Belgrade through Kees’s Eyes

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Why Belgrade?

One of Kees’s friends, Dimitri, is half Serbian, half Dutch. He had been wanting to take his friends to show them where he comes from for years. That’s why they spent four days in Belgrade. “Because he wanted to share this so badly, we were extra excited to do it as a group of four. Another friend is Croatian, so the next trip is already planned, that will be Zagreb.

The vibe, that rawness, that toughness – which I find beautiful – you feel it everywhere. And the people are friendly

What immediately caught your attention in Belgrade?

Because Kees had a local guide (Dimitri), he didn’t really do much research beforehand. “I found it to be a very big city, which I did not expect. The people were very friendly, willing to help you with anything. The architectural style also caught my eye right away; it was a mix between Paris and Vienna. There was also some really ugly new construction, but that has its own charm for me. And the hip and industrial aspects in some places remind me of Berlin. I really love that raw edge. Skadarlija, the neighborhood where we stayed, is an old working-class district that reminded me of Paris and the Jordaan. It’s nicely renovated, a very cozy, trendy area with lots of terraces.”

It strikes me that Kees often compares the city of Belgrade to other cities, so I ask him what makes Belgrade different or unique. “My experience in the Balkans is very different from other European cities like Paris or Berlin. It’s less touristy. Also, you know more about other places in Europe thanks to school and our Western orientation – so the Balkans were new to me. The unknown makes it beautiful for me. The vibe, that rawness, that toughness – which I find beautiful – you feel it everywhere. And the people are friendly.” According to Kees, people appreciate it when you speak a bit of Serbian. It doesn’t have to be much, but think of words like thank you, good day, or beer.

What are your absolute recommendations?

✔️Go to the highest point in the city, where you’ll find a fortress (Kalemegdan) and a park. “You have a beautiful view of the city and the rivers. Our tour guide Dimitri passionately told us about the history of the city while we were there, like who ruled at what time and what the fortress was used for. Hearing what happened while standing in the same place is very special.”

✔️Visit the local Dogma Brewery, a trendy bar by the water, for a local beer.

✔️Looking for a cocktail bar? Kees recommends Kafe Bar Blaznavac. “Not expensive, trendy, and lots of young people. And everyone smokes, I find that beautiful, it has a cozy feel. And I find it typical because you don’t see this in other European cities.” Furthermore, Bluz i Pivo is a cozy place for drinks with music, and Beton hala is a nice neighborhood with many bars – across the street are the boats where you can go out.

✔️In Brace Krsmanovic street, you can have a great night out, “for example, in club Ben Akiba. Here, I got Berlin vibes again.”

✔️Attend a football match. “Dimitri is a fan of Partizan, but they weren’t playing, so we went to Zvezda. He hated that, but it was great to feel the passion of all the people. If you want to get in the mood before the game, go to Stepin vajat Autokomanda for some food. “It’s between two stadiums, it’s very cheap (half a liter of beer for about €0.90), and there are many football fans. Cozy and beautiful that everyone gathers there.”

✔️In Belgrade, much local food is meat-based. “We didn’t go for fine dining but for where the locals would go.” For example, to Walter Sarajevski Ćevap.

✔️”You definitely have to eat Burek. We ate it often twice a day, so delicious!” It is often made with puff or filo pastry and can be filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables (usually spinach), but there are many variations of this dish.

Museum of Yugoslavia, fotocredit: Relja Ivanic 

✔️Feel like visiting a museum? Then the Museum of Yugoslavia is a recommendation. “A beautiful museum about the country’s history. Much of it is outdoors, and there are many statues.”

✔️Do you want to visit the oldest kafana (traditional café) in Belgrade? According to the waiter who served Kees, you should go to Znak Pitanja (Question Mark). “He claimed this about 10 times! By the way, he was the nicest waiter: very involved, and he wanted to show everything about the restaurant. He chose our food so that we got a full experience.”

✔️The Temple of Saint Sava is an Orthodox church, the second-largest Orthodox church in the world. “It has been completely renovated inside. It’s gigantic, and there’s a lot of gold. Uniquely beautiful, truly stunning!”

✔️If you want to leave the city for a while and see more of local life, go to Grocka. We went to Vinogradi Restaurant Grocka, Dimitri’s aunt’s favorite place. We did a rakija tasting there.”

What is your fondest memory?

“Being there with the four of us was fantastic. We had a great time. For example, we went to a club (Ben Akiba, see point 4 above) that didn’t have great reviews, but we decided to try it anyway. In the end, I had one of the best nights out of my life there – it definitely ranks in my top 5. They played light techno and a bit of house, and we partied from twelve to five.”

Kees’s trip to Belgrade also had an extra local touch. “Around Labor Day, we went to Belgrade because many Serbians go to family outside the city. We went to Dimitri’s grandma and aunt in Grocka. This is a larger area southeast of Belgrade, in the mountains. Because you have to drive at least twenty minutes to get to a supermarket, people there are almost entirely self-sufficient. One grows strawberries, another apples, and they exchange them. You go back in time, and I find that beautiful. Dimitri’s aunt took us on a walk through the area, and she proudly showed everything – here’s the most beautiful view, here’s the nicest neighbor, here’s also a beautiful view.” Like many Serbians, Dimitri’s aunt also has a barbecue. Good to know: “When it’s on your plate, you have to eat. You can’t say no. It’s very nice to see how hospitable they are and how happy they were that we were there, along with Dimitri. Fantastic to see that love!”