Outside the bus windows, signs were all in Cyrillic, reminding us of our month in Russia. But this was a whole different place, where the languages are similar across borders but for some reason, only Serbia uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Belgrade was all about meeting people, sometimes in unexpected places. We arrived in the evening, looking forward to a week of some sightseeing, good food and a whole lot of down time.
We dropped off our bags and headed to a cute little bar for our very first Couchsurfing event, which was the weekly Belgrade CS get-together. There were about 25 people crammed into the upstairs section of the bar, and we ended up talking with two Serbian guys who gave us the rundown on what to see in and around Belgrade.
One of the first things we did was to check out a popular lesbian party near our apartment. We found it behind some type of office building and were ushered in by the slightly friendly butch bouncer. It was completely empty, and within a few minutes of us walking in the DJ started playing “Gangnam Style”, which probably was a coincidence… Or wasn’t. We stood around the table we were ushered to and looked around the sad, empty place until two women walked in and sat in a dark corner drinking and chain-smoking like they were exchanging state secrets. People eventually started trickling in, and one or two people got up on the stage and played around on the stripper pole for a bit before shyly running back to their group of friends. All-in-all it was probably one of the most boring lesbian bars we’ve come across on our travels and there wasn’t any eye-candy, so we called it a night and went home to watch movies instead.
Sightseeing is all fun and good, but we were craving good food, after having had the same sort of food (meatballs, meatballs and more meatballs) for the past few weeks. We had read online that Belgrade was a foodie paradise in the Balkans and we were ecstatic. Unfortunately, this is a lie. I guess if you had to pick a place with the best food in the region, it might be Belgrade just because it’s a big city and there are so many offerings, but it isn’t a city I would go out of my way to visit for the food. At all.
If you’re traveling through the Balkans by bus, there a few things you should know. The most important thing is that the people here are late for everything, they cannot sit on a bus for more than an hour at a time and timetables seem to be a mere suggestion and not something anyone takes seriously.
By the time we took the seven hour bus ride from Sarajevo to Belgrade, we had armed ourselves with blog posts about this ride. Some lamented the seven hour ride which actually ended up taking nine+ hours, while others talked about the driver nodding off as he maneuvered himself around curvy, narrow mountain paths. We mentally prepared ourselves to never get to Belgrade alive, bravely approached the surly woman behind the ticket sales counter and bought 20 euro tickets for the old-school Transprodukt bus.
We left late, but at least it was only by about 15 minutes. It was a cold Wednesday morning and we handed our backpacks to the driver, a towering man (did we mention that the Balkan people are enormously tall?) who gruffly threw our stuff under the bus. We settled into the cold bus with seven other passengers and we were off.
We stopped constantly. I mean, we stopped after about 10 minutes to pick up a couple of girls off the side of the road, and then again 10 minutes later to pick up a few more people. We stopped an hour into the ride for 30 minutes at some random bus station, where N had to deal with the “Turkish style” (squat) toilets. After another hour, we stopped again by a restaurant on top of a mountain for a 30-minute lunch break. I needed to use the bathroom, and of course, there was no toilet on this bus. I watched as an older man went inside the restaurant, came back out and ambled over to a wooden shack perched on the edge of the road with the letters “WC” painted on two of its barely-hinged doors. Oh hell no.