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An American encounter in Belgrade

Belgrade


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I arrived safely at my hostel in Belgrade after a seamless three-hour bus journey from Užice. After settling my stuff in and saying hello to the friendly owner and his wonderful massive Italian mastiff (cane corso), I headed out into the sunshine, keen to explore.

My first wanderings took me down some lovely leafy streets, some pedestrianised and some not, and through the even leafier Student Park, which lies next to buildings belonging to the University of Belgrade.

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Then I looked round the Ethnographic Museum next door. They had a wide range of traditional costumes on display - there was some incredible workmanship on show, especially in the embroidery and silver jewellery.

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There were some traditional musical instruments which I found especially interesting; special mention to the bagpipes and what looked like a kind of mandolin with a carved neck.

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The museum seemed smallish at first, but once I'd been round the first big room I went upstairs and found that there were several other rooms leading off it. There were displays about wedding customs, the feast of St George, rural occupations such as rakija (fruit brandy) distilling, tobacco-growing, cattle-herding and river fishing, and urban and rural house interior dioramas set up to look how they would have done in the 19th century.

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Special mention also to a display about slava, which is a family ritual and feast celebrating the day of the patron saint of the family. So important was, and is, slava that in 2014 it was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. One of the house interior dioramas was set up to look like a rural home of the early 20th century set up for their celebration of the slava.

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From the Ethnographic Museum it was a short walk to Republic Square, where I hoped to visit the National Museum. A lot of building work was going on, so much of the square was blocked off, but the museum was still open. It was great all round, with a particularly fine Prehistoric and Celtic collection. Highlights for me were some sculptures found at Lepenski Vir, a major archaeological site of the Mesolithic Iron Gates culture of this part of the Balkans. They are carved from large red sandstone cobbles and are a combination of the realistic and the figurative, very expressionistic in style, representing humans with fishlike features.

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Other highlights in this section were the Celtic Horseman (3rd-4th c. BC; one of the few Celtic statues ever found), the votive Dupljaja Chariot (a Bronze Age masterpiece sculpted from amber), and some other amber objects, this time found at the site of a prehistoric princely tomb in Novi Pazar. The latter included some unique triangular plates, engraved with mythological scenes, which were worn as elaborate head or chest ornaments.

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The sun was still shining as I left the National Museum, rested a little and discovered a group of people gathering for a free walking tour. I don't normally go on walking tours, because I prefer looking round places independently, but on this occasion I though "Why not..." and joined them. How glad I am that I did! I would never have met Barbara otherwise...

Barbara was a lovely American lady from South Carolina who got talking with me as we waited for the guide to arrive. "Are you from New Zealand, or just been there?" was her first question, as she spotted my 'Sweet As' t-shirt... Only been there, I answered. Back in 2009. The t-shirt was a gift though! We hit it off straight away, talking about our various travels around the world (amongst other things). Our conversation continued as the tour began and we walked around Stari Grad (the Old Town), including Belgrade Fortress and the park surrounding it.

The tour was a good one. Unfortunately I've forgotten the name of our guide now, but she was very nice, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and had a couple of surprises up her sleeve for us! Within the Old Town we stopped at the statue of Đura Jakšić, a Serbian poet, dramatist and painter, for a shot of rakija, and a few streets away from there she gave us a micro-introduction to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.

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Within the lush green park surrounding the fortress she handed round some colour print-outs of some Yugoslavian 5 billion dinar notes for us to keep if we wanted to.

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Belgrade Fortress was very impressive, as were the views from it! We didn't have as long to look round as if we'd gone independently, of course, and we didn't actually go inside any of the buildings, but the grounds were still very pleasant to walk round.

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We walked a loop round the fortress boundary, so we had some wonderful views of the city, the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, and some terraces below where we stood.

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The colourful spire of Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church stood out as we made our way round.

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The tour finished once we had finished our loop. Barbara and I were both pretty knackered by then, plus it was late afternoon by now, so we agreed to make our way back to the centre and have dinner together, stopping at Barbara's hotel first so she could get something. We passed by a statue of Gavrilo Princip on our way.

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At dinner I noticed again the similarity of Serbian cuisine to Bulgarian (the Ottoman influence across the Balkans). I had some cheesy stuffed peppers, kebabs (long grilled mince fingers on sticks) and chips, with sour cream as a side and some rakija to go with it - the glass of the latter arrived on ice.

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Barbara and I parted ways after dinner. I'm absolutely kicking myself for not getting her details! Barbara, if you happen to see this and remember our afternoon/evening, and would like to get back in touch, send me a message! I had a fantastic time in your company and it would be great to meet up again at some point!

Back at my hostel, I tried and failed to check in to my flight online using Dave's iPhone - frustrating, as I knew that if I had to check in and get my boarding pass at the airport instead, I'd have to pay a fee. Unfortunately, this is what I was forced to do in the end, as there weren't any computers or printer at the hostel, and it was too late in the day for any internet café to be open. My flight was at 10:15 the following morning, so I was going to be up too early in the morning for that too.

The flight itself was fine, though I didn't get a window seat!

