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Serbia 2009 - incredible change

by vbo Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 06:29:02 AM EST

This European summer I made a trip to Serbia (via England) and here are my impressions together with some fabulous photos. I made a million of photos and here is where you can see my selection of the best of them.


First we stopped for a few days in England where we stayed at the relative's house in Sheffield with a lovely English garden. We also had a quick pass trough Lester. My first impression of those towns was that not much has changed from the last time I've been there some 30 years ago. Heathrow airport reminds me of some ugly railway station in third world country especially comparing to Abu Dhabi new and squeaky clean one. Things are getting ugly for the people in small towns in England and the evidence of this was that even 3 members of the family we visited have lost their jobs (one of them children's dentist, second Business analyst and architect and would you believe it one was electrician ). Here is a photo of their lovely garden.

Now we go to Serbia where so many things have changed and improved I couldn't believe my eyes. From the small but modernised and clean airport where we had passed through formalities in less than 5 minutes (comparing with tiering procedures we had to go through before) to a new face of the city of Belgrade where so many beautiful new buildings has been built, everything has changed for the better.
At the time we've came University games just started.

Serbs rewarded themself for making "best ever" games (when Serbs make something they like to do it best). I was shocked to see how wonderful Universiade village they made in New Belgrade. I've seen one in Sheffield and Belgrade's one was so much better and bigger (ok this one is brand new).The whole Belgrade was involved and exited about the games. So many volunteers were working endlessly to make guest feel great.

Things with Serbs are like this - they are great hosts to the foreigners and they always have been. They simply love foreigners and even after bombardment they will swear and curse Americans, but if they meet one, they'll love him and will do everything to make him have a wonderful time in Belgrade. I have met a few of foreigners (American's amongst them) who spent such a good time in Belgrade they did not want to go home. Belgrade was full of foreigners (and also "foreigners" like us) at the time. We all enjoyed endless Belgrade's cafés and restaurants literally everywhere in the city. You can order absolutely everything in there because that kind of variety of food, drinks and deserts I haven't seen anywhere in the world. And it's all great quality and heavenly taste, mmmm. People like to eat and drink whenever they get together in Serbia. It's a must. They have organised much better around food then here in Australia for example. One can order any kind of food (homemade quality not industrial) including great barbeque and spear yourself of endless cooking. You can order food to your home and if you buy meat for example the butchery will barbeque it for no extra price. And yes they eat a lot of meat but everything else is great too (pastry of all sorts, cakes). It's a fest whatever you choose. They are starting now with "healthy" and uninspired food but they are not impressed, haha.
Here are photos of few of cafes and restaurants:

New buildings,buildings,buildings everywhere. They are building new commercial buildings as well as private. There were and still are many old and ruined houses around the city but they are rapidly replaced with high world standard of new ones. The owner of the house would make a deal with a developer/investor to give away his land and when his old house is replaced with brand new building he would get from 20 - 40 % of a new one. Those are not high buildings so it comes to around 3 apartments depend on the size. It's a good deal for everyone. Trouble is to find reliable developer who would not go in to the bankruptcy especially in this time of world crises which affected Serbia too. Of course this is all possible because all kinds of world banks came to Serbia with loans on board (like everywhere else).
New Belgrade (on the other side of river Sava) where people used to go "to sleep" because there was nothing there but high residential buildings is booming. All kinds of world business opened their headquarters there, business and shopping centres are growing like mushrooms and there is one street where all sorts of world banks opened their branches and people call it "Wall street".
Here are some photos of new commercial and residential buildings:

Also surprisingly most of the cars in Serbia are now new models of mostly western cars. I was shocked to see big western car dealerships selling new cars in Belgrade including Porsche. Here is evidence.

Here is a site about Belgrade
http://www.beograd.rs/cms/view.php?id=220
and this is what I saw...

Belgrade and Serbia have so much to offer to a tourist. On my photos you will see some of attractions.
Church of Sv Sava
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Saint_Sava)
the biggest Orthodox church in the world. Work is still in progress inside. It is located in the city centre.

There are many very old churches and monasteries in Serbia.
(http://www.serbianunity.net/culture/history/Serb_History/Monasteries/
I have visited few and here are photos from Ravanica. (quote) "It was built in the 14th century as an endowment of prince Lazar of Serbia, who is buried there."

