My second week in Belgrade started with a beautiful, sunny day! We decided to take advantage of the weather by walking to see two churches that were on my list of places to go. Along the way, Mihailo pointed out the parliament building and main post office, and we stopped into a shoe store to say hello to one of his friend’s fathers.
The first church, Sveti Marko, was built between 1931 and 1940 in the Byzantine style. The ornate exterior intrigued me, and I surprised Mihailo by asking if we could go inside. In doing so, I saw a reverential side of him that I had never seen before! Upon entering and exiting the church, he made the sign of the cross on his chest three times, facing the altar. Although the interior walls were incomplete, the church had a lovely, peaceful atmosphere.
We continued walking and came across the Belgian Embassy, Turkish Embassy, and saw the former location of the US Embassy. He also pointed out a small Catholic church, knowing that I was raised Catholic. The next church I wanted to see, Sveti Sava, is in his neighborhood and is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The church has been under construction since 1935, and the interior is still unfinished. The exterior walls are covered in marble and granite, and there are shining gold crosses atop the various domes. Many small stained glass windows let in a soft light, that give the unfinished interior a mystic quality. I would love to see it when the interior is complete!
Next to Sveti Sava is the National Library, the largest library in Serbia. Mihailo showed me the place behind the library where he and his friends would hang out after school. Across the street is Karadordev Park. He used to play football (soccer for us Americans) in the park, and also trained for boxing. He and his friends could also see the stadiums for the two football teams from the park, so they used to “watch” from there when they were unable to go to the game. It was fun to see that part of his past.
That night, at my request, we went to see the ballet at the National Theater. They were performing “The Nutcracker,” a ballet I am extremely familiar with, having performed it well over 100 times. The inside of the theater was stunning. Gold details adorned the walls and ceilings in the lobby areas, and above the house seats was a gorgeous mural of angels and a large chandelier. The orchestra played the Tchaikovsky score well, and the performance was good but not amazing. The leads were strong, but the corps had a wide range of talent, and some parts seemed under rehearsed. Mihailo preferred the first act, but enjoyed the Spanish dance in the second act. There were some interesting plot choices that I appreciated. For instance, when Clara, who became the Sugar Plum Fairy, awoke from her dream of the Land of Sweets, she walked outside and recognized her Nutcracker/Cavalier on the street. The ballet opened and closed with Clara telling the story to a young girl, whom we learn at the end is their daughter. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, and was happy to share it with my guy.
The next day was gloomy again. We slept in, and then met up with one of his friends. Later that night, we were able to see another friend from the ship. He was happy to see us together, and we all enjoyed catching up. The following day, Saturday, the two football teams in Belgrade were playing each other. I had told Mihailo that I would go to the game since he came to the ballet with me, but I chickened out! We walked to the stadium, and I was disturbed by the number of policemen and the amount of protection they had. I worried about what was expected to happen to necessitate those measures. Mihailo teased me for being scared, but agreed to walk back to his neighborhood bar to watch the game. Fights did break out after we left, and play stopped twice because smoke bombs made the ball impossible to see! We agreed that we made the right choice to leave. It was interesting to see the stadium and the excitement surrounding the game. I had never seen such an intense rivalry!
Monday was cloudy but not too cold, so we walked over to Kralja Petra Street to go to ?, the oldest restaurant/tavern in Belgrade. We were looking at the menu outside when a waiter came out to tell us more about the history. He led us in, showed us the old furnace, original tables, and surprisingly large seating are. We sat down and ordered two local beers, and he brought us pamphlets with information about the restaurant. I wasn’t planning to order food, but when a man at a neighboring table was served, I couldn’t resist. I got a traditional dish with beans and smoked sausage. It was heavy, but delicious! We wove our way home, stopping at various places along the way. We even came across a Tex-Mex restaurant! They had photos of Arizona on the walls, not Texas!
The next day we went to the zoo. It is at Kalemegdan, the park and fortress we had visited the week before. It was strange to see a zoo at an old castle, but was fun to walk around. There were tons of animals, but my favorites were a bold chimpanzee that hopped on the fence to interact with us, and a huge lioness that was playing with a piece of wood like it was a ball. She reminded me of my dog! There were some gorgeous peacocks roaming around, proudly displaying their blue and green feathers. After viewing all the animals, it was time for food. We set off to find a quick bite to eat.
We continued exploring after lunch, heading to a nice path along the Danube. It was markedly colder by the river! We didn’t walk for long, but were able to see a fitness facility, Sky Wellness, owned by Novak Djokovic’s family. My parents are avid tennis players, so I snapped a photo to show them. Just past the facility were tennis courts that hold the Serbian Open. Near the courts, we decided it was time to warm up with a coffee, and stopped at Viva, a river barge restaurant. It was lovely to sit in the comfortable room overlooking the river. We stayed for quite a while, and then walked home for some rest and relaxation.
My last day in Belgrade, we walked to Mihailo’s neighborhood to say goodbye to some of his friends. Along the way, we ran into another friend of his, whom we had tried but failed to see earlier in the week. We were able to meet up with him and his girlfriend later that evening. Both of them spoke English well, had a lot of questions for me, and were able to tell me plenty of stories about Mihailo. Their careers were also very interesting, so we had plenty to talk about! Our original plan to go join them for “a drink” evolved into a 3+hour outing. It was late by the time we went back to the apartment, so I packed my things up as quickly as possible!
The next morning, I was up before the sun in order to get to the airport for my 6:40am flight. Mihailo had scheduled a taxi pick-up the night before, so we were able to walk out the front door and straight into a cab. He helped me check in at the airport, and waited with me until I needed to go to my gate. I was determined not to cry saying goodbye, but I failed!
The sun was rising as I boarded the plane. I didn’t want to leave, but knew I needed to return to reality and prepare for my next contract. The nearly 15-hour journey home was hard, as I was fighting tears the whole way. I watched “Brooklyn” on the plane, and allowed myself to have a good cry! My parents and beagle, Bella, were waiting for me at the airport, so I was able to have a good hug and lots of puppy kisses immediately. My memories of my trip were so wonderful, that I returned home feeling I’d been living a dream.