Day 43: Belgrade

24.07.2013. Belgrade is not a very pretty city. No ignore that, Belgrade is an ugly city. The 7 hour bus journey from Sarajevo didn’t leave much impression- the roads were uninviting, landscape was unvaried, and the buildings looked tired. Having arrived from Bosnia, a country still recovering from the scars of the war with this neighbour, my initial dread of Serbia was self-fulfilling.

The smell of traffic and the screams of taxi drivers marked my arrival at Belgrade. This is one of the largest city in this region, and it isn’t afraid to make that known, however crude or inelegant its manner of choice may be.

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I visited its streets and found hints of beauty. But for every nice art nouveau or baroque building I saw, it seemed destined to be thwarted by an ugly, drab communist building unceremoniously situated right beside it. Being clearly foreign, my presence was too often met with the glares of strangers and passer bys. In Bosnia, I met each pair of eyes with a smile. In Belgrade I tended to cast my sight away.

Someone in Sarajevo told me that people of both nations are at peace. Someone else in Belgrade told me the same. It was war, and a lot of it politics.

Had I viewed the city with tinted glasses?

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I wondered if the glares from its people were that of intrigue and curiosity, not contempt; and I wondered if the ugly, almost random architecture of Belgrade’s streets belies its true character and beauty. I keenly remembered Costa and Mario, the two kind owners of the hostel who ensured that my stay was the most pleasant one. And I smiled at the recollection of the passionate officer at the ticket office who spoke such fluent English, and who was so keen to show just that, making sure that my trip to Romania was a success.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Belgrade isn’t that ugly after all.

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