May 26, 2015

Blitzing Belgrade - Sixty minutes in the Serbian capital

View of Belgrade and Danube River
WWII tanks outside military museum in Belgrade
Artillery display outside military museum in Belgrade
Downtown Belgrade

#RailEurope Challenge - 23-27 May 2015

Arriving in Belgrade at dawn was just a bit more cheerful than Sofia in the middle of the day, but still grey and drizzly. There was a Vienna train sitting on the platform leaving in about an hour, so I booked it. First Class day train via Budapest, arriving about dinner time.

The touts were up early and one could see my moment of indecision and latched on.

"Where you go? I take you hotel, airport, sightsee," he said enthusiastically while I winced. At least was better dressed than the dishevelled hermits hovering around Central Station in Sofia.

After a few minutes ping-ponging glances and gestures, I decided to take his proposed lightning tour of Belgrade.

"I have 20 euro, that's it," I relented, knowing I won't be in Belgrade again any time soon.

"Ok, good, my name is Zoran," he said in reasonable English, "I am taxi driver in Belgrade 30 years."

And my luggage was packed into the trunk of his sparkling Mercedes and away we went into the surprisingly light morning traffic. A good start, I thought, and the conversation flowed.

Belgrade Fortress
We made a beeline for the old fort on the hill overlooking the river and city where the remains of a Sunday festival were being blown about. The old fort, or at least parts of it, where around since 1450 with numerous modernisations done over the centuries.
A substantial military museum is housed in one portion of the fort, closed at 7am, but with numerous artillery pieces and tanks displayed in the yard including some quite rare items like a Panzer I and II from pre-war Germany. More German, Soviet and Allied tanks made up the balance.
Railway destination board on train carriage
After a quick detour through the city centre, Zoran announces," on the left, coming up, you can see remains from the war."

Sure enough, there in the middle of the city, a massive charred bite has been taken out of the upper corner of a high rise block, leaving a deep blackened scar in the structure. A similarly mangled building is adjacent. While Belgrade was not heavily bombed during the Serbian wars of the '90s, these two modern ruins are a salient reminder of the deadly tensions prevailing around that time.
Zoran and his cab

My Vienna train is now beckoning and the station is just at the end of the road and I'm pleased with my short premium tour of this city.

"Now," Zoran says abruptly, "you must pay me more ..." Argh!

Goodbye Belgrade, nice to meet you too.

Reminders of the 1999 NATO bombing

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