Belgrade: a gem waiting to be discovered

When my Serbian friend (who lives just a few blocks away from me in Cape Town) announced that she was travelling to Belgrade, Serbia, to visit her family, I was super excited. When she invited me to visit her while she’s there, I was beside myself! I mean, how often does one get the opportunity to visit a foreign country for free (well, I just had to pay for my plane ticket and sightseeing) and have some great company by your side who can tell you all about the local culture and help with translation? Needless to say, it was an incredible adventure!

Welcome to Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)

The old city of Belgrade, as seen from the Danube river.
The old town of Belgrade, as seen from the Danube river. (Credit: Public Domain Pictures.)

Like a phoenix

Belgrade is such an interesting city to visit. It was my first visit to a Balkan country and I had always been fascinated by the Balkan region’s history and culture; and very conscious of the fact that there was so much I needed to learn. Belgrade is a very old city (dating back as far as 7000 BC) that, like a phoenix, has risen from the ashes many times over the centuries. Due to its strategic location (at the confluence of two international waterways, the Danube and Sava rivers), the city has been the battleground of countless wars, the most recent being the Kosovo War and NATO bombing in 1999. There are a number of museums and tours that tell you more about Belgrade’s turbulent history.

Silent protest banners in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade, which used to be the Assembly of Yugoslavia. The protest is about the NATO bombing in 1999 that killed civilians including children. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Protest banners in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade, which used to be the Assembly of Yugoslavia. The protest is about the NATO bombing in 1999, during the Kosovo War, that killed many civilians including children.
A moving sculpture of a child with angel wings in a park in Belgrade. 'We were just children,' it says. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
A moving sculpture of a child with angel wings in a park in Belgrade. ‘We were just children,’ it says.

Youth and optimism

Despite of what the people of Belgrade had to go through, the city has a remarkable feeling of youth and optimism. It is something that left such an impression on me! The majority of people are not well-off; there are not enough jobs; and there are still signs of the war’s destruction (some buildings have been left in their bombed states to serve as a memorial for the bombings); but there is also much renewal and the city is slowly waking up to tourism. There are no masses of tourists yet, but there is so much to see. It’s a gem waiting to be discovered!

Republic Square just off Knez Mihailova, the main shopping street in Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Republic Square is in the heart of the city. It is just off Knez Mihailova, the main shopping street in Belgrade. The 1882 bronze equestrian statue of Knez Mihailo (Prince Michael) is another popular meeting point of locals and tourists alike. Prince Mihailo Obrenović is famous for liberating Serbia from Turkish domination.
How beautiful is this street art in Belgrade!? (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
How beautiful is this!

Because of all the wars, the city has an interesting mish-mash of different architectures: from the old fortress to romanticism and beautiful Art Nouveau to ugly communist buildings. I enjoyed trying to guess which era a building was from.

Cafés and nightlife

There are lots of beautiful parks and wonderful cafés that spill out onto cobblestone sidewalks. There are lovely shops, markets and, if you’re into clubbing, I’ve been told that Belgrade is the place to be. (There are big boats on the river where people party until sunrise!)

One of the many great cafés in Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
One of the many great cafés in Belgrade.

If it’s rather opera and musicals that float your boat, there is the beautiful National Theatre where I attended a performance of Verdi’s opera Otello; and the Terazije Theatre in close vicinity, where I saw the entertaining musical Zorba the Greek (in Serbian! Ha ha. Yes! Despite not understanding a word, I still knew the story and music and enjoyed it very much).

The Moskva Hotel is a landmark of Belgrade and built in the style of the Russian Secession. To the left is the Terazije fountain which is a popular meeting spot for locals. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The Moskva Hotel is a landmark of Belgrade and built in the Russian Art Nouveau style. To the left is the Terazije fountain which is a popular meeting spot for locals.

There is a good public transport network of buses, trams (both old and new), taxis and they are also busy building a beautiful brand new metro. Many of the younger people can speak some English, while the older people will try their best to help you, even if they can’t speak your language.

Very affordable

Belgrade is very affordable – even for this poor South African (our currency is very weak!). So, I can just imagine how you could spoil yourself with dollars, euros or pounds.

