This post has taken me forever to write and I kind of regret it. But, here I go-just a tad late!
Upon beginning my study abroad in Rome, I had no intuition that I would ever go to Serbia. But, the JFRC is really cool because the SLAs (student life assistants) each plan a “study trip” for the students to choose from and sign up for. The sign up process was chaotic and stressful but that’s beside the point (good luck future JFRC-ers)!
As my friends and I sat and listened to the presentations on all the trips, I was overwhelmed by the desire to do The Balkans trip.
And that is how it started…
“Belgrade: outspoken, adventurous, proud and audacious. It is by no means a ‘pretty’ capital, but it’s gritty exuberance makes it one of the most happening cities in Europe. While it hurtles toward a brighter future, its chaotic past unfolds behind your eyes. Socialist blocks are squeezed between art nouveau masterpieces…”
–credit to Fran and Ryan’s itinerary for this accurate description.
On Friday March 4th, myself and 19 others flew to Belgrade, Serbia to begin our trip. We were all absolutely buzzing with excitement! This truly was about to be the trip of a lifetime.
Our trip was awesome because of our amazing tour guide, Jelena (you can find her tour guide Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Jelenas-Tours-262963950506457/?fref=ts).
As for accommodations, we had an awesome Hostel all to ourselves! The hostel is called Hostelche for any future Serbian travellers-I definitely recommend! The location is perfect & the staff are so friendly. Plus, there is free breakfast that they prepare for you!
On day one, the group and I explored the Nikola Tesla Museum (which is not related to Tesla the car). The museum is inside a brownstone type house that was donated by the family of Tesla. It is a quaint yet informative museum. The main feature being the electricity display. I found this extremely scary as I am deathly afraid of electrical shock and lightening. Nonetheless, I tried my best to enjoy it.
We ended the busy day with coffee (a must do in any part of The Balkans) & dinner at The Three Hats restaurant in the Bohemian part of town. This restaurant was ridiculous-I don’t think we had enough food… (jokes). It was a very interesting experience as the place was absolutely packed with people. Live music blaring in the bathroom and a mysterious group of mobster men gambling behind a curtain in the back???
Note: smoking is permitted indoors in most of Eastern Europe.
The traditional food is served in this sequence: bread (literally the best bread i’ve ever had), salad (consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, and feta cheese-similar to a greek salad), a cheese and freshly sliced meat plate, and a huge platter of various cooked meats and potatoes (ranging from fries to baked).
OH and my favorite dish was some sort of bean dip. I do not know what it is or what it is called but it’s DAMN good. Put this on the bread and you’re golden.
Belgrade is known for its nightlife, so of course Jelena took us to a popping Jazz club. I had my first gin and tonic, which I didn’t expect to like as much! Aaron and I danced the night away and tried to look classy. I think we succeeded, but boy dancing is hard!
The traditional drink in Serbia is “Rakiya”which is a quince flavored brandy. This stuff is dangerous, but you must try it when in Serbia! A lot of times they make it fresh and homemade, which is always cool. Suggesting serving method for full enjoyment is chilled at 17 degrees C as an aperitif (before meal). Also, do not take shots of this-you are supposed to sip it (which I find somewhat impossible as it is very very strong).
March 5 and 6
Saturday and Sunday AM kicked off with an extremely informative walking tour provided by the amazing Jelena. A lot of our trip was focused on talking about the Serbian/Bosnian war of the late 1990s. We got to see the great and the not so great parts of this brutal history. A notable part of our tour was a visit to the Tito Museum. It talks all about the great work that Tito did to bring the diverse populations together into Yugoslavia. Whether you agree with him or not, the museum was very informative. His grave is also there inside the “house of flowers.”
As a quick note:
“The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Following a number of violent incidents in early 1992, the war is commonly viewed as having started on 6 April 1992. The war ended on 14 December 1995. The main belligerents were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic Srpska and Herzeg-Bosnia, who were led and supplied by Serbia and Croatia.” –Wikipedia
The war was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia following the death of Tito.
This war was extremely complicated and all parts of the former Yugoslavia are still recovering from it. I encourage you, if you’re interested, to go read more about it. It is a war that, I feel as an American, was completely swept under the rug. Getting to see the implications of a war like this first hand (for the first time) was incredibly eye opening for me. My opinions and values were challenged immensely. My definition of and pride to be an American was especially challenged. But I know that myself and my fellow classmates needed this. I am forever grateful to JFRC for this experience.
We ended Saturday night with dinner at Little Bay restaurant. This place was sweet! It is in the style of an old Opera house. We were musically entertained by an awesome (and really hot) pianist and an extremely talented female Opera singer. They noticed we were American and even started serenading us with Disney songs. We all were singing along. It was a very nice bonding experience that I’ll always remember.
As for Sunday night, we wined and dined at the “???” cafe (right next door to our Hostel). This place is a very famous Serbian restaurant.
This night was unforgettable. Besides the food, my favorite part was when we all stood up and went around each giving an individualized toast. The talks were all different, but in summary we each talked of how important it is to keep seeking knowledge and to keep pushing yourself to learn more and more about the hard and “embarrassing” parts of life. We each gave testaments and praises to the wonderful SLAs and Jelena for giving us this opportunity of a life time and we each expressed out gratitude for the amazing group that came along on the trip.
It was a great night and a great testament to our Balkans Journey because we all got to come together and acknowledge the highlights of our trip (so far). I will always remember how well spoken and passionate Jelena was and how full of heart my fellow classmates were as they raised their glass.
Sights of Serbia
Thank you for reading & being patient as I try to keep my content interesting and relevant!