Like we've mentioned before, Serbia is one of those places we are glad we visited, but may never visit again.
Serbia was a strange mixture of unique history and selective retelling of this history. We only had two days in Belgrade, Serbia but we made the most of it and visited nearly all of the historical sites.
Serbia is a huge city and the public transportation is fairly confusing, as are the streets. Unlike most other European cities, there are no signs in English so everything feels like guess work. Also, unlike many other European cities, few people speak English. We are not suggesting other countries should speak or write signs in English, but we definitely had gotten used to the convenience.
So, we struggled through Belgrade's highlights, including a very odd Serbian History Museum which was simply a propaganda museum to famous dictator, Joseph Tito, and twisted much of the history of the country; the famous Cathedral, still under construction after its destruction in the war; and the other National History Museum, which is totally closed for reconstruction.
The city itself is a strange mixture of the old and the new, having been bombed heavily by NATO, many buildings are still in ruins and the vibe of communism still lingers. The bombed-out Ministry of Defense building has not been cleared at all and still "stands" as a reminder of the actions of the Serbian government as well as outside powers. Many of the great historical stops are still in the process of being repaired, but it's a catch-22 because due to economic sanctions there are limited funds to rebuild much of what was bombed.
On the other hand, Serbians hold dear twisted facts like an overwhelming love for Nicola Tesla, who only visited Belgrade once in his lifetime. He was from modern-day Croatia, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, not Yugoslavia. Serbs also lay claim to any land which was at one point a part of Yugoslavia but is now independent, such as Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. So if we mentioned we had been to these places we were encouraged with a "it's beautiful and a part of Yugoslavia."
Entertainment-wise, Belgrade is known for being a party city. There are dozens of floating nightclubs on the Danube River, which we purposefully avoided. They are popular hotspots for stag parties and Europeans looking to get drunk on the cheap to obnoxiously loud EDM music, and that's not our cup of tea. The restaurants, on the other hand, were pretty impressive. Both nights we had excellent meals for cheap. Dua Jelena (Two Deer) offers good traditional Serbian dishes and is located on classic Skadarska street, full of similar Serbian cafes, bars, and coffee shops. The next night on the opposite side of the river in the Zemun district of New Belgrade, we ate at Salon 5, a hiply-styled joint tucked away in an apartment building. It doesn't even have a sign on the door, so you have to know the exact address. The owner/chef, Nikola, was supremely hospitable and made excellent dishes for a very reasonable price.
Belgrade is rough around the edges, giving the impression of being unsafe, but it's quite the opposite. Most Serbs are still so plagued by the war that they discourage any type of wrong doing. In fact, it was one of the few places we went where we hardly saw any police officers and there really didn't appear to be a need. Serbs were also a bit more mistrusting of travelers than most other countries we've been to.
Combine all of this with our previous issue of not being able to get to neighboring Romania and the result was a mixture of intrigue and relief to leave what feels like a conflicted country.