Belgrade to Budapest

Saturday, September 3, 2022 - 21:30

Two days in one today since yesterday was a mostly wasted day while it rained all morning and until about 5pm. This meant we were confined to our hotel during most of the daylight hours, and couldn't go on the free walking tour which started at either 10am or 2pm. We used the time to catch up on a few things and have a good play with Lucy though, but it was definitely a shame as it meant we had to do the walking tour today instead, which resulted in us having to skip seeing the second city of Serbia, Novi Sad on our way up to Budapest due to time constraints. We did at least manage to get out for a bit in the evening after the rain stopped in order to see a bit of the city centre's main shopping street, as well as the fortress area which encloses Kalemegdan Park. We were a bit dubious about venturing into the park while it was dark, but it turned out to be a bustling evening destination, with many people walking around, a street food market, and the fortress nicely lit up for photos.

As for today, we were relieved to wake up to bright sunshine which meant the 10am walking tour could go ahead as planned. We met our guide in the main Republic Square and immediately noticed he sounded just like Novak Djokovic when we spoke in English - a sign we were definitely in Serbia. He started the tour by jumping straight into the history of the square we were standing in, pointing out how every building has a different type of architecture; a sign of the 44 times the city has been bombed in the last 100 or so years. We then moved around the city while he explained the most important buildings to us. These included a plaza with two palaces, with the second built only 80m away because a different monarchic dynasty took over power and didn't want to live in another dynasty's palace, the Hotel Moscow and Hotel Balkan which the Nazis used as their HQs during the occupation in World War 2, city hall where famous Serbs celebrate victories on the balcony (Djokovic has appeared there a few times, including to 30,000 people the first time he won Wimbledon), the rather grand National Assembly building where a new government is currently being negotiated, and a couple of impressive but fairly recently built Serbian Orthodox churches. We also learnt a few interesting facts like how Serbian Orthodox churches don't have any seats in them since you are supposed to stand before God, how Serbian Christmas and New Year are 13 days after our dates because they still use the older Roman calendar, and how many of the streets in the city have two names: a communist era one and a new one since the fall of communism.

All this might sound like a good walking tour, and it wasn't necessarily a bad tour, but there was a big elephant in the room throughout, and that was the various Yugoslav wars. We had hoped that coming to Serbia would provide us with the missing pieces to the story of the breakup of Yugoslavia and perhaps a different thought-provoking perspective. Instead our guide didn't seem to want to touch on any detail, and made a few comments which implied a very pro-Serbian view of history. For example he referred to the 'six' countries Yugoslavia broke up into, clearly ignoring Kosovo as the seventh (perhaps not overly surprising). He also spoke a few times about the 1999 NATO bombings of the capital, which he suggested were simply due to the West's desire for control of mining resources in Serbia and nothing to do with stopping the war in Kosovo (pure conspiracy theory and we felt an attempt to trivialise the war). One short stop was to the children's memorial which commemorates the children who died in the bombings, and he gave a heartfelt explanation that the children didn't deserve what happened to them, which is of course completely true, but we couldn't help but find it rather hollow after seeing the children's memorial in Sarajevo which commemorates the many multiples more children who died in the Serbian siege of that city. A similarly themed stop was at the bombed out Serbian TV building, which still sits there in its destroyed state as a memorial, where he explained how the victims were just people going to work to do their job; another bit of irony after we previously learnt about the random fatal sniper shootings Serbian soldiers did on Sarajevo citizens to keep the terror levels high as they went about their business during the siege. He also recommended at one point that if we want to learn more about the war we should watch a Youtube movie called The Weight of Chains, though reading a bit about it tonight it sounds like it is pro-Serbian propaganda.