Another great thing about Belgrade is that it is a very pedestrian-friendly city. You can walk almost everywhere. There is a Tourist Information Centre on Knez Mihailova Street (Prince Michael Street), which is Belgrade’s main pedestrian and shopping zone and leads all the way to Kalemegdan Fortress, the city’s famous landmark. Interestingly, Belgrade is named after this very fortress: it’s name means ‘white fortress’ or ‘white town’ in Serbian (and most other Slavic languages). At the tourist info centre you can get free maps, information and book tours.

Studying the Belgrade map over drinks. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Studying a map of Belgrade over drinks.

Even though I was lucky to stay with a friend, I still did a lot of sightseeing on my own and managed really well. I felt safe and it was easy to get around with a map, ‘dobar dan’ (‘good day’) and a friendly smile.

My Belgrade Top 5

I experienced so many wonderful things during my week-long visit to Belgrade and saw so much, that it’s impossible to write about everything. So, I decided to make a list of my top 5 Belgrade highlights:

Kalemegdan Fortress

If you can visit only one place in Belgrade, it should the Kalemegdan Fortress. Also known as the Belgrade Fortress, it is situated atop a 125-metre-high hill, overlooking the Great War Island and confluence of the Sava river into the Danube. In ancient times, the Belgrade population was concentrated within the walls of the fortress.

The main entrance of Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade.
The main entrance of Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade. (Credit: Pixabay)

The views from here are stunning and it’s easy to see why Belgrade has such a strategic reputation and is referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Balkans’ and ‘Door to Central Europe’. When Belgrade was conquered by the Turks in the 16th century, they renamed the Belgrade Fortress ‘Kalemegdan’, which means ‘the fortress amidst battlefields’, which explains why the fortress is referred to as both Belgrade Fortress and Kalemegdan.

Gorgeous views from Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade. The river to the left is the Sava. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Gorgeous views from Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade. On the left is the Sava river.

The fortress is surrounded by the beautiful large Kalemegdan Park with excellent views and lovely shaded spots to rest and enjoy a picnic after some serious sightseeing. Entrance is free to the fortress and park and you could easily spend half a day there.

The park around Belgrade's Kalemegdan Fortress is beautiful. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The park around Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress is beautiful.

Nikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla was a brilliant Serbian physicist, engineer and inventor, famous for his discoveries in the field of electricity, such as alternating current (AC), the Tesla Coil and radio. Yup, Tesla and not the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi is considered to be the true father of radio. Apparently Marconi used many of Tesla’s patents, including the Tesla Coil, a device essential to sending and receiving radio waves. And there have been many lawsuits.

The Nikola Tesla Museum is housed in a beautiful 1920's villa in Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The Nikola Tesla Museum is housed in a beautiful 1920’s villa in Belgrade.

Though Tesla was a brilliant scientist, he was a terrible businessman who failed (or refused?) to see the commercial value of his inventions. As a result, he died a pauper in New York and only received proper credit for many of his inventions long after his death.

The short tour of the Nikola Tesla Museum is great and includes a few fun experiments. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The short tour of the Nikola Tesla Museum is great and includes a few fun experiments.

I’m not a scientist, but I found my visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum super interesting. I think what really helped was the brilliant (and fun!) guided tour that included great explanations and demonstrations of Tesla’s inventions. There is also an interesting exhibition of Tesla’s personal possessions, drawings of his inventions and an urn containing his ashes (which I found a bit weird).

The museum is housed in a beautiful 1920’s villa and it’s cool to know that Belgrade’s international airport is named after Nikola Tesla.

The Nikola Tesla Statue in in front of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The statue of  Nikola Tesla in front of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade.

The Temple of St Sava

The Temple of Saint Sava is said to be one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. It is a famous Belgrade landmark that can be seen from many parts of the city. Construction of the Neo-Byzantine-styled church started in 1935 and, while the exterior has now been completed after many delays (most notably the 20th century wars), the interior is still unfinished due to the complex frescoes, and massive mosaics that have been planned for the domes.

The Temple of St Sava in Belgrade, Serbia.
The Temple of St Sava in Belgrade, Serbia.

