One of the joys of writing an independent travel blog includes the freedom to say what you feel, and not be bound by payment for a travel article that “makes people want to go there.”
Once we step off the train in Belgrade, Marilynn and I and a solo traveler from New Zealand, Mac, try to gain some sense of direction. Either these backpacks are getting heavier, or I’m getting older, because I’m hunched with a great view of the sidewalk.
“Man, there’s garbage all over the place, I say to Marilynn.”
“We just need to focus on finding the hotel.” She and Mac study the map, and learn that we’re staying in the same section of town. I lag and notice many beautiful blonde women, with high cheek bones and long legs. They all have a cigarette dangling from their lips, as they walk past fast.
I feel like we stepped into the 1960’s in the USA, back when folks littered at will, dogs ran loose, and most people smoked cigarettes…everywhere.
Two miles later, Mac reaches his hostel. We’re almost ashamed to tell him that we will stay at Hotel Moskva, a five-star hotel where notable people like Albert Einstein, Alfred Hitchcock, and Richard Nixon have stayed. It’s time to add some vacation to our travel!
“Does this city seem dirty to you?” I ask Mac.
“I love it,” he responds. “It’s a poor country like Bulgaria and very cheap.” He looks at me. “You Americans bombed it before.”
“Perhaps I’ll say I’m from Canada,” I respond jokingly.
“Not a bad idea,” he nods.
We saw no evidence of bombings here, although it exists in some places.
Hotel Moskva blows us away with luxury and friendliness ($89USD nightly), along with the distinct stench of stale cigarette smoke. We sip beers in the upscale lounge, listening to the piano player. Oh yes, definitely back in the 60’s.
The morning hotel breakfast (included) fills us with nineteen cups of espresso, and numerous buffets of meats, eggs, cheeses, pastries, pies, etc. The tiny nonsmoking section resembles that imaginary smoking line they used to have inside airplanes. The rest of the cuisine here tastes surprisingly non-distinct.
Let’s get out for some fresh air and explore the beauty of Belgrade. The pedestrian city center consists mainly of modern shops squeezing between magnificent, ornate sculpted buildings. It pales in comparison to recent cities visited, but still nice enough. Perhaps we’re simply a bit burnt-out. (See previous recent posts)
Kalemegdan Citadel served as a strategic military post during WWI. Situated where the Sava River meets the Danube, they have done a tremendous job of restoring the massive complex into a pleasant park.
Our final evening, we take a luxurious massage at our hotel spa. After an hour of aromatic oil being rubbed into my weary skin and muscles, I feel like lighting up a cigarette.
Only three nights in this grand hotel, and we’re back to traveling. Riding a 13-hour train to Bar, Montenegro. Gorgeous countryside, and colorful towns, but again littered with garbage. Smokers indulge inside the train, but we’re getting used to it.
What we cannot get used to is the constantly screaming two-year-old and his mother who repeatedly pinches his ear and smacks his face. Again, back in the 60’s.
To escape the madness of our compartment I head to the bar car (imagine that), and see my first refugees. An elderly man, and a middle-aged couple sit on the floor between train cars. I step around them. They get up carrying all their belongings in overstuffed bags, pots and pans dangling from the sides. They are directed to three seats in a six seat cabin. Two puddles emanating the smell of piss remain on the floor where they sat. The three other passengers who were sitting in that cabin left, because of the stench I imagine. I’m not cranky anymore. We have no problems. God save these harmless folks who have real problems. They are struggling to live, eat, and stay warm. Our issues pale in comparison. Bring on the screaming two-year-old. In five hours, we’re stepping off onto the beach in Bar, Montenegro! Ron Mitchell