Mt Avala is a small mountain close to Belgrade. There is a huge (quote) "Unknown Soldier Monument dedicated to Serbian heroes fallen in World War I. The Mt. Avala nature has been placed under protection way back in 1859."
Here are some photos:

Kalemegdan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalemegdan
Kalemegdan is a fortress and a park located in a city centre. A lot of history has been "written" on its walls. (Quote): Kalemegdan is the core and the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade and for centuries the city population was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress... After almost two millennia of continuous sieges, battles and conquests the fortress is today known as the Kalemegdan fortress. The name Kalemegdan derives from two Turkish words, kale (fortress) and megdan (battleground) (literally, "battlefield fortress")."..." Ružica Church is located in the Kalemegdan Fortress...
Here are some of my beautiful photos of Kalemegdan and Ruzica church.

Belgrade has a lot of green markets located all over the city where one can buy fruits and vegetables straight from the producers. It's colorful and rich and I enjoyed buying there instead in supermarkets. All though all over the city there are modern supermarkets (often owned by foreign companies) with stuff from all over the world as well as domestic.

Where ever one looks there are either nice modern shops with world brands or small business. As lot of people lost their jobs during transition from socialism back to capitalism a lot of them opened their own small (and not so small) business. Either they rented or very often those who had houses transformed part of the house to business space. At first when private enterprises just started some 20 years ago they suddenly managed to earn really huge money (in some areas it's still the case, for example my son in low made in a short time serious money by opening his small-at the time-metal work factory that today employ some 250 people).But today most of the small businesses are straggling because they are numerous today. They manage to live (better or worse) on their earnings. When I made my trips to rural parts of the Serbia I saw the same story. Now they build houses so that they have commercial space on the ground floor and residential is upstairs. Either they rent commercial space or they open their own small business. Here in my photos you'll see luxurious shops as well as small businesses in rural areas and around Belgrade.

Traffic in Serbia is horrendous. Belgrade is simply jammed with vehicles, streets are narrow (not in New Belgrade) and people are parking along every street so it really is a battle to come from A to B. Surprisingly they have through SMS system to pay their parking (we do not have it here in Australia).Main highway Belgrade - Nish is in a very good shape and they built huge and very modern petrol stations and resting places all along the highway. That's good. But other smaller roads are very narrow and not in that good condition. Petrol stations in Belgrade and elsewhere are made luxurious comparing to Australian and even English ones.

 

Trip 1
Vlasina Lake and a visit to a piece of land I inherited close to Bulgarian border
One thing I have to admit is that Serbia is lacking infrastructure (roads). As state has no money to do it and are not willing to give concessions it's probably going to take a lot of time until these precious parts of Serbia see amount of tourists that it deserves. Vlasina Lake is (quote) " a semi-artificial lake in Southeast Serbia. Lying at the altitude of 1211 m, with the area of 16 km², it is the highest and largest artificial lake in Serbia."We have spent a night at the old but very tidy hotel enjoying a great food with a view. There are only three (not very attractive) hotels sadly and not much more of other entertainment. People from nearby towns made weekend houses and are enjoying fishing here. I can imagine what attraction would people make of it if it was in Switzerland...Nature looks really heavenly in this part of Serbia.
Here are some breathtaking photos of the lake:

Next day we went to visit that piece of land that I inherited from my granddad. All though it's not very far from the lake it is really "by God forgotten" area in the middle of nowhere. I was astonished with a beauty of it but it's simply unreachable by normal means of transport. To make things worse it was a rainy day and we had to go there by tractor. God, it was an adventure! I seriously thought that we'll all going to get killed having in mind that non-existent mud road was very narrow and with a lot of curves and whenever I opened my eyes (rarely) I would see abyss looking at me. Add to this that driver was pretty drank and yeah...you can imagine. But what I saw even on a rainy day just took my breath away. So gorgeous! All though I gave up on making a wooden hut and escape civilization...at least until they make decent road up to my heritage. Not in this life, haha. But I do plan to go back and live in Serbia again but closer to Belgrade and maybe on a river Danube...we'll see.
Here are some photos:

