15/08/2013 - 18/08/2013
Our train journey from Zagreb to Belgrade took most of the day. We had to kick some people out of our reserved seats who tried to tell us there were no reservations, even though we had ours in our hand and they were also on the back of the seats. They seemed really aggrieved by it and were grumbling about it for ages, even though they still had seats, they barely needed to move and they were still all together (2 of them were opposite us and the other was across the aisle on a single seat). Still, aside from that, the journey was fine. We were quite surprised to get stamps in our passports for entering Serbia though.
On arrival in Belgrade, we walked to Habitat Hostel. It's a very friendly, very sociable hostel, with a fairly laid-back approach to things. As soon as we arrived they were suggesting we head out to the beer festival that was taking place. However, as it was taking place all week and we were pretty tired, we declined. We stayed in an 8-bed dorm, which was a decent size, not too cramped. There were only 2 bathrooms in the hostel though, which included both toilet and shower, so if 2 people were showering you couldn't go to the toilet. That definitely let the hostel down a bit, plus breakfast wasn't included, but overall it was still good. I'd imagine it's amazing if you're a sociable person, but as an introvert I found it a bit overwhelming at times. There's no reception desk or anything, you have to just remember / guess who's staff and track them down. It took me a while to get some laundry sorted because of that, though they did do the laundry for me and it was free due to us staying for 3 nights. On that first night though we just watched a film and then went to bed. They had a huge number of DVDs, though the owner guy suggested this random one with Goldie and David Bowie in it, which we'd never even heard of. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining enough. It could really have done with a lot more David Bowie and a lot less Goldie!
We had a busy first full day in Belgrade. There are quite a few different walking tours offered and we managed to fit in 2 of them on our first day. The morning one was the general walking tour, which was really good. The girl doing it was engaging and she'd hand out goodies as we went along, like a shot of Rakia (traditional alcohol and apparent cure for everything) and some kind of pepper chutney type thing (I've forgotten what that was called). We then went for lunch before our second tour. I can't remember the name of the cafe we went to but I had something called a 'sandwich cake' and then some tiramisu. Our second tour was the 'underground tour'. That one's not free but it's pretty cheap and gives you exclusive access to some underground areas and then also a glass of wine. It was cool getting to go into the underground bunkers and stuff, though the guide wasn't so engaging and I got a little bored after a while - it definitely dragged on too long, plus it could have done with a toilet break at some point. Anyway, we got to the wine cellar at the end of the tour and got to have our glass of wine. Naturally this was the part I'd been looking forward to most, so it was rather annoying when I started to feel unwell. I don't know what it was exactly, it could have been the changing temperatures between the heat outside and the cold underground areas, it could have been a bit of dehydration, it could have been some kind of bug I'd caught, or it might just have been that my subconscious associates that musty smell with being ill (I once fainted in Norwich Castle dungeon). Anyway, I couldn't finish my wine or stay in the cellar so we headed back to the hostel. I lay in bed for a while and also took some Ibuprofen. Staying in a dorm isn't really the best when you're not well, but everyone was really accommodating and crept around quietly in the dark, even though it wasn't that late. I started to feel better after a while, so Jamie cooked us some pasta. Everyone was heading out to the beer festival again but I didn't feel up for that. I told Jamie he could go if he liked though, so he enjoyed the beer on my behalf and I had a quiet night in. It was quite nice actually, I had the whole dorm to myself so I could catch up on a bit of internetting and reading.
We just did the one walking tour on the following day. It was one that went out to the Zemun area. It was with the same guide as the first tour we did, which was cool. I think we then had quite a chilled out afternoon. We went somewhere for food and then to another place for a drink. We got back to the hostel late enough for everyone else to have already headed to the beer festival. Jamie had filled me in on his time there and I didn't really fancy it. Being in a sociable hostel made me crave less sociability.
On the day we checked out, our train wasn't until the evening, so we still had a whole day in Belgrade. We headed to the Tesla Museum, which was really good. You get a tour thing included in the ticket price, where you watch a video about Tesla and then you get shown some of his inventions in practice. The lady doing the demonstrations was brilliant - she was like a strict school teacher and this made her unintentionally funny.
After that we checked out the Saint Sava Temple, which is a huge orthodox church that they've been working on for over 70 years and which they reckon won't be finished for at least another 20 more!
I don't remember what else we did that day - got some food and chilled out back at the hostel I think. We then went and got our overnight train to Sofia. We were in a couchette with a German couple and 2 guys from St Albans (though one of whom now lives in Austria). It was a good atmosphere, we all got on well and I think we even managed some sleep.