Articles tagged with "serbia"

Rammstein III

Rammstein III

Gig time came. We headed across the river, back through the wide streets of Novi Beograd, at first just us and then later joining ever increasing crowds of people on their way to the massive arena. It was going to be awesome.

We had two spare tickets. Someone at the hostel had put us in touch with someone they knew who was looking for a ticket. We’d spoken to this person, Nikola, on the phone, and he’d offered us 1000 dinar each for the tickets. Face value was 3000 so we decided we’d try to sell them at the venue and see if we got some more. When we were outside, with huge throngs of Balkan metallers swirling around, I slightly wondered if I should have taken Nikola’s offer. I’ve never managed to tout tickets successfully even in London, so trying to cut deals in Serbia was not going to be easy.

In the end we sorted things out pretty quickly. There were plenty of people asking for tickets, and my only mistake was picking someone who was pretty wired and didn’t speak English. We had a haphazard negotiation, a brief tussle when he tried to take the tickets from me without letting go of his cash, a short misunderstanding when he thought I was also selling my own ticket, and then the deal was sorted. We headed in before anyone else tried to forcibly buy our tickets from us.

The Lisbon crowd had been quite well managed, but here it was boisterous, and the security was heavy handed. The entrance to the cheap part of the arena was overcrowded, and it took us a long time to get in. At one point the security had started shoving people around, and I thought it was going to get violent. Luckily the moment passed, and we made it in. We missed all of Combichrist’s set, but I’d seen a bit of them in Lisbon and I thought they were really, really poor, so I was not upset.

The gig was pretty much as awesome as the Lisbon show had been. The explosions were all well-timed this time, and I could see that it was all running smoothly. The only slight disappointments were that they didn’t play “Liebe ist für alle da” or “Seemann“, which had both been awesome in Lisbon. But it was still an incredible show. We were close enough to the front to get pretty hot from all the flamethrowers, and we weren’t even in the “Fan Pit”, the front third of the floor where tickets had been twice as expensive.

After the show we poured back out onto the streets of Novi Beograd. The next morning Sam got a train to Budapest for a few more days of travelling. I flew home, to another few days of 15 hour stints in the office. But it had definitely been worth coming.


St. Sava

St. Sava

We went to the Sveti Sava cathedral. On another beautiful spring day, the parks in front of the cathedral had a nice vibe.

Later as it got dark we headed towards the centre of the city. We passed the parliament buildings and the presidential residence, and I stopped to take a photo. As I took a long exposure, a smartly dressed guy who was walking by approached. He didn’t look happy. He demanded to see our passports. My first thought was that it was some kind of scam and I was going to walk away, but then he showed me a police badge. I showed him my passport, holding onto it carefully in case he was just trying to steal it. He asked us things in very broken English, the gist of which was that he wanted to know what we were doing. He didn’t speak very much English, and we did not speak any Serbian, so he just shouted at us a bit. He seemed bothered by the way I was taking photos, which he seemed to be saying was not legitimately touristic. Still, in the end it was just a few unpleasant minutes and then he walked off. I’d never got any vibe of ex-dictatorship on my previous visit here, but this was definitely that.

The next day we walked past the same place and noticed a prominent sign saying “No photography”.


Novi Beograd

Novi Beograd

Early the next morning we headed down to the station to catch the train to Belgrade. I slept most of the way, waking only to see endless flat green fields occasionally. Last time I’d crossed a border into Serbia, the guard had been remarkably jovial considering it had been 2am. This time, it was the middle of a beautiful spring day but the man who stamped our passports was definitely not happy. He looked at my battered document with some disgust, but stamped us in eventually.

We got to Belgrade in the early afternoon and checked into a hostel. At first it seemed incredibly welcoming and cool. Over the next few days, though, we’d find that the Swedish owner was pretty weird, vaguely racist and generally a bit unpleasant to be around. Still, they made me a coffee and that made me happy, and it was good to be back in Serbia.