Despite the unfinished interior, the church is already being used for important religious events. It is not often that one gets to see such a huge building in the making. Don’t forget to visit the beautiful completed crypt which has some beautiful frescoes and iconography. I was lucky to visit the crypt during a service, which just added to the special atmosphere.

The planned decoration for the inside of St Sava's main dome, which is 30.16m in diameter. It will involved the installation of a 1 230 square metre mosaic, using glass and natural stone. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
The planned decoration for the inside of St Sava’s main dome, which is 30.16m in diameter. It will involve the installation of a 1 230 square metre mosaic, using glass and natural stone.

I’d love to revisit St Sava when the interior is completed one day. I’m sure it will be stunning!

Zemun

Zemun is a gorgeous town on the old Austro-Hungarian border that only became part of Belgrade after the First World War. Situated on the banks of the Danube, the town boasts beautiful Austro-Hungarian architecture and great views across the river of Kalemegdan and Old Belgrade.

Gardoš Tower in Zemun, Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Gardoš Tower in the town of Zemun, which is part of greater Belgrade.

Zemun’s most famous landmark is the Gardoš Tower, a Romanesque tower built by the Hungarians on the site of ruins of a medieval fortress. Make sure to climb the tower to the top for stunning views over Zemun, the Danube, New and Old Belgrade.

Beautiful view over Zemun and the Danube, as seen from the Gardoš Tower. In the very far distance is Belgrade's Kalemegdan Fortress. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
Beautiful view over Zemun and the Danube, as seen from the Gardoš Tower. In the very far distance is Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress.

From Zemun you can take a a walk along a long promenade all the way back to the Belgrade city centre (crossing the Danube via a long bridge). I tried to walk all the way, but it was just that little bit too far, so I covered the last stretch by taxi.

Skadarlija

Skadarlija is a lovely old bohemian neighbourhood situated in the old town (Stari Grad), where many poets and artists gathered in the 19th and early 20th century. It is home to great cafés, art galleries, antique shops, a market and stunning street murals.

A scene in Skadarlija, the bohemian quarter of Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
A scene in Skadarlija, the bohemian quarter of Belgrade.

Skadarlija still has a strong artistic flavour and is a wonderful place to explore. Make sure to take the side alleys – I discovered quite a few little gems this way, especially some fabulous street art. I took so many photos that I decided to dedicate a special blog post to Belgrade’s street art.

A scene in Skadarlija, the bohemian quarter of Belgrade. (credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)

A selection of street art in Belgrade's Skadarlija neighbourhood. (Credit: www.grooveisintheheart.co.za)
A selection of the fabulous street art that can be found in Belgrade’s Skadarlija neighbourhood.

Have you visited Belgrade yet? What other gems did you discover?

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, is a wonderful city with a remarkable feeling of youth and optimism, and the home of countless gems just waiting to be discovered. Click the pin to read the post from www.GrooveisintheHeart.co.za

Linking this post to City Tripping, Cultured Kids, Rounded and:Monday Escapes Linkup

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42 thoughts on “Belgrade: a gem waiting to be discovered

  • November 11, 2017 at 6:27 pm
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    Wow! Belgrade seems so charming, Birgit! It is definitely a hidden gem which I hope to explore very soon. Thanks for the detailed guide!

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    • November 13, 2017 at 7:55 am
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      You’re welcome, Agness! Hope you’ll get to visit Belgrade soon. 🙂

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  • November 9, 2017 at 6:20 pm
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    I’m hoping to go to Belgrade in the next year or so, it sounds amazing! The only thing making it tricky is getting flights. :/ Your photos are amazing though and it looks like there is tons to do, so I need to get on planning!

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    • November 10, 2017 at 7:41 pm
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      Ooh! I hope you can go. There is so much to see. There should be plenty of flights from the UK to Serbia but you would probably need to fly via another city. Check out Turkish Airlines or KLM for example. An app such as Skyscanner should help you quickly. Happy holiday planning:-)

      Reply
  • October 31, 2017 at 2:23 pm
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    It sounds like a fascinating city to visit and what a great opportunity you had to get a local guide. Sounds like Belgrade is now on the up again thankfully, it’s a fab guide. Thanks for linking up to Monday Escapes

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    • November 2, 2017 at 5:07 pm
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      Thank you! Happy to hear you enjoyed my post. It is a very interesting city to visit and I hope you too can travel there in the not too distant future.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 9:55 am
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    Wonderful! I have visited Belgrade but only scratched the surface. The whole Balkans region is brilliant to visit, you must come back! #citytripping

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    • November 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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      So happy to hear that you also had a chance to visit Belgrade. I definitely plan to see more of the Balkans. It’s a beautiful region and there is so much history!

