Love for Vracar

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Serbo-Croatian Ivana Batista (35) lived in Teslić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) until she was 7 years old, in 1993 she fled with her family to the Netherlands. Before, she lived briefly in Sarajevo and then in Banja Luka (both in Bosnia & Herzegovina) but returned to the Netherlands each time. In 2021, she followed her heart and moved to Belgrade (Serbia). She studied international criminal law at Leiden University and eventually started working as a buyer for a Dutch company. 'A big city appeals to me and I have family and friends in Belgrade. So the choice was quickly made. Anyone who has been to Belgrade once is going to love it and want to return again. The city's relaxed sense of life really appeals to me. Recently I have a boyfriend and he happens to be from my hometown, but he does live and work in Belgrade'.

An oasis in the city 

‘I sometimes joke that Belgrade is like a ‘concrete jungle’, chaotic and big. I have found peace and oasis in the Vračar district (an affluent urban area 1.6 km from the temple of St Sava). For me, it is like a village in the city. How people handle the rubbish, for instance, says a lot about the consciousness of the inhabitants. Vračar is one of the few municipalities where rubbish is separated. I haven’t seen it in other places. There is an international vibe with nice bars and pubs where you also have plenty of healthy options à la level you find in Paris or London.  The hospitality and high service of the catering industry everywhere in Belgrade appeals to me. This profession is taken very seriously here and you are really pampered. Just that extra step. You can make yourself a cup of coffee in your flat, but you go out because you want to have a chat. Here, that is much more important than in the Netherlands and you notice that difference. Here you can go out for relatively little money and there is something for everyone. That was an important reason for me to leave the Netherlands. Less stress, being outdoors and increased purchasing power’. 

“I sometimes joke that Belgrade is like a ‘concrete jungle’, chaotic and big”


‘Life in Belgrade is cheaper than in the Netherlands. Compared to other cities in the Balkans, Belgrade has always been more expensive. It is a metropolis that is constantly changing. There are many foreign investors and the city is growing. Belgrade Waterfront is a good example of this. The city has always had great appeal, especially for expats. But it also depends on what you are looking for and how much you have to spend. You can make it as crazy as you want. As everywhere in Europe, we also suffer from inflation here and that everything has become more expensive. We can see now  that many rich Ukrainians and Russians are coming to Belgrade because of the war in Ukraine,  and this has caused that house prices (both rent and buy) have skyrocket. But the quality of life here is more relaxed and better’.

‘Planning a coffee date weeks in advance like in the Netherlands is unthinkable. That usually happens on the day itself.’

Positive people

When I ask her what makes her happy, she does not have to think for long and tells me that positive and happy people make her happy. ‘Positive people, who feel good about themselves, dare to be crazy and go for their dreams. That’s why life here feels pleasant and relaxed, because I go along with people’s high and relaxed energy’.

Rest and healthy eating

‘I am positively surprised that in the jungle of the city you can still find your own peace. Belgrade is alive 24/7. On any day of the week you can go out or there is something to do. Want to go into the forest? You can do that too. Ada Ciganlija (a river island artificially turned into a peninsula), is a good option, but there are fun options around the city as well. In Vračar, I feel peace and I also like to walk there. I love the big city but I can’t be in the crowds all the time. What also surprised me is that there are plenty of healthy options in terms of food, even for people who eat little or no meat. We all know that meat is hugely popular in the Balkans, but in Belgrade you have plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans’.

Peninsula Ada Ciganlija, popularly known as Ada

‘What I find disturbing is that there are no 100 percent smoke-free places’

‘What I find disturbing is that there are no 100 % smoke-free places. I don’t smoke myself and I hate it when that smoke hangs around you or gets into your clothes. Fortunately, none of my close friends in Belgrade smoke. In summer you can sit outside but in winter it is more difficult. You do have sections in restaurants and bars where there is no smoking, but often it is in the same room and people smoke a few tables away. It is accepted here and nobody really makes an effort to change it either. While it does bother quite a few people. But let’s keep hope. Look at Macedonia, where they did succeed. For more than eight years they have smoke-free places. And nobody believed that it would succeed there because it is so deeply rooted in the interpersonal relations and culture’.

See a list of smoke-free places in Belgrade here

Ginger shot at the market Kalenić

‘In my free time, I can often be found in my own “town” of Vračar. A regular thing in the morning is a walk along the market Kalenić and a ginger shot at my favourite juice bar. After work, I usually go for a bite to eat somewhere with friends. This can be in Dorćol or sometimes in New Belgrade. I enjoy walking around the city. I have a car but in the city it is not ideal, so I use it as little as possible. From Vračar, I am everywhere within 20 to 30 minutes. Taxi is also an option, is well arranged and not too expensive. Here it is the habit to meet outside after work. Dinners with live music are the rule rather than the exception. You are much more surrounded by people here, a lot on the move and almost everything takes place outside the door. This all happens spontaneously. Planning a coffee date weeks in advance like in the Netherlands is out of the question here. That usually happens on the day itself. Something else I notice is that people have much less in the financial terms, but they are happier and enjoy life more. They find happiness in little things. In the Netherlands, work is quite central and here it is more “carpe diem” every day. There is always time for a coffee or lunch’.

The church of St Sava / Photo by Lazar Krstić
Fresh juice at the Kalenic park
Market with fresh often locally produced fruit and vegetables

A day in her life

When asked what a day with her looks like in Belgrade, she enthusiastically says ‘for breakfast I’ll take you to Cveće Zla. Is a deli bar with good food. Then we go for a walk towards Beton Hala, along the waterfront with nice views of the Danube River. Park Kalemegdan is also a good option. For dinner, Temperament at Beton Hala is a nice place to eat with live music. Skadarlija (old bohemian district) also remains fun to visit. Some locals think it has become too commercial, but I always have a good time there. My favourite is the restaurant Dva Jelena with tambourine live music. And what I never skip when friends come from abroad is visiting Lafayette Cabaret Club. Is really an evening out and experience with cabaret, and definitely recommended for lovers of sophisticated food who want to try something new.

Belgrade finest Deli & Wine bar Cvece Zla

Don’t judge the book by his cover

‘In Belgrade, you have many tavernas, old pubs and restaurants serving Serbian specialities. Often they are places that look old-fashioned. Don’t expect fancy or modern décor. On the other hand, the food here is often of high quality, really that homemade comfort food and a relaxed atmosphere. My favourite places are’:

Get fresh flowers on the street in the Vracar district

“I made 2 attempts to live in the Balkans and each time I came back. Three times is the charm, right?”

Cultural differences

The first thing that comes to mind is that appointments in Serbia are taken a bit more broadly (laughs). 11 o’clock easily becomes 11.30, so be prepared to wait a while. Not with everyone but it does happen. People are quite relaxed in this and are less strict than in the Netherlands.

Live and let live in LA

When asked where she will be in three years, she has to laugh hard to which she says ‘honestly in three years I would like to live in LA.’ California has a laid-back vibe and that really appeals to me. People there are positive, they vibrate high and you can feel that. They smile at you or have a chat with you. No stress or rush, I don’t like that anyway. I love countries like that. Good food, good weather, the feeling of live and let live’.

A few months after this interview, Ivana moved to Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reason is that the lease of her flat was suddenly terminated and the rent shot up considerably. Due to the arrival of Russians but also Ukrainians to Belgrade, rents are being pushed up significantly at the moment.