I had learned (in a walking tour) that during the inter-World War period (under the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Serbia received disproportionately more funding than the rest of the region due to the kingdom ruled by Serbs. So I expected something like Sarajevo but a little nicer, which I found partially true; more importantly, however, it has four times the population so it feels much more like a city.
Belgrade was either less damaged during the war or more able to make repairs. However, they did leave a few buildings untouched that were destroyed by NATO, as a reminder of what the west had done.
This is not to say Serbian infrastructure is up to Western European standards either.
Regional trains and those running to Romania depart from a different station. It was a bit more difficult to figure out which building it was.
At the station were some derelict-looking cars, although they did have excellent insulation installed around the windows.
I couldn’t blame the train cars for giving up since the tracks literally had gaps in them.
It was also exciting because it was the first time I’d been given a handwritten ticket for an international journey.
Now that the train portion is off my chest I can highlight some things that everyone else might care about.
First, popcorn. For whatever reason there are a million popcorn stands all over the streets.
Second, safety. Again, while infrastructure isn’t always functioning…
…at least there are US-style warning signs to tell you when you’re about to fall off a cliff.
Also on the topic of safety, the air quality suffers in the winter from thermal inversion since it is part of the Balkan mountain range (see the cover photo here to get a sense of the smog). But it also suffers from pollution, including from people burning trash in the countryside.
Third, I had two exciting language-first. It was the first time I used my Cyrillic learning to interpret a sign:
And also the first time that my learning a new language (Dutch) helped me with a different language (Serbo-Croatian):
Neither were terribly important translations but both felt exciting.
Part of the castle/downtown area had a cool exhibition featuring images from other Eastern European countries. I definitely recognized a few, but even for countries and cities I had been to they managed to find sights or seasons that I had not seen.
Entertainingly, there’s a street called Strahinjića Bana which is referred to silicon street–but not for the same type of silicon that Santa Clara might be known for.
In other words, all the restaurants are overpriced on this street.
I’ll end with a picture completely unrelated to Belgrade itself, except that it was taken in Belgrade.