We headed over to the Belgrade Arena to pick up our tickets. Last time, I’d only crossed the Sava briefly, to go to a club on a boat, so I hadn’t seen Novi Beograd at all. Under clear blue skies I really liked it. It was quite quiet, and we stopped for coffees and snacks at cafes along the way to the stadium. We got hold of our tickets with no problems, and it was nice to actually have one this time. Negotiating my way past layers of security in Lisbon when my ticket never arrived had been challenging enough; I was glad I wouldn’t have to do the same in Serbia.


Bus to Sarajevo

Bus to Sarajevo

I wanted to get to Sarajevo at a reasonable time.  This meant leaving Belgrade at an unreasonable time.  It was already hot when I got up at 6.30am, so it was very nice to be staying right across the road from the bus station.  Four of my room mates from the hostel were getting an early train to Novi Sad for the EXIT festival, and we all headed across to the station.  As we crossed the road, one of them, Will, spontaneously decided that with the festival not starting for a couple of days, he might as well visit Bosnia too.

After a couple of hours we reached the border and we were through quickly. We stopped at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and it was a relief to get off the roasting bus for a bit.

After a couple more hours, we rolled into Istočno Sarajevo bus station. We were in the Republika Srpska, one of the two entities which make up Bosnia. A few years ago, travel across the internal border was not possible but now it was straightforward, our only problem being finding the cash for a taxi into central Sarajevo. The cash machine at the bus station didn’t work, so we walked under the blazing sun to a nearby shopping centre which had a big sign on saying “Shoping Centar”, and exchanged some Euros for Bosnian Convertible Marks. We hailed a passing taxi and headed into Sarajevo.


Belgrade

Belgrade

It was 7am and hot. I found a hostel across the road from the train station. It didn’t look too nice from the outside, but as soon as I walked inside and found that it was air conditioned, I decided to stay.

I slept for a few hours. When I woke up I had a pounding caffeine withdrawal headache, and I set off urgently to have a look around Belgrade. In the blazing sun I walked up to the Kalemegdan, an ancient fortress that overlooks the confluence of the Sava and the Danube. In the park inside the fortress, I found someone selling coffee, and bought three.

Nicely caffeinated, I was able to think clearly again, and I walked through central Belgrade taking in the atmosphere. I passed a bakery and grabbed a couple of bureks, a fantastic Balkan snack that I’d discovered in Zagreb five years earlier. The guy serving me jokingly said “15 dollars” when he realised I was foreign, and then short-changed me by 3 dinars anyway.

In the evening there were more travellers at the hostel, most of them checking out Belgrade before they went to the EXIT festival. At the Kalemegdan earlier someone had given me a flier which seemed to suggest that there was some sort of free trance festival at the fortress, so we all headed up there. And it was all true, except for the ‘free’ bit. Not wanting to pay 1000 dinars to get in, we just sat outside enjoying the open air for a while.

We decided to go to a club. Two Serbs, Stefan and Miloš, had got talking to us, and tried to show us the way to some clubs, but after a lot of walking we gradually realised that Stefan and Miloš were not locals and had absolutely no idea where we were going. Eventually, with the assistance of some friendly passers-by, we found our way to the banks of the Sava, which is lined with clubs on boats.

As we arrived, someone was clambering up out of the river, covered in slime and filth. He was cut, and staggering, and it looked like his night had gone very very badly. As people helped him away, we queued for the club he’d fallen off the back of, but we weren’t allowed in. Someone told us that the faller was a foreigner, and so the bouncers were not letting any more foreigners in. We went next door, and stayed there until 4am. We left just as the dawn was starting to break.


Train to Belgrade

Train to Belgrade

The train was about an hour late arriving in Budapest. I’d been getting paranoid that I’d missed it. On board, it was busy. I found my way to a six seat cabin, in which I met two Serbs going to Subotica, two English girls going to Novi Sad, and a Hungarian who got off somewhere near the border. I chatted to the English girls for a while, then slept very badly. When we got woken up for the borders I felt so tired I hardly knew what was going on, but the Serb official who stamped me in was as jovial as any border guard I’ve ever met.

At dawn we reached Novi Sad. The English girls got off, and I had the compartment to myself. Dawn was breaking as we crossed the Danube, rumbling over a bridge that replaced one destroyed by NATO bombs in 1999. I slept until we got to Belgrade at eight.