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  • October 27, 2017 at 11:17 pm
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    A fascinating city to visit and what a great opportunity you had to get a local guide. Belgrade has such a turbulent history but good to see it is now thriving. I’d really like to visit so thanks for the great guide…and linking to #citytripping

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    • October 30, 2017 at 7:51 pm
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      Indeed. Such a turbulent history but Belgrade is very safe and peaceful now, and I really hope that my blog post will encourage more people to visit. I hope you can too 🙂

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  • October 27, 2017 at 9:25 pm
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    The Balkans are not an area we have explored yet so it’s so nice to read about Belgrade – you’ve certainly put it on my radar now and I will continue to read more about it. I had no idea it was such a pretty place. And I love the sound of the Tesla museum, I love stuff like this. #citytrippin

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    • October 30, 2017 at 7:44 pm
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      Thanks Alex! Happy to have piqued your interest in this often overlooked country. I also hope to see more of the Balkans.

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  • October 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm
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    Great post! Admittedly, we don’t know a lot about Belgrade, apart from what we’ve seen in the news. And most of that was years ago. Thanks for the up-to-date view of the city. It does indeed seem to be rising like a Phoenix. Good to see, and definitely someplace we now feel like we need to see! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
    Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) recently posted…Holland America Line Choose Your Cruise Travel SweepstakesMy Profile

    Reply
    • October 30, 2017 at 7:41 pm
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      Thanks Rob and Ann! I so enjoyed getting to know Belgrade: the people, wonderful sites, culture and history. It’s definitely a phoenix rising and I hope that more people get to see it too.

      Reply
  • October 26, 2017 at 11:10 pm
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    A free trip (let’s overlook the air fare) is just too good to miss! There’s so much history in Belgrade isn’t there, but those tributes to the children made my heart hurt. Can’t wait to see more of the street art!

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    • October 29, 2017 at 7:31 pm
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      Yes, there is a lot of history, and I learned so much. Those tributes to all the people who died during the last war (especially the children) are heartbreaking. War is so ugly and it always claims the lives of innocent citizens 🙁 Will be posting my street art blog post soon!

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    • October 29, 2017 at 7:26 pm
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      Thanks, Vanessa! Yes, people tend to visit the other Balkan countries but Serbia has so much to offer too 🙂

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    • October 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm
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      Thanks, Sharon! I hope you get to visit Belgrade one day.

      Reply
  • October 26, 2017 at 1:21 pm
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    One of my favourite people I met while travelling is from Serbia, but when I asked about Belgrade I got the distinct impression that there wasn’t much to see or do there. From your post, I can only conclude that he was downplaying it a LOT! It looks like a beautiful city with lots to do, not to mention a fascinating history. Thanks for sharing!

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    • October 26, 2017 at 5:02 pm
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      Interesting! It does happen that people are sometimes not that much into their hometown and can’t understand what the tourists are raving about 😉 I guess tourists look at a place with different eyes – everything is new and exciting! I sometimes have to laugh at myself when I’m so super excited about something and the locals just look at me with disbelief because they find it rather ordinary. Ha ha!

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  • October 26, 2017 at 5:30 am
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    I have read a lot of good things about Belgrade. For some reason, the cities in Eastern Europe attract me a lot. The opportunity of staying with a local is priceless. I believe that is the perfect way to absorb what a city has to offer. Good for you! #wanderfulwednesday
    Ruth recently posted…Weekend Guide to Big Bear Lake, CaliforniaMy Profile

    Reply
    • October 26, 2017 at 4:55 pm
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      Funny! I am also very drawn to Eastern Europe. I find the history and culture so interesting! The more I see, the more I want to explore. And, of course, it is more affordable too, which helps budget-travel me 🙂

      Reply
  • October 25, 2017 at 10:17 am
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    Historic, affordable and walkable; Belgrade sounds perfect. I’d be with you visiting thenOpera House rather than the Clubbing Boats! Thank you for linking up to #CulturedKids

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    • October 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm
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      Ha ha, yes! The opera was far more my cup of tea 🙂 The city has so much to offer. I hope my blog post will convince more people to visit!

