Serbia deserves really great coverage as a country for its spiritual and hospitality depth but it does take a quick overview at times to pique interest and generate discussion. I was probably unusually fortunate how quickly a warm integration took place. I will quickly describe why I have such warm feelings toward the country but omit names so that participation is… participatory.
Belgrade in 2017 is on the rise as a wonderful spot for nightlife and I suspect it will be a digital nomad hotbed for many years to come.
A long-time social media acquaintance became a friend early in my trip in the UK and was selflessly on board with the intricacies and reportings of my 18-country trek, and when I was in the neighborhood of southeast Europe she became a strong advocate that I would visit Serbia where her son lives in Novi Sad. I really knew nothing about Serbia and it was not on my itinerary. A few months into the journey I was exhausted and really could not fathom taking another country’s psyche in. However, I went from east to west through Romania and decided to soldier through to Slovenia on the ground if I could manage it. Landing on Serbian soil (or clearing the border, more like) started with me hitting a lifetime abstract goal – to visit 40 countries.
As soon as my minibus had a stop in Vršac at a gas station and convenience store, and immediately a very nice girl-lady started speaking with me in English asking about what brought me to Serbia and a welcome and so forth (I don’t remember the exact words). She let me know she is an English teacher and was happy to help in any way. I explained that I really made no preparation for Serbia and did not want to buy anything in the convenience store yet because I forgot one major task I always do before entering – finding out what the exchange rate of the local currency is to dollars and euros! We chatted and exchanged information because she was sitting further back in the bus. I instantly felt safe and like synchronicity was in motion in Serbia.
Meanwhile in London my friend was coordinating her son to meet with me and the social media interaction had begun. I was not sure if I’d make it to Novi Sad yet. I was going to Belgrade and if I felt totally shattered I would fly west at a moment.
The shuttle bus dropped me off at the hostel I was staying at (in the Balkan region there are a few really great shuttle companies that for less than 30 euros will pick you up directly at your hostel or hotel and drop you off at the next door also – much better than dealing with trains sometimes) and when I got in they were full (I had not booked in advance) but I used their wifi to book another one nearby. When I arrived there, my phone exploded with messages from my new friend that she knew some people working at the hostel. I explained that the previous hostel was full but as it happens, she is friends with the owner of the second hostel I managed to book! I related this when I arrived and in doing so, three new young employees were in training and were eager to help and be accommodating. In Serbia, it was my experience that people will take hospitality to an extraordinary level, like their neighbors in Romania, and the very high level of English makes it easy to travel this country.
It goes without saying that Belgrade is very much a place for excellent nightlife and excellent food and drink can be had at affordable prices. Like its eastern Europe neighbors, the food seems a lot more pure and untampered with. I stayed for almost a week to recover from all the movement of the previous months and because I was fast making friends with so many people, as you will find that Serbians will embrace you into their world quickly. I also had three friends I met in earlier travels that were converging there at the same time as I was (they were a few days ahead) and they were people I had profound connections to on a spirit and friend level. When a place makes things like this happen, it is usually because social engineering and spirit forces are supporting it. Many people stay in Belgrade to regroup, for the exciting socializing, and some for medical tourism – and I see it becoming a business meeting hub. For me, it is a base of friends for life! I thank the young lady who took the courage to introduce me to her vast network, her other friend and my new friend who walked me through the city, and to all the staff of Hostel Goodnight Grooves.
I was able to connect with my friend’s son and coordinate a move on to Novi Sad, a very charming and still even more affordable place to the northwest of Belgrade. It was clear he was going to pull all the stops to show me everything, and I am eternally grateful. He has a very original business called Beeraj, and such a networked and more likable person is rare to find – he and his partner see to it that the beer garden is the epicenter of music and social life in Novi Sad.
Beeraj is a great place to stop in the evening and should you be there in the summertime, it’s great to follow up with a walk to the River Danube, where there might be a movie screening like when I was there! I rested my bones every night at Hostel Nomad and had these wonderful new spirits in life immediately embrace me into their magical world of a simple life out of the chaos taking place in the western news cycle.
Ahead of arriving, I asked him where he knew of great people to stay with in a hostel. Even though he was prepared to host me or link me to a place to stay I nearly always prefer to stay in a hostel for the autonomy and networks that emerge – it is like a story unfolding every day. He told me the place to go is Hostel Nomad (booking). I came in just as they were preparing to leave for the night because by some fluke originally no one else was booked for that night. It was stunning that they dropped everything and got me totally secured and comfortable and gave me a total rundown when many people would be somewhat resentful of having their evening gatecrashed in this way. All facilities are totally new and even at full capacity it would be very comfortable with lots of space and convenience to get anything you’d want for food, drink, entertainment, and infrastructure. Novi Sad has very cheap hotdesking business incubator sites and in my opinion is a nascent place because of the high education level, general English aptitude, low operating costs, quality of food, and natural beauty with the Danube and castle nearby. My new friend, the son of an existing friend, lent me a bike to follow him on and I was able to see every corner of the city and the many vehicles for a happy, balanced life there. Guys traveling from other countries also love Serbia for the “hot girls” both in the body sense and mental integrity generally found there.
What truly blew me away finally was when I was preparing to leave the country by bus, I got into the waiting area and the co-owner of the hostel that I made friends with was soon there – at 10 p.m.! – waiting for me to make sure that I was not alone. It is not by any stretch a dangerous place to be but not only did I meet the best people Serbia has to offer but the country’s flag should sprout guardian angel wings because that is the kind of support this culture gives.
On one and only disturbing note, I did not realize that the NATO bombings of 1998-1999 were as extensive in Serbia as they were. Even the most versed American, Canadian, European, and Australian tourists do not know the full extent of the violence that takes place to hold their power in place and how wars are often not more than testing missions for new weapons. The Clintons, fairly or unfairly, are extremely unpopular in Serbia. Keep political views under your hat and do what we are all supposed to do when traveling – listen and consider what is being said.
The Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade with an area focusing on Tito as well as his grave was food for thought and makes one want to research that era more. There is a strong sentiment here that Yugoslavia was the good old days, and indeed all personal stories I learned of made it sound like a highly functional era of tolerance and of a strong middle class lifestyle.
Further, I would advise this is a country where you want to get a read for the humor of your company and surroundings more than some other places. People may not appreciate or understand sarcasm or joking around and if alcohol or an evening are involved, one should be aware that that something can easily be misinterpreted. Stay polite and not super boisterous – actually, this is good advice anywhere and has kept me out of trouble in my travels.
As one of the young ladies in training said to me the first day I was in Serbia, “I can see it in your eyes you love this place and you will be back!”