Accordion Stories - Belgrade, Serbia
Accordion Stories – Belgrade, Serbia

 

Belgrade has several dynamically different sides that mesh together to form a fun, kind, vibrant, welcoming place. It’s now the location of a strong migrant population, a side that adds an entirely different twist while simultaneously proving the genuineness of its people.

Here are five sides of Serbia – get ready for some pentagonal twists and turns:

Side 1: The Open Door Policy
My visit to Serbia was decided upon very last minute. I was coming from Western Romania and due back in Eastern Romania just one week later.
Facebook to the rescue.
A few months ago, a group I’ve been an active member of united me with over 100 friends around the world to put together a postcard project bringing light to my mom’s chemo-filled days back in the US. These incredible women stepped forward and lovingly sent postcards, gifts, and love to my mom as she continues her kick ass fight against breast cancer. One of these girls lives in Belgrade, Serbia and for the second time in a short period, she stepped forward and volunteered with a kind heart and open doors. She told me that while I stayed in Belgrade, her home would be mine. She was out visiting family the first couple days of my trip there, but we were able to meet up the final evening and she invited me to meet her roommates, enjoy the expansive view off her suburban home’s back deck and taste homemade avjar, a sweet red pepper sauce.
Some days I don’t even know how to express my gratitude and how to truly show you the kindness that exists around the planet. I hope you get a sense of it – no matter how strong or how slight – through these stories.

At Home in Belgrade, Serbia with my wonderful hostess!
At Home in Belgrade, Serbia with my wonderful hostess!

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery:

Side 2: The Night Life
I stayed two nights in a hostel while she visited with family in a nearby town. The first night began with a walk through the city’s hilly streets as a local led me on a quick tour after I asked directions to an exchange office. I returned to the hostel after our unplanned tour of Old Town and met my roommates for the night as well as the staff members and their friends. I was reserved at first, as I most often am, and typed away on my computer in the main room while others came and went on their own accord. After repeated glances at half smiles amongst one other, someone finally broke the ice, said Hi and from there began my introduction to Belgrade’s vibrant side –  the night life. First adamantly against the idea, I was tempted to call it a night while several of the guests and staff planned to go out to one of the ‘late night soon turns early morning’ clubs. The Balkans are known for their great times after dark and as they say: when in Serbia, do as the Serbians do. So I decided I would!
We went to a club filled with small circular pub tables, bright flashing lights and loud trance music which has but one purpose: getting young ladies in tight dresses to sway their hips back and forth, hypnotizing handsomely dressed fellows standing nearby, drinks in hand. I stuck out like a soar thumb in that bar and was as happy as a clam. No tight skirt, no black leather pants, no heels five inches high, no elaborate makeup or updo. I was rocking jeans, a plaid shirt and the same killer black boots I’d worn while traipsing through cow manure and muddy forests the day before. A few hours later, I returned back to the hostel with one of my roommates, threw on my plaid pajama pants (there’s a lot of plaid going on these days) and tucked myself into bed.
The next morning I slept until… afternoon. One too many gin and tonics.

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery:

Side 3: The Picturesqueness
The city… ah it was so charming. Words are not so powerful here. Luckily my camera was feeling mighty fine during our time there and the photos do the city justice better than any gabfest I might be inclined to have. I will quickly tell you my favorite spots in the city were Belgrade Fortress located high above the Danube River as well as its many churches. I also enjoyed a walk across the river to see a neighborhood which originated around 300BC. It is now home to small fresh food markets and quaint restaurants and storefronts.

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery:

Side 4: The Sunsets
See for yourself… No filter, no editing, just Mother Nature’s pure beauty.

Side 5: The Refugee Crisis
You’ve read about it, you’ve heard about it, but have you experienced it?
Some of you have.
My brief stay in Belgrade was the first time I’d been face to face with an issue that affects hundreds of thousands in and around the Balkans. The refugee crisis is real and each person has a unique story of where he is coming from, where she is going, what his family is doing, what she is looking forward to in her new home. The second night in the hostel I awoke from a deep sleep to several young men filing into the room I shared with – at the time – just one other. They filled up each bed and one who appeared to have the strongest English fluency began to share his story with my bunkmate. I was so intrigued and fighting back big yawns, trying to interact with the two of them to learn more about his journey.
They were on their way to Austria and had the following directions: Take the train to Austria, get off at the first stop, and find the nearest cell phone stand. They had been given these directions by a friend who said he now worked at the cell phone stand and would be there waiting. Can you believe traveling thousands of kilometers with those directions in mind? They didn’t have a name of the shop, didn’t have an address of phone number to look up, and they didn’t have an arrival date specified. Yet they believed they could, so they would. Some had spent weeks in prison for not having proper documentation. Others had traveled in the back of trucks and spent nights crossing borders to hide from authorities.
Although I spent my final night at the home of my new Serbian friend, I returned to that hostel before taking a bus out of town. Many of the refugees were sitting down to lunch in a large circle on their bedroom’s floor. I waved goodbye while saying “As-salamu alaykum” as is the traditional salutation in Arabic. Shocked that I had addressed them in their native tongue, they immediately insisted I sit down to join their meal before leaving. I was running very short on time, but extremely humbled by their gesture. I’ve traveled many many miles, not always in the best of conditions, but I have done so by choice. They have done so out of necessity. And yet they opened their doors, invited me in and offered to share all that they had.
And the guys who were looking for their friend in Austria? They’ve now made it through Austria and have moved on to Germany. Their first few days of freedom after a lifetime of war. Can you imagine!?

Contemplation on the Danube

Communistic Symmetry

Walking to Work - Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade Sunset - No Photo Edits!
Belgrade Sunset – No Photo Edits!

2 Comments

Leave a Reply