      Reply
  • October 24, 2017 at 1:20 pm
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    From all the former Yugoslavian countries I´ve only been to Croatia so far! It is such a beautiful region and Belgrade looks so interesting! I´ve never thought it would have so many cool places to visit, cause it has really risen from ashes. This whole story with NATO, war they had and bombing is heartbreaking… Thanks for sharing, pinned #the weeklypostcard
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    Reply
    • October 24, 2017 at 9:56 pm
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      True, Anna. Belgrade has truly risen from the ashes and so much to offer for visitors. The story with the NATO bombing absolutely breaks my heart… War is just ugly and there are no winners. I hope to see more of the region, including Croatia.

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 8:59 pm
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    I loved your post, loved everything you wrote about Belgrade! Thank you so much dear Birgit. Your excellent descriptions of the places you visited, reminded me somehow of Budapest, where I spent some fantastic weeks holidaying and from there, sightseeing through Hungary.
    Travelling is really the best thing one can do to spoil oneself, the experiences stay with you forever, unforgettable!!! Beate

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    • October 23, 2017 at 3:26 pm
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      Ah, thanks for your very kind words, Beate. I so appreciate it! Very interesting that it reminds you somehow of Budapest. I think there is some truth in it. I visited Budapest and surrounds a few years ago and also loved it. I can just imagine how fabulous your trip through Hungary must have been. What an adventure! To travel is really one of the best things ever and those memories are something that no-one can ever take away from you. Priceless!

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 3:17 pm
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    Thank you for sharing the beautiful experience. I wish I could some day stand at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube! – Keep them coming!

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    • October 23, 2017 at 3:15 pm
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      Thanks, Raphefo! It indeed was a very special experience to stand at the confluence of the Sava and Danube. There is so much history at this spot and both these international rivers have so many stories to tell …

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 1:19 pm
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    A lovely post. Belgrade sounds like a nie city. Affordable, walkable and a mix of old and new -will check it out for one of our city trips next year. #theweeklypostcard

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    • October 23, 2017 at 3:11 pm
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      Thanks for your lovely feedback, Jules. It is a great city to visit and a perfect introduction to Serbia. Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 9:08 am
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    It’s great to visit a city where you have some friends or you know a local. I didn’t realize Belgrade is so beautiful. I lived so closed to it (in Romania) for so many years and never visited it. Well, maybe next time I go to Europe I’ll visit it too. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    • October 23, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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      How interesting that you lived in Romania for many years. It looks like a really beautiful country too! I think the whole region has so much to offer and I’d love to explore more.

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 9:04 am
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    I haven’t been to any of the Balkans yet! I love the architecture though and that museum sounds really interesting. Sad that he didn’t get credit for his inventions until after he died!
    Anisa recently posted…SFMOMA: Modern Art in a New SettingMy Profile

    Reply
    • October 23, 2017 at 2:53 pm
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      I also love the architecture… especially the Art Nouveau. Yes, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum. As I mentioned, I’m not a scientist (I’m more into words and arts) but it was presented so interestingly that I’m now a huge Tesla fan! Ah, and I’m just thinking now … It’s so cool that Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is named after the inventor of the electric motor! Great acknowledgement 🙂

      Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 8:58 am
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    WHat a great opportunity you had to visit your friend! Belgrade looks amazing and I’m sad that somehow we managed to completely encircle the country by visiting the surrounding countries on our honeymoon. Will have to go again! So sad about the bombing of the children. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!!

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    • October 23, 2017 at 2:34 pm
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      I was really lucky, Lorelei 🙂 And staying with locals makes the experience so much more authentic. I would love to see more of Serbia and, of course, the surrounding countries, especially Montenegro and Croatia. My travel bucketlist is endless!

      Reply

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