Talking about river Danube. We took another trip to Djerdap.(Quote) "The Đerdap gorge, which is some 100 kilometers long (from Golubac to Tekija), is actually a compound river valley made up of four gorges (Gornja klisura, Gospođin vir, Veliki and Mali kazan and Sipska klisura), separated from each other by ravines. In Gospođin vir, one of the greatest river depths in the world has been measured (82 m). The cliffs of the canyon in Kazan are about 300 meters high while the riverbed in this part is narrowed down to 150 meters. (Wikipedia)".
Why would Serbia need sea after all? There is a song in Serbia that goes "Danube, Danube, my sea".
Here are photos:

I can write about Serbia and how it pleasantly surprised me, for ages. But it may be boring for you.
I'll just tell you few more things about social aspects. People (mostly close to pension) are losing their jobs because of privatisation and world financial crises. State gives them some kind of redundancy and social program (finally). Few are getting (and already are) bloody rich. I haven't seen that many Mercedes, BMWs, Audis not even in Frankfurt (on my way back home). Young people could easily find jobs until recently (before crises) especially if they are well educated and they did not want to go abroad as much as they used to before. Also they learned that life abroad is not always "honey and milk" (they have heard from many Serbs like us leaving abroad). Generally people in Serbia do not earn near enough to enjoy benefits of having a chance to buy almost everything made in the world that is now in their shops. And it's good quality stuff, not like here in Australia where everything has been made in China. For example one can't buy in today's Belgrade any other kind of shoes but Italian. And a variety of stuff one can buy is amazing comparing to where I live (starting from food, clothes, furniture...everything). People in Belgrade care of their appearance...always did. They are well dressed at all times. We kind of lost it here. They also like to sit at the cafes and restaurants and they are always full. Belgrade is really vibrant city that lives all night. One can feel its beating and I miss it so much now when I am back in Australia. All though Brisbane is to some extend similar because it's a tourist's area but it's never near Belgrade. It's not wonder that people from other parts of ex YU are coming to Belgrade to enjoy this vibrancy.
After decades of politic being a part of daily life of people of Serbia today they would rarely talk about it. They are disappointed in every single political party and they are used to corruption, theft and all the ugly things in Serbian political life. No hope there. But then again they see what's going on in western world. So what to expect in Serbia? Oh yes they ALL have a cable TV with 76 Channels international and domestic so all the bloody information and entertainment is available to them.
On my way back we had to spend whole day in Germany - Frankfurt. So we went to see the city. First impression was very bad. As we stepped out of a metro station in the middle of the city centre there was a Gipsy woman with a baby in her lap, begging. Next corner those frauds with a match boxes. This is a scene I would expect to see in Serbia but this time I did not see it. Cafes of low standard...except in a heart of the city where there was a few nice ones. Ok there were few high commercial buildings here and there (and in Belgrade they do not intend to build them in CBD). Parks are nice...Of course Frankfurt is a city much smaller then Belgrade and one can feel atmosphere of the smaller city but I also had a feeling that not much has changed there for the last 20-30 years. Not much is happening. Frankfurt airport is a mess. It's so here and there and everywhere and all tho it's modernized some time ago it's again not comparable to Abu - Dhabi for example.
Here are some photos from Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi airport:

Back in Brisbane we miss Belgrade (and Europe) so much that we decided to go back and live there at first time possible...if we are still on Earth, haha. It's going to take 5-10 more long years. In the main time we'll try to enjoy Australia and see more of the world. I hope this wasn't too tiring for you to read (having in mind my English skills, haha) and I hope you'll enjoy photos and go to visit Serbia at some point.

Display:
For some reason few photos came small size and one is missing...and I do not know how to edit my diary.Can anybody help?
Anyway you can see much more photos here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/vbovbovbo/BelgradeAndSerbia#
enjoy slide show!

