Blue Danube 24Jul08 | [Rio] 0

We woke to a more promising looking second day in Belgrade.  If slightly dodgy politically at our time of arrival, we hadn’t witnessed anything extraordinary, except the ridiculous amounts of rain.  The weather looked better today, though.

After a liberal suncream application and a pilgrimage to the truly delicious local 24 hour bakery, we walked over to the ruins of a fortress held by the Austrians, and then the Ottomans… I lose track, but Serbia seems to have been occupied by most of the rest of the Eastern bloc at some point in it’s history.  As a result of Serbia constantly being fought over, the fortress especially (as the main building in Belgrade all those years ago) must have seen it’s fair share of conflict – fittingly, in the grounds of the fortress was a military museum, displaying tanks and other weaponry; models of those used in Serbia throughout the centuries.  Nick and Nick nearly cried with happiness.  Boys and their toys…

Also in the grounds of the fortress was a bar called ‘Oh, Cinema!’ with huge screens playing some sort of Harrison Ford extravaganza.  The location of the open-air bar was absolutely stunning, but I don’t think the Serbians have really picked up on the English tradition of a pint at 11am, becuase it was virtually deserted.  We did come back in the vening, but the bar was still fairly empty – the views made it worth stopping off for a drink, though.

After a wander through the park grounds adjacent to the fortress ruins, we decided to stop for lunch at a highly recommthe ended cafe (we found it in Nick S’ guide book, which has proved invaluable throughout the trip) called ‘?’.  The cafe was situated next to a cathedral, and was asked to change it’s name from ‘The cafe at the Cathedral’ as the cathedral didn’t want any affiliation with it.  The food was nice enough, but the most incredible part of the meal was that it emerged that Nick Manners had no idea what t toilet brush is.  Mr. and Mrs. Manners, you have raised a funny, intelligent and well-rounded individual, but his failing is that apparently, he is not in the habit of leaving the toilet in an attractive state after relieving himself.  How could he possibly have missed the trusty toilet brush?

After lunch, we visited the Konak (residence) of Princess Ljubica. The house was very attractive, and decorated with furniture from all sorts of eras, but it wasn’t as big as I expected.  In fact, the curse of living such a priveleged Surrey lie that we are so used to huge grandeur that it’s dificult to appreciate how wealthy the Princess must have been in comparison with the rest of the Serbian population, as opposed to how wealthy she was in comparison with most of our friends (about the same).

We spend the evening getting ready to go out, in the ‘European clubbing centre’.  Disappointingly, we didn’t seem to find the wild clubbing scene, and had to leave the raft club afloat on the Danube before the party got going, ready to get up early the next morning.

Bring On Belgrade 23Jul08 | [Maz] 0

Arriving at the hostel and finding two men asleep in our room meant that yes, it was indeed time to go out and find lunch. We were told by the owner of Star Hostel of a nice little restaurant about 50m away that did proper food (i.e. cooked meat) for very cheap prices. We needed no further encouragement. After having a Serbian version of sausage and beans, duck pie and some omelettes we returned to Star Hostel for some desperately needed kip.

We went to sleep for a long long time due to not having any shut eye the night before. It was about 6 in the evening before we decided to do anything and I was still bloody tired, but no, that’s not the spirit apparently, so off we went sight-seeing.

I must admit, Belgrade is far more beautiful than I thought it would be. The Church of St. Sava (the largest one in Serbia) was so stunning that I almost converted there and then, but then I thought about it and realised it would be far too much effort for this time in the evening so I stuck with atheism.

We also saw Parliament which had a considerably small amount of security despite the fact that two days ago there had apparently been protests. The sole measure taken to avoid being stormed by an armed angry mob was apparently the little 15x15cm picture of a gun with a red line through it. Hmm, not sure if that’d go down too well in London.

Throughout our nighttime tour of Belgrade, we were all shocked by the huge amounts of 24-hour bakeries – I mean, these Serbians must really love their cakes. No complaints from this group of malnourished underfunded student travellers though, we took full advantage of the service.

Our last stop on our night city circuit was the remains of the old bombed out television studios. I don’t want to say it was the ‘highlight’ because that seems a slightly odd thing to say about such a thing, but it was most certainly very moving and what I found to be the most interesting part of our outing that evening.

I also cannot tell you how relieved I was that there were no more bloody clock towers to climb.

