When I first visited Beograd/Belgrade, I was a little inept at travelling (and more or less everything else, too). My experience there at first was a little disconcerting, and I was so on my toes for the first few hours I may well have been the best ballerina in the city. Beograd (I prefer the local name: “Belgrade” sounds like the prejudices people have about the city) is a strange place to walk into: I shuffled out of the train station, with my immensely heavy bag on my back, and straight away chanced upon my first “sight to see”: a half-bombed building that looked like it had been that way for 10 years, and nobody had really bothered to change it. I was intimidated.
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After taking a few photos (I rather cynically assumed this was the best sight I was going to see) I headed towards the hostel my guide book had suggested. All I found was a very harassed man up to his ankles in water with a spanner in one hand shouting in Serbian to a burst pipe. The pipe, to my knowledge, did not respond. He noticed me, made a phone call, and I was collected by a very pretty lady in enormous sunglasses who walked me to the alternative hostel. On the walk, she showed me a fistful of (very) out-of-circulation £50 banknotes that her grandfather owned, and asked me how much they were worth now. I was almost certain this was some kind of trick and I would end up being a Serbian money-mule. Told you. On my toes. I shouldn’t have been worried: Beograd, once I’d gotten into the swing of it, was beautiful.
Beograd (literally “The White City”) is named after the enormous fortress that stands over the city overlooking the merging of the two great European rivers – the Sava and the Danube, and offers spectacular views of both. The fortress is without doubt the most important spectacle of Beograd, and has survived 115 attacks and assaults over the years. 115. This fortress has survived more attacks than the number of people you’ve had sex with. Probably. It’s been attacked more times than other sieges have had cannonballs. It’s had more attacks than this paragraph has words. It’s a survivor, is what I’m saying, and it still manages to look pretty.
The fortress, much to my delight when I was there, is not the only sight (even ignoring the ruined building). Belgrade is also home to a palace and the Nikolai Tesla museum; and the world’s largest Orthodox church. It really is a proper tourist’s destination – and shouldn’t be shied away from like I almost did.
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Oh, and if you need extra incentive, the place is cheap. Really, properly, Eastern-European cheap. I ate a meal there that in London would have cost me $100 a head – three courses, with excellent beer, a shot of the local spirit (Rakia burns on the way down and is made out of more or less any fruit a Serbian can find) and all with Puccini playing out of speakers nearby. The bill came to about $30. Cheap, man. Cheap.
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So if you’re looking for as beautiful, value-for-money city with a little bit extra, look no further. The white city’s fortress has surprised attackers for centuries. Now the city surprises tourists.