We thought about this all quite a bit after the tour and while our initial feelings were of disappointment that we didn't get a more rounded perspective of the Yugoslav wars, we eventually settled on the idea that this probably showed us what we needed to know: that even to this day, a fairly young (28 year old) and cosmopolitan Serb still sees Serbia as the victim and thinks the Wars were engineered by the West to somehow punish Yugoslavia. Our assumption is that this man is fairly typical of how his generation see things, though of course we could be wrong and perhaps others are more willing to confront their recent history. I'll also add that this is nothing against the individual in question; he was extremely friendly, took great interest in us and Summer, and gave a very engaging tour on the history of the city.

After the tour we stopped for lunch back at Kalemegdan Park where we had been the night before, in order to see it in the daytime. It was worth the trip back, since we could now see the view out over the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers which surround the city centre on two sides. We then hit the road for the nearly 4 hour drive up to Budapest. This was 4 hours without the border crossing, and unfortunately it was another case of some very boring queuing for nearly an hour and a half. A bit like the North Macedonia/Serbia border, this one was entirely uneventful, with lanes of cars queuing for some passport booths, first on the Serbian side, and then on the Hungarian side, which didn't even have a 'Welcome to Hungary' sign or flag to photograph. Probably the only thing of note is that the Serbian official in the booth in our line decided to twice leave the booth for about 10 minutes to grab a drink, and then stroll back casually as if he had all day - very frustrating to see! Once we were through we were back in the Schengen Area, and this is therefore the last such border of the entire trip until we get to our very own UK border with France at the Eurotunnel.

We finally arrived in Budapest around 8pm and are pleased to find our apartment is the best of the trip so far. First impressions of Budapest are very positive, and it feels like being properly back in Western Europe. We have slightly mixed feelings about that since it means the trip is now coming to an end with the final days being in Western European countries, but at the same time, it has made us realise we had forgotten what a properly developed city looks like! We had convinced ourselves that Belgrade felt like being back in Western Europe, but on seeing Budapest we are reminded that Belgrade still has a way to go. It was also quite nice to go to a Tesco (never knew they have Tesco in Hungary) supermarket and buy some food we haven't seen in some time, like a proper Italian mozzarella ball and a real pain-au-chocolat!

Some observations:
- Serbians are very tall! It felt a bit like being in the Nordic countries or the Netherlands.
- Serbia certainly feels very European, and from a development perspective, ready to join the EU. In many ways Belgrade feels like it could be one of the great capitals of Europe, if it weren't for the wars which resulted in fairly recent bombings and under investment while money was diverted elsewhere. Reading up on this a bit, it sounds like the EU is ready to let Serbia (and Montenegro) in in 2025 if things go to plan, and recognition of Kosovo won't be a condition for them.

Dog Notes: 

Belgrade is probably the most dog friendly city we have ever been to! Summer is getting loads of attention, and people often come up to her and kneel down to stroke her for an inappropriately long amount of time, before walking off without even acknowledging us owners at all. There are other pet dogs everywhere and they seem to allow dogs into most places. Even the big mall in the centre of the city is completely dog friendly, with pet dogs allowed into the main area and the shops, as well as the restaurants. We took Summer with us to the Vapiano for dinner and she was getting free stokes from the staff throughout the meal. She also got some excellent time off the lead in Kalemegdan Park.

At the Serbia/Hungary border today we weren't asked anything about Summer as per usual, with nothing at all on the Serbian side and only a quick glance on the Hungarian (and therefore EU) side.

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

After charging for free at the hotel in Belgrade we were happy to get out of Serbia with no more charging required after our terribly expensive experience with the Charge&Go app on the way from Skopje. We did top up though just after the border crossing today, and since we are back in the EU we are able to use the BMW Charging app again for the first time in nearly 8 weeks.
- Mobiliti 50KW DC charger at Family Hotel near Balástya. Gave me error at first when I swiped the RFID card but then suddenly started working - no idea if I've been charged or not but BMW charging app reckons this is billed at 246 HUF (about 53p) per minute

Miles Driven: 
Airbnb Liberty Bridge Premium Luxury Apartments

Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.