Thursday, April 21, 2016

Balkan Beats - or not

Belgrade - sounds so sedate and calm. Former capital of Yugoslavia, tucked away in Serbia at the confluence of two big slow rivers, the Seva and the Danube and a bit dull and communistic you might think.

Yes, that Belgrade does exist. Plenty of elegant restaurants, old-worlde charm and no-nonsense communist architecture.

But what sort of innocent am I? I somehow had missed knowing that Belgrade is not just the party capital of the Balkans, but (so the LP bible says) the World's No 1 Party City. Yes, number one in the world when it comes to clubbing, also according to The Guardian and The New York Times.

Belgrade rocks, folks. Especially all those party boats along the river.
Thunder storm rolling in

Nenad at the hostel in Nis opened my mind about Serbia. Before this trip I really only had two vague associations; something about needing a wheelbarrow full of money to buy bread and milk, and NATO intervention to try to stop the brutal civil war. Now here was this young Belgrader, Tal, our guide on the Free Walking Tour. She lived through both of these experiences in the 90s, suffered under UN sanctions and having bombs dropped on her city. The Kosovo war - I should have known more about it. Unemployment is still very high today and this goes some way towards explaining why there are so many people sitting around in cafes and drinking alcohol in the middle of the day.
Free Walking Tour guide, Tal, at the Fortress

Not partying - but gathered for some
mock sword-fighting,
promoting a spring festival coming up

Another bit of the jigsaw fell into place in my mind when Tal pointed out one of the bridges over the Seva, where residents gathered night after night in the 90s, bringing picnics and staying through the night, acting as human shields to try to prevent NATO bombs destroying these historic monuments, lifelines of their city. So an all-night partying culture was born, she tells us.

Perhaps because of all the hardships of living in the capital of a nation that was falling apart and a city that was being bombed in a strategically random manner designed to maximise the psychological impact on its residents,  Belgraders made clubbing an art form. Some night clubs even continue on into the day. Serbian mafia keep up the energy supplies for party people.

All that music, and now my confession - my Belgrade is the Calzone Capital of Europe (Rachel is the calzone queen down under).

I'm sad to say I missed the Balkan Beats, techno vibes and turbo folk. But quite a few people staying at the same hostel as me didn't.

I'd really love to come back to Belgrade to really experience this culture - but with company and the budget for a sound-proof hotel room with blackout curtains and spectacular breakfasts.

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