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 07:04:21 AM EST
It's OK now.I edited...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 08:32:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
wonderful diary, vbo, thanks!
the pix of the danube are a joy.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 06:48:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great pictures, vbo! and thank you for sharing. How long has it been, since you been last in Serbia and Belgrade?
by Fran on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 11:59:53 AM EST
I've been there in 2004 but it was winter and I haven't seen much.Even then I saw change (buildings, supermarkets etc.) but it actually just started then.
For just 5 years so much happened.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sat Aug 8th, 2009 at 03:45:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This sounds like it has been a very fast transformation over the last 5 years. It sure looks like being worth a visit.
by Fran on Sat Aug 8th, 2009 at 10:09:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that is exactly what supraised me...speed of the change.It's obvious that some serious money came in to the Serbia and all though some foreign companies came also from Russia ( petrol industry mostly) most of them came from west Europe.Serbia is a "hungry" market to be "conquered" and it's no wonder that they came when it opened it's borders.Unfortunatelly this crises will definitelly slow down progress in Serbia (like everywhere else).There so much more to be done there.But it is definitelly the place to visit with it's gorgeos nature and a varaety of entertainment especially in Belgrade.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sat Aug 8th, 2009 at 07:23:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It does look lovely and, more than that, hopeful. I was warned off visiting Serbia a couple of years back when I was first travelling around E Europe, I wonder if they've changed their mind.

It's funny how the buildings remind me of sofia. Obviously the older ones will be similar cos it's only a couple of hundred miles, culturally no distance at all, but somehow even the new stuff seemed familiar.

And i know the same story about all the new german cars. Sofia is awash with them, all black and silver.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 02:02:07 PM EST
Great photos, vbo, and I'm glad you found Serbia inspiring and on the move since your last visit!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 7th, 2009 at 02:59:36 PM EST
Great Post!  I spent a week in Belgrade last year (I'm American) and had a great experience staying with Serbian friends.  While there are clearly economic issues and unemployment there is also a great feel for how to enjoy life.  Everywhere I went, every day, people were enjoying the idle time as much as possible.  Some are also frustrated with lack of opportunity (like my friend, who spent a few years working on  the Sava Cathedral and gave us a great tour of the inside/view from the towers).  The result is that the city feels very lively with people.  

Belgrade also has a great new, young music scene emerging.  The former Yugoslav countries all do, particularly Ljubljana, Rijeka and Zagreb, but Belgrade is the center of all of this.  Funny that Belgrade would end up attracting the youth from the region.

If you're interested here are some bands getting a lot of attention:  
http://www.myspace.com/petrolpetrol
http://www.myspace.com/krischke
http://www.myspace.com/repetitor

I left the region with the distinct sense that it had a very, very bright future.

by paving on Sun Aug 9th, 2009 at 05:31:54 PM EST
Belgrade was the ONLY serious City in ex - YU.Ljubljana (265,881), Zagreb (682,598), Sarajevo (304,614) and Skoplje (515,419) were and are too small in population. They are more like towns.No wonder that young people are bored there.
Belgrade has 1.576.124 and probably even more...
Belgrade also was a capital city of ex YU and all though Ljubljana and to some extend Zagreb has been influenced by Germans (being closer) still Belgrade was a center of it's all and much of the happenings were placed in Belgrade.
Sarajevo had at some point prior to war a "cultural wave" with lots of good music and movies coming from there but it's "dead" now.That "wave" came when Sarajevo was "multicultural" place.It's not any more.Now after the war all sorts of artists are going to ex republics because it was and still is their only " market". I heard that one of Serbian tycoons Miskovic (and I wonder who exactly backs him on a broader scale not just in Serbia)is building shoping centres and other buildings around all ex YU republics, which I find interesting. OK I know that "capital" and profit does not recognize borders but still after those bloody wars...
I haven't heard much of what's going on on Kosovo in this sense. Either people do not know or are not interested.There was a debate on TV what to do with Albanians from Kosovo now when they get that "white" status for visas with EU. Are they going to treat Albanians like their citizens and give them Serbian passports or not? They fear that lot of them will fake that they moved to Serbia to get these visas so that they can go to Europe freely.And they do not want to give them this opportunity. On the other hand Serbs claim that Kosovo is still part of Serbia...Maybe EU will be pushed bu USA to give Albanians those visas anyway...and here they are in big numbers in EU.
I do not know if Serbs will have too much of the benefits from these visas.They do not have too much money to travel as tourists (EU is expensive for them) and if they try to find work there it will be of no help cause there is not enough work in EU these days...  

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Mon Aug 10th, 2009 at 02:42:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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