Number ten city on my travels in 2022 is also my shortest trip of the year. Quite enjoyable though. My entry into foreign nation numero cuarenta y tres stands out in a plethora of manifestations. Manifestos. My flight out of IST requires an hour and a half long bus ride, so this journey to the cultural capital of the Balkan Peninsula and former Yugoslavia starts at 2am on zero sleep and continues with raised awareness. I’m flying to Belgrade, Serbia on Air Serbia and apparently I’m flying on business class. It’s an hour flight and I have full run of the entire menu. Plus an empty middle seat. Plus — since Serbia is technically a 13 hour layover on my way from Anatolia to Catalonia — access to their airport lounge. A ponder how well I could sleep a couple hours in there. The plane boss, the plane lands. It’s still dark. An hour later. But two hours with a time zone change. The Nik Tesla airport is minimal as fuck. Seems like a giant construction zone. No shops. No cafes. Toilets and passport control. I’m exhausted yet I stick to the script of hitting the city center and taking it in, cousin of death be damned. I have nothing to declare and step out into the crispy cool darkness. Fuck it. I step on the local bus. The driver confirms it’s heading to the center and waves me on when I ask “how much?”. Public transport for the win. I hop off the 72 at the downtown bus station. Much closer to things I wanna see.
A city which has been continuously occupied for over 7000 years, it’s early Saturday morning and nothing is open yet. Like nothing. Hoping for a comfy coffee shop, I instead head to Kalemegdan city park. Apparently it’s a nice drop into the Danube; the heavy fog is beautiful but occludes the view. The chilliness persists, nevertheless the sun has finally peaked out and I find a lit bench and pass out. Wake up and I’ve donated my body heat to the atmosphere. It’s still cold and I get up get walking. 4 fully backpacked miles later and I’m into a triple shot latte and a marvelous public poop. Pack up and Republic Square has a Saturday sweets festival of some sort. Ice cream. Donuts. Candy. Cakes. I could go on. I lounge up in the sun on the public statue steps. Everyone else is doing it. It’s feels good.
Turns out Belgrade hosts tons of various cultural events, BBC named them one of the five most creative cities in the world. Also turns out that Belgrade is considered one of the best — if not the best — nightlife cities in Europe. Lonely Planet named them best party city in the world back in 09. Too bad I won’t be here late, my flight out is at 6pm.
I walk more. There’s cool things being set up in another park I find. I have no idea what it is. No idea whatsoever. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs. Young people smiling. This is nice. Urban land mines. Not so nice. I almost step in some dog poop checking out graffiti: “remember Kosovo is Serbia”. I dunno I’m not feeling political. It might be. It might not be. I don’t give a fuck, I head over to get a taste of some authentic Serbia food, which is delicious. I decide to head back to the airport early, tired and desirous to soak up some free airport lounge access. There, I eat and drink more. And more. Eventually I board the plane, and trout is served with actual metal utensils as we hit cruising altitude. Superb Serbs when it comes to cuisine, and I eat two days worth of food in a half day. Maybe one day I’ll be back with more time to enjoy the nightlife.