Posted by 3Traveller 18:36 Archived in Serbia Tagged museum hostel serbia belgrade explorations fortifications orthodox_church river_danube traditional_customs serbian_cuisine Comments (3)

Flixbus to Prague

Berlin and Prague


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Before I had to leave to get my Flixbus to Prague I had time for a last walk in Berlin, so I decided to wander down to the park next to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and St Marienkirche and say hello to Neptune and his adoring crowd of sea creatures.

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I arrived in Prague after nearly five hours on the half-empty bus. The journey itself was uneventful but just my luck, this last Flixbus journey of the trip was the first one to bother weighing bags as we got on, and since my big case was overweight I had to pay 9 euros (my own fault, I know). Luckily I got away with having two pieces of hand luggage instead of the one I was supposed to have (again, nobody was bothered about that on all my other Flixbus journeys).

My hostel, Hostel Ananas, is in Wenceslas Square - the middle of the historic Old Town. I'm looking forward to exploring tomorrow!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:59 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged churches prague germany berlin hostel buses czech_republic Comments (0)

Arrival in Berlin

Rostock and Berlin


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I arrived in Berlin yesterday afternoon after a fantastic hotel breakfast and a completely uneventful 3.5-hour Flixbus journey from Rostock. I relaxed for the rest of the day, intending to begin some sightseeing the next morning.

Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial were my first stops. Potsdamer Platz was bisected by the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and during this time became an area of utter desolation. It looks completely different now, but as I walked round and looked at part of the Wall which remains, I got quite emotional.

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This feeling continued as I wandered round the concrete stelae within the site of the Holocaust Memorial. According to the architect, the stelae were designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, though the number of stelae and the monument's overall design has no symbolic significance other than it represents a a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

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From there it was just a little bit further to the Brandenburg Gate.

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The Tiergarten, Berlin's most popular inner city park, lies across the road from the Brandenburg Gate. It started to rain just as I got there, so I didn't linger too long. I was on my way to a really interesting destination anyway, so I didn't really mind...

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...the Musical Instruments Museum!

Amazing - I definitely recommend it. It included a fascinating collection of crumhorns, shawms, dulcians (the predecessor of the bassoon), recorders, cornets, trombones and trumpets which were left to the Church in 1657 in the will of the choirmaster of St Wenzel's Church in Naumberg.

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Amongst a good range of other instruments going up until the first electronic guitars and keyboards, it also had such interesting things as Early Modern Flemish and Italian virginals and spinets, a Stradivarius violin, a serpent, a collection of pochettes (pocket fiddles, used by dancing masters and street musicians until the 18th century) and a 'giraffenklavier' (guess which one of my photos is if that...).

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My last stop before heading back to my hostel was Checkpoint Charlie (the best-known Berlin Wall border crossing, and now a tourist trap with no original buildings left; worth only a brief look).

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On my way back I passed through the Museuminsel, an area with lots of museums in it (a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance), and beyond. I found a small art market next to one side of the river and bought a lovely colourful little picture of an 'Indies Peafowl'. Also got some good views of the Fernsehturm and St Mary's Church, though I didn't go in.

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Posted by 3Traveller 03:36 Archived in Germany Tagged germany museum berlin hostel buses berlin_wall rostock brandenburg_gate unesco_world_heritage_site potsdamer_platz Comments (2)

Maritime flavour of Rostock

Rostock


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I came to Rostock this morning via a very smooth, uneventful hour and half on a Flixbus from Lübeck. I'm staying at Jellyfish Hostel for the night, then meeting up with my co-teachers tomorrow at the hotel we'll be staying at for the coming week.

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After settling in to Jellyfish Hostel (pictured above, with the street it's on), I went for a lovely walk round town in the sunshine. The Alter Markt was my first stop.

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Overlooking the Alter Markt is the Petrikirche, a church with a nautical theme; model boats hung from the ceiling and there were circular windows which reminded me a lot of portholes. I lit a candle on the circular candle stand.

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I took the lift up the unusually high steeple to take in the views.

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Then I went for a stroll along the riverside.

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An unexpected elephant gazed protectively over the town from a rooftop.

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Tomorrow I plan to have another look round the town and visit some interesting places I didn't see today.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:40 Archived in Germany Tagged churches boats germany hostel buses rostock Comments (3)

Back in Graz

Deutschlandsberg and Graz


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It was another beautiful sunny day as I said goodbye to Deutschlandsberg and took the train back to Graz.

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I'm at A&O Hostel Graz Hauptbahnhof, where I stayed last Saturday. Since I got back here I've had another lovely walk around the historic centre, taking in the sunshine, beautiful architecture and the view from the Murinsel, a tiny manmade island on the river Mur.

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I also went to the Dom, admired the Gothic and Baroque interior and lit a candle.

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I also admired a fresco on one of the exterior walls which is kept behind glass because of its historical importance; although religious in theme, it contains the earliest depiction of the city of Graz. Unfortunately my photos of it didn't turn out well due to the reflections on the glass.

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Tomorrow I spend the night in Klagenfurt before I fly to Hamburg and take the train from there to Lübeck on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:28 Archived in Austria Tagged bridges art trains austria cathedral hostel graz unesco_world_heritage_site deutschlandsberg Comments (2)

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