[I’m jumping ahead to write about Serbia due to limited Internet time and apathy. More on Slovenia and Croatia soon.]
From Zagreb, I caught a night train to Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro (Yugoslav Republic, whatever you want to call it). When I got on the train, I was able to supersize to a sleeper car for only €10. It sounds like a deal, I know, but it’s really impossible to sleep on an eastern European train that makes 12 stops in 6.5 hours.
The redeeming part of the trip was the vibrant pink sunrise over the outskirts of Belgrade. Mist-shrouded villages and browning corn fields set a striking, almost cliche, autumn morning scene.
On the train, I met a Slovenian guy named Daniel, a programmer who had been all over the world and spoke pretty good English. He was visiting his uncle in Belgrade and kindly invited me for some morning coffee. After finding our respective hotels (€17 per night for my own room!), we grabbed some joe at a little cafe in the old town (Stari Grad) of Belgrade. Big American-style breakfasts aren’t really popular in most parts of Europe, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw scrambled eggs and ham on the menu. It’s nice to have a taste of home now and then.
Parting ways with Daniel, I took a long nap at the hotel and awoke in the late afternoon. I headed out at sunset to find a little place called ?. No joke. Apparently, it was named after the cathedral across the street, but the priests got pissed. The owner renamed it to ? as if to say, “What’s all the fuss?”
? was built in the early 1800’s and probably hasn’t changed much since then. The floors are polished by years of foot traffic and dark wood beams frame plaster walls covered in 100 year-old photos of random Serbs. The waitress sat me down in the lightly smoky dining room where three regulars began jamming out some Serbian folk music. One played a classical guitar while the other two plucked away at mandolins, streaming out melodies reminiscent of pastoral folk scenes. Diving into a local draft beer and a Serbian salad – tomatoes, cucumbers and soft cheese – it was a great introduction to Serbia, not to mention the ultimate travel experience: when you feel like you’re not just a fly on the wall, but rather you’ve become a part of the place you’re visiting.
I had some tasty stewed lamb after that, followed by some kind of pear dessert with Serbian coffee. (Okay, really it’s Turkish coffee, but don’t tell them that. The Ottoman Turks ruled this part of the world for several hundred years, right up until 1912, in fact. They’re not exactly fond of eachother.)
A fat meal at a great restaurant. Total price: about $14.