|On the main pedestrian street.
October 15, 2007
Yesterday I had to make a decision between taking the train or the bus out here from the coast of Montenegro.
A couple things in the bus’ favor were that it would most likely take less time and that it was a bit less expensive.
The thing in the train’s favor…which my Lonely Planet was quick to point out…was the beauty of being able to get up and walk
The decision was easy – I was going to be boarding the 12:30pm train.
I decided to take this one step further – considering the duration of the train was to be about 8 hours, I forked out the extra $12
or so to be in the 1st class carriage.
I don’t know what the 2nd class carriages looked like…but I can report nice cushy comfy red seats in the 1st class compartment.
And my fellow carriage-mates all seemed very trustworthy (which is always nice when you are traveling alone and dozing off
every now and then). Does this make me a bit naïve? Of course. But sometimes it is hard to control the power of the eyelids.
The train was like a scenic tour of Montenegro – it began by going along the coast…then we moved inland near a lake…then near
a river tucked into the mountains…then surrounded by mountains…then crossing through villages with cute homes and little
huts that looked like ‘Cousin Itt’…then being completely dark so there is no way for me to report the findings of the Serbian
countryside heading towards Belgrade.
The scenery alone made the cost of the ticket worth it. It felt like a trip in itself. Not bad for just being transportation to
Just before we arrived at the main station in Belgrade, I would get my first experience of how wonderful Serbians are…
A couple times during the train ride, I opened my Lonely Planet to see what station we were at and how much progress was
being made. This most likely made it apparent to my carriage-mates what language I spoke. Just before arriving, the young
couple across from me asked in English where I was heading to. I told them I didn’t know. Their response: “You’re getting into
Belgrade at 10pm and you don’t know where you’re staying?” My response? “Um…no.” Silly me…I imagined this was going to
be like the rest of the Balkans where somebody would swoop me up from the train station and lead me to a place. Nope. The
couple gave me some suggestions and told me they would call a taxi for me once we arrived since the ones from the station are
insanely expensive. I really appreciated this. I now felt like I kind of had a plan.
And then it only got better…
Another carriage-mate said that she lived alone in an apartment and that I could always stay with her. The most appealing part
of this offer would be that I wouldn’t have to look at the different hostels or hotels with the hope that there would be availability
and that they would be in my price range. I asked her how much I could pay her. She just shook her head and said “nothing”.
Was all of this good luck really coming my way as the train stopped in Belgrade? Yes. It was.
And now it was off to Marija’s I went…
And if things could get better, they did. It turned out Marija lived smack in the center of Belgrade – in one of the neighborhoods
my Lonely Planet told me to wander around in, to be exact. It was near all of the things I wanted to do and see in Belgrade.
So this is where I am right now…at Marija’s…in the ‘Dorcol’ area of Belgrade. Turns out Marija is 20 years old, a volleyball
player and is a student here studying Japanese (this was prompted by her meeting exceptionally sweet Japanese people in a
museum in Greece). She has had a boyfriend for 5 years who still lives in her hometown and she is a complete romantic (she has
a piece of paper taped to her wall with a few lines written in English – I asked her what it is from – she told me it’s from a John
Michael Montgomery song). She showed me a ‘Star’ magazine in Serbian and was giving me the run-down on the Serbian
celebrity buzz…complete with the update of the current ‘Big Brother’ which is big stuff out here.
And while this won’t mean much to many people, it meant something to me. Marija is from the same hometown as Vlade Divac
is from. Vlade Divac of L.A. Lakers fame. This was my mom’s favorite player. I don’t really know why. But I just know she loved
the guy. I’m sure it was mostly due to her love for the Lakers. It still blows me away that a born-and-raised San Franciscan can
have such love for teams like the Lakers, Dodgers and Rams (though that loyalty left when they moved to St. Louis). I guess
that is what happens when a person’s parents won’t let them go to UCLA. They rebel by loving all things ‘L.A.’
I am really enjoying this city. There’s something about it that feels really comfortable to me. There’s not a huge abundance of
things to do…but maybe I am enjoying that part of it, too.
