The second reason why I went there was because I wanted to escape from England. The coronavirus pandemic started early last year. I was ill in March 2020, I wrote about that experience in my post “How I Survived the Coronavirus Infection”. I successfully recovered almost exactly when the UK government imposed the first lockdown on 23rd March 2020. But within several months, it became clear to me that the situation in the UK would not improve any time soon, primarily because of catastrophic decisions taken by some utterly incompetent people that run the UK at the moment.
So, let’s have a look at the time I spent in Belgrade, what I did there and whether or not I would consider moving back to Serbia. I haven’t been living there for a very long time, thus it was an ideal opportunity for me to observe and evaluate my possible return.
SUMMER IN BELGRADE
I spent my summer at Ada Ciganlija. It’s an artificial lake, on the Sava river. But don’t get alarmed. The lake water is filtered, it’s bacteriologically checked every several days and it’s very clean. This lake is something that no other big inland European city has. Of course, if you are in Lisbon or Barcelona, you can go to the proper beach. But if you live in Belgrade and you can’t travel because of coronavirus restriction, what do you do? Of course, you go to Ada.
The lake is not in the city centre, but you can easily get there either by public transport or by bicycle. There is a cycling path all the way from Kalemegdan to Ada, away from the traffic.
Once there, you can choose where you want to stay. The lake is big, with the pebble beach all around, as you can see in the photos. There are a lot of restaurants and bars where you can spend the whole day but, if you choose to stay in one of these establishments, you have to consume something. Otherwise, you can spend the whole day on your towel, the beach is free. However, in that case I suggest that you buy a small beach umbrella, to protect you from the strong summer sun.
So, I spent July, August and a good part of September by the lake. A friend of mine, who also lives in London, was in Belgrade at the same time, so we spent many enjoyable days in one of the beach bars. Whenever I felt hot, I went for a swim. It was really a perfect way to spend hot summer months.
WALKS AROUND THE CITY
But, I didn’t go to the lake every day. Sometimes, I had to take a bit of a rest from the sun and I also had other things to do. Nevertheless, I spent those days outside, enjoying my walks around the city.
The Old Town, with its pedestrian zone, is a relatively large area with numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops. It’s also a part of Belgrade where you can see some of its most beautiful 19th century buildings. Although many buildings in this area have been restored, some of them need to be refreshed and there are still some with black, crumbling facades.
I spent many hours in various coffee shops observing the world around me, either alone or with friends. For the duration of my stay in Serbia, all restaurants and coffee shops remained open, despite the pandemic. There were periods of time when they closed at 8pm, in other periods they stayed open until 10pm. But, they never completely closed them like in other European countries. You could’ve easily thought that there wasn’t any pandemic.
However, when you move from this most central area, Belgrade is in a desperate state. Building after building, street after street are in a really terrible state. I’ve already written about this side of the city in my post “Decadent Belgrade”. Nothing has really changed since that post. Of course, you will see some newly restored facades, but that’s just a drop in the ocean. I don’t know if they will ever manage to tilt the balance to the point where there will be more restored than dilapidated buildings.
Unfortunately, there is no money for such huge restoration works. You can only imagine how much it would cost to restore the whole city.
But, why am I mentioning this? Well, if you are visiting Belgrade for the first time, don’t despair when you see that aspect of the city. It’s just the facades. You will find excellent restaurants, bars, coffee shops and bakeries even in the worst looking areas. I know that Belgrade’s grim side may be disheartening. When I lived there, I never paid attention, it was normal to me.
Anyway, when you get used to it, you will very much enjoy your stay in Belgrade. It’s a good value for money, there aren’t many places in Europe where you can eat and drink in fabulous places, at such a low cost.
It’s a shame that the city is in such a bad state. Belgrade has many beautiful buildings, but you can’t really see it. Although, it’s precisely why everything costs so much less compared with the Western European countries. I suppose it’s a fair trade. Simply, Serbia is a poor country.
In my six months in Belgrade, I followed several major new projects. One of them was Sava Square, a big square in front of the former railway station. As part of the wider Belgrade Waterfront project, they closed and moved the railway station to a different location and started to regenerate this historic area.
They finished the restoration of the square at the end of January. But as I left Belgrade earlier, I didn’t see it. Anyway, I’ll see it when I’m in Belgrade next time.
Another major project is the Saint Sava church. They nearly finished the internal decoration. You can now enter the church and you can see what they’ve done. In my opinion, the church is spectacular.
So, goods things are happening in Belgrade and the city is ever more exciting, with many new things to see and do.
EVENINGS IN BELGRADE
Perhaps, the best thing of my stay in Belgrade were my evening walks. I went for a walk around the city centre almost every evening. From July until the end of October, the weather was hot and I stayed out for a long time. Although it became colder in November and December, I made sure to go out at least for an hour or so.
The city centre is beautifully illuminated. The main pedestrian zone looks magical, especially when everything is outside. It’s full of life, restaurants and bars are packed with people enjoying their food and drinks in the open.
But the most impressive part of my every evening walk were the views of the city from the Belgrade Fortress. That’s where I ended up each and every time before going back home at the end of the day.
AFTER MY STAY IN BELGRADE, COULD I LIVE THERE AGAIN?
Yes, I could easily live there again, but not just yet. Because of Brexit, it increasingly looks like that the UK is becoming an unliveable country. If things in the UK turn bad, I’ll go to Belgrade. I’m lucky that I have that choice.
The cost of living in Belgrade is significantly lower than in the UK and other western countries. You can rent a good flat, in the city centre, for 300 or 400 euros/month. Food is reasonably cheap, also going out to restaurants and coffee shops.
What I don’t like about Belgrade is its extreme climate. I’ve forgotten about it. Summers are very hot and winters are very cold. Perhaps I’d be able to get used to it again, after all I lived there for a good part of my life in the past.
One more thing that I don’t like about Belgrade is that it’s a very polluted city, especially in winter. A lot of households still use coal or wood for heating, so you can imagine the level of pollution. Also, there are some very polluting industries in towns not far from Belgrade. Regretfully, those industries were sold to Chinese companies and it seems that they don’t care about pollution. Serbia is not in the EU, so it’s a free ride. The regulation in Serbia is not at the EU level.
Right now I think that Belgrade is a good option for me, but for two or three months at the time, not permanently. We will see what happens in the future, there are so many crazy things happening in the world at the moment, it’s impossible to make any definitive plans.
With this post, I finish the series of stories about my stay in Belgrade last year. Of course, I will write more in the future, when I go back. In the meantime, I hope that my posts will serve as an inspiration to many people to think about visiting this still relatively ignored European capital city.
In any case, you should go there before it becomes yet another soulless globalised place. Although, I sincerely hope that it will never come to that.