A Lovely Big Mess- Belgrade Guide Part One

Due to the great popularity of Greek travel advice (it’s early in the morning, the storm is over, and I just had coffee, so I can afford to be a bit smug, I’d say), I decided to give the same several installment treatment to Belgrade- which is definitely less of a tourist attraction than the Greek islands, but that’s just because the majority of people know no better than to follow the herd. Though, in all honestly, whenever I gush about Belgrade (namely, very very often) I also have a side thought about how one of the greatest things about Belgrade is that it’s still on the fringe of the beaten track, and can therefore keep more of its own natural charm than other, more touristy cities do.
Belgrade’s natural charm can of course come across as a bit special- firstly because, in all honestly, it is ugly. And that’s one of the greatest things about it. No, I have not had anything besides my coffee, so let me try to explain my slightly oxymoronic- or to some, simply moronic, statement. Belgrade has nothing of the architectural frenzy of say Paris, Rome or even Budapest. It’s not a small cute something either, like provincial towns in Belgium or Germany, it’s a big, throbbing, shambolic, mess. By Western standards of city planning and hygiene it’s on the insufficient side, to say the least. (Insert sudden flashback of pigeon infested hallway where I met some of the most evil and plotting looking representatives of the species.) So the point about Belgrade is that it’s a city which can compensate for all the above- it’s like a brilliant poker player who wins with an awful hand.
Most of the Belgrade tourist guides I chanced upon (there aren’t many, actually, Western editions tend to add the city as a side note to some Agatha Christie-esque tour of the Balkans) insist on the fact that the city was destroyed and re-built a whopping 40 times, though such a round and precise number seems somewhat scientifically dubious. But it’s undeniably true that history hasn’t been the kindest to the white city, not in the least due to the fact that it’s so fortuitously located at the confluence of two major rivers and the crossroads of many regional trade routes. This blessing quickly turned out to be a curse, as someone of a kingly, emperorly or dictatorial nature seemed to be in the constant need to own, conquer, raze, rebuild, pillage, bomb or reinvent the city.
This constant sense of impending danger could have made the city’s inhabitants the grumpiest people in the world- yet, quite to the contrary, the real charm of Belgrade lies in the fact that it’s such a happy go lucky city. There’s a lot of darkness here, but also enough humour to counterbalance it, there are retrograde forces engaged in a weird and delicate dance with revolutionary ones and the lack of very old historical remnants make a great canvas for the present to unfold. That’s of course weird to say of a place where every now and then the year 1389 (incidentally, that of a devastating defeat which, throughout the centuries somehow morphed into a great victory of sorts) will be plastered in giant letters over decrepit walls. But Belgrade’s magic also lies in its inconsistencies and contradictions.
Speaking of Belgrade’s magic, you might spare yourself the effort of a proper tourist guide, and go for Momo Kapor’s book of the same title, available online here, but also in many of Belgrade’s souvenir shops. If you really do insist on taking along a guide, in the illusory hope that you will consult it between several shots of rakija and such, Belgrade in Your Hands is probably your best bet- besides being a great prop for Instagram shots is actually provides useful information, although online hubs such as Spotted by Locals are now obviously better at keeping new places of interest on the radar. 

You will also be entertained with what we’ve discovered for ourselves- well, mostly- over our stay in the fair city of Belgrade, until then, here are some snaps to keep you company.





































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