While Marija was at class today, I walked around the center of the city – the main pedestrian street (with stores like Escada,
Zara, Morgan de Toi, MaxMara, etc.) and the areas that surround it. One of their oldest streets (Skardarska) has a Bohemian
vibe to it. Others have big buildings with the European grandiose feeling (much like, say, the big buildings in Vienna and
When I met up with Marija we walked over to the Citadel and the fortress. This is one of the main sights to see out here. While I
know there is a lot of history attached to this, the thing I really loved about it was how peaceful and relaxing it was. We both
could have just slept on the grass. Instead, we both settled on sitting on the wall and looking out at the convergence of the Sava
and the Danube rivers. If I had more time here, I would have definitely come back here with a book in tow.
All of this relaxing got us pretty tired. Time for naps.
Then we headed to a traditional Serbian restaurant close to Marija’s. With the weather pretty cold during the night, the goulash
was the perfect way for me to go.
We walked around the city at night. Yes, it made my feet a bit numb. But it was nice seeing the buildings lit up and people out for
As I said earlier, just a very comfortable city to be in…
October 17, 2007
Okay. Time to re-cap yesterday…
We got kind of a late start…something I was more than okay with. It was pretty nice moving so slowly in the morning and
getting a lot of rest.
Marija and I went and grabbed some lunch and then parted ways. After all, I had appointment to make: I was going to the spa at
the Hyatt Regency to get my ‘Hot and Cold Chocolate Massage’. I booked this before I arrived. I was looking forward to it – it’s
been a while since I’ve had a real spa treatment. All I can say is that I wish I could bottle the smell from that treatment room
yesterday. I felt like I was in a chocolate shop. Heck, I felt like I was the chocolate shop.
The day went by extremely quickly and it was already 8:00pm - time to meet Marija at our meeting spot after her class was
over. We went to a restaurant that was in my book and looked really nice. In fact, it was so nice that Marija noticed the
President of the Serbian Parliament also dining there. I thought he was really young for such a position. And pretty good looking,
for that matter. Anyway, the food was great and it was a perfect way to cap off my time here and to thank Marija for her
Just before going to bed, Marija did the kindest gesture. She had this gold paper key. And she wrote a note on it for me to take
with me – it says “Thanx for all the moments that we spent together. This is a key from my heart… and I am giving it to you.”
She is truly one of those people with such a kind soul.
That was last night. Now I am sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Athens. This morning Marija even woke up at 5am to
make sure the taxi driver was outside for me. I would have never thought that I would have encountered anybody like this on
my travels through this area. What a gift.
But not everything could go my way in this country…as I would find out just 30 minutes later…
I was at the airport ready to check in…and quite punctual I should note. The airline guy was looking for my passport stamp
while checking me in. I told him that the Serbian police didn’t stamp my passport on the train. I showed him my sole passport
stamp from the area that I got upon arrival in Montenegro. But that wasn’t really going to help me in Serbia right now, was it?
He seemed a bit concerned and had me follow him to the police station. I like to say that I was semi-detained…but that might be
exaggerating just a bit. Anyway, it was now me, the airline worker and the police officer. And I wasn’t getting any further than
this room if the policeman didn’t give me the ‘thumbs up’.
And for a long while, his thumbs weren’t wavering. I just watched the back-and-forth between the two guys. The policeman
kept shaking his head. Then the airline guy asked:
Do you have your train ticket? Ummm. No.
Where did you stay in Montenegro? Ummm. Some place with a sign for ‘rooms’ posted outside.
The information was relayed to the policeman who continued to shake his head and now run in fingers through his hair.
Watching 20 minutes of this is pretty long when your leaving the country depends on it. It was probably in my favor that this
was around 5:30am because I was too tired to really even be aware of the situation. I just kind of stood there with a sort of
puppy dog looking face that said ‘pretty, pretty please’. Finally I got the go-ahead. The airline worker told me as we were
walking back to the counter that the passport stamp is what acts as the visa. It’s so easy crossing borders over here without
people giving you a second glance. My passport was never even checked when crossing into Serbia. The policemen just passed
our carriage. Never mind that it was my visa, I would have appreciated the passport stamp solely as a souvenir from this
country. Anyway, the airline guy rocked. Guess JAT Airlines now has gotten a point for customer service from me!
I thought all of the drama of my passport was over. But it wasn’t. Now I was going through the passport checkpoint and the
police lady didn’t know what to do. She was shaking her head. I told her to call the police station downstairs. She did. She talked
for several minutes and hung up the phone. I was cleared. But my passport wouldn’t get stamped. Oh well.
A lesson has been learned – I will always insist that I get my passport stamped upon entry into a country.
|On the fortress in Belgrade.