a number of LGBT cafes and clubs in Belgrade and you will find a warm welcome from a population increasingly embracing their diversity.
In case of an emergency, call 92 (police), 93 (fire) or 94 (ambulance). Always carry the phone number and an address of your embassy with you. In case of injury or illness, the place to go is the Urgentni centar (Emergency center) of the Clinical Centre of Serbia. Be aware that not all medical facilities are well-stocked or have personnel that speak foreign languages, including English. Cash payment on the spot will almost certainly be required for medical services. Consult the embassy of your country, if possible.
In winter, when it snows, the next day, the streets are covered in sleet, so take caution when walking the next day. Košava is notorious Belgrade wind which in the winter may cause that you catch cold more quickly than you would expect - take care and dress appropriately.
Also be mindful of the high number of stray animals – particularly dogs – roaming streets, even in the city center. Whilst it is very rare that they demonstrate outward signs of illness, err on the side of caution and avoid coming in physical contact.
Pharmacies – called 'apoteka' – are found throughout the city center. Look for lit green crosses on building façades. Some, such as the one in Kralja Milana Str, are open twenty-four hours. These will carry a range of prescription medicines, as well as over-the-counter products like pain killers and vitamin supplements.