Budapest is beautiful, Belgrade is attractive (Mary Murphy)
I was asked by some of my Interne governance colleagues to give them tips about what to see and do while they’re in Belgrade for EuroDIG (30-31 May 2011). This takes me back to a time when I used to host foreign visitors and tried to show them the best of my town. Although there are many interesting places to see, you cannot say that Belgrade is strictly speaking a tourist destination, especially when you compare it to other European tourist capitals. It would be a miracle indeed, if a city which was destroyed 60 times in its history had wonderful avenues and fine historic buildings to be proud of. Yet, all of my friends who have left Belgrade are still very happy to return.
It’s been twenty years since I first left Belgrade so I’m now half-foreigner and half-host. Oddly, this might make it easier for me to understand Belgrade’s metaphysics. Belgrade is a ‘border’ city. Although established by the Celts, it changed rulers frequently: Avars, Romans, and more recently Turks and Austro-Hungarians, have fought for its strategic location. The result is a city full of contradictions and paradoxes, as evidenced by its people. An example …. Who would expect the city with such a bad media image from the 1990s to host the best tennis teams in the world and one of the best tennis players of modern time? Be ready to experience such paradoxes in Belgrade!
As for the question of what you should do and see while in Belgrade? There are plenty of guidebooks, each with its ‘must-see’ things. To whet your appetite, check out this a slightly long video-presentation.
My top destinations would probably not coincide with regular ones, so in the interests of fairness (and given that you have such a short time in the city), I did a quick survey of Diplo staff in Belgrade and these are their top picks:
Kalemegdan fortress The Belgrade fort itself (split into the Lower and Upper towns) and the surrounding area (the Kalemegdan park) are located on the point where the river Sava flows into the Danube. Belgrade is built around the convergence of these two big rivers.
Skadarlija street Once the home of many Serbian poets, writers, artists, and actors, the cobble-stoned Skadarlija (or Skadarska) street today hosts some of the best restaurants in Belgrade, all of which strive to preserve bohemian traditions from the early 19th century. Definitely the place to go if you want to get a feel of the atmosphere of Belgrade’s old times, cruise art galleries, shop for antiques or souvenirs, or taste the best of local food.
St Sava temple St Sava Temple, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Sava, is one of the largest buildings in Belgrade, and it is in fact the largest Orthodox Christian complex in the entire world, almost twice the size of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
Zemun Gardos Zemun is a city within a city. It was built by the Austro-Hungarian empire in order to protect the empire from the Turks who were on the other side of Danube in Belgrade. It later joined with Belgrade and became one of its boroughs. It’s a really nice place to spend the day, walk along the Danube shore and relax.
Ada Cigalija A river island that has artificially been turned into a peninsula, located in the Sava River’s course through central Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. During the hot summer days, it is cooler than Belgrade with thousands of people enjoying the sun, riding bikes and playing sports.
Beli dvor dedinje White Court or White Palace is a mansion, part of the Royal Compound, a real estate of royal residences and parklands located in Dedinje, an exclusive area of Belgrade. The Royal Dedinje Compound covers an area of over 100 hectares, of which 27 hectares surround the Royal Palace and another 12 hectares the Beli dvor.
Diplo’s Director of Operations, Mary Murphy (whom you will meet during EuroDIG) is Irish and is based in Budapest. She travels often to Belgrade and I suspect that for her, too, her top 10 picks might differ from the norm. In Mary’s opinion, while Budapest is beautiful, Belgrade is attractive. If you’re as curious as I was to know how she arrived at this conclusion (and indeed what the distinction is), check out her blog post on Belgrade’s Golden Hour (and remember to pack your camera).
For me, Belgrade is personified by her people: their contradictions, their paradoxes, their untamable spirit and their tenacity. Mary saw this for herself one night we took her to a typical Serbian restaurant. There is nothing quite as invigorating as the combination of good music, good company, and good humour.
No matter how long you’re staying for, I’m sure you will find something to amuse yourself. And perhaps, like Mary, you too will embark on a ‘Balkan Affair’.