After the sightseeing decided to try and find a small bar near the hostel to find a quiet drink. But no, this is interthink, nothing is ever that easy. For about the third time on our travels the recommended bar does not appear to exist in this plane of reality.

So defeated we trudged back to the hostel, a lot more culturally informed, but very very sober.

We’re going through changes 22Jul08 | [Gill] 0

Tuesday morning was a conventional interthink start – an early awakening for sightseeing to make up for the fact that we’re only in each place for a couple of days.  The pressure was really on today though, because we discovered on arrival that Monday was the day everything was closed, so we had even less time to gorge ourselves on museums.  Imagine our delight when, having got up specially early, we discovered that our guide book is full of dirty lies and the museums we planned to see opened at 10, meaning we had to wait around for ages in the town square, grumbling about the warm beds we had left behind.

Whilst the museums were alright, none of them seemed particularly staggering, although maybe that’s because we were tired and we’ve seen so many recently.  The highlights of the visit was probably finding Guildford on a very old map of Europe (and the elaborate mission to take a picture of this whilst avoiding the gaze of the grumpy security guard), and bumping into some French people who’d been in our hostel in Sighisoara.  We also seemed to repeatedly get on the wrong side of the staff, for instance in the gallery, where Nick S committed the heinous crime of pointing at a picture so that his finger extended past the imaginary line created by the rope in front of it, which was punished by some hag coming along and saying “Can your words not be good enough to show the picture without you going past the line?”.  The group was later rebuked for sitting on chairs (and indeed earlier by the police for sitting on the ground), and at the beginning of every exhibition someone wanted to pick a fight about whether we had the right ticket or not.

By now it was drizzling, and so things did not bode well for our visit to the open air ASTRA museum, which was a large collection of traditional rural Romanian buildings spread round a lake.

No doubt it is very pleasant to stroll around in good weather, stopping to admire the old wooden skittles alley or the house of a tanner and so on.  In the rain and the mud however, the long walk is less appealing.  Furthermore, we had all been looking forward to reaching the “working inn” part way round for some hot food and drink, so we were disappointed when the ordering process went like this:

5 hot chocolates please
No hot chocolate.
Oh.  OK well we’ll get 5 cold drinks and just get hot food.  4 plates of chips and 3 omelettes please.
Omelettes not in afternoon.  Chips not served by themselves.

It seemed that we could find nothing satisfactory as the majority of the menu we had been presented with was apparently unavailable, and so in the end we sat there with our cold drinks feeling miserable.

The night was a night we had been dreading for the whole trip.  An overnight journey to Belgrade, but consisting of 3 trains and 2 long waits in stations with facilities that were limited at best.  One such example of this was the toilets at Vintu de Jos.  After hanging on with all our might, since the toilet on the train was enough to make a blind man with no sense of smell throw up, we dashed to the station toilets.  The womens’ was however inexplicably closed off, and the mens’ left something to be desired.  The best thing I can say about it is that the absence of a working light at least meant you couldn’t see how dirty it was.  Still, this was better than the next station which had nothing at all.

On our second train we made friends with some random middle aged drunk Romanians who insisted on giving us their compartment.  Their kindness also extended to frequently offering us some suspicious beer in a plastic bottle, however we gracefully declined this hospitality.  Despite not speaking a word of Romanian, Nick S managed some sort of conversation with the ringleader, which mainly involved gestures so wild that he accidently flicked off his glasses, and translations for the rest of the group that ran something like “The old man is very happy.  He would like to be friends with us.  He may or may not have just pissed himself.”  (This theory was later dispelled when we realised the intense stench of piss occured every time someone opened the door in the carriage and the air from the toilet at the end wafted down the corridor).  Although we were slightly wary of these men and decided not to fall asleep whilst they were still on the train, in the end they did just turn out to be friendly, if rather inebriated, eccentric locals.

Our second train station wait was longer than expected, as our train was delayed by about 45 minutes.  Cue 5 freezing, hungry, smelly English teenagers standing on a platform in the middle of bloody nowhere descending into delerium as they wonder where the hell their train is (English translation of Romanian train boards being totally out of the question).  Things even got desperate enough for the last Dextrose to be cracked out, and for Rio to be finally allowed to tell Maz the longest and most disappointing joke the world has ever witnessed.  By the time our train eventually came we were on the verge of throwing ourselves in front of it.

But no, in the end, tired, very cold, hungry, smelly, and slightly less good friends than before, we finally made it to Belgrade.