I met a Dutch guy last summer during a 12-hour train-ride From Montenegro to Serbia. He told me he was going to use Belgrade as a short stop on his way to Bulgaria, Romania and other surrounding countries. It wasn't supposed to be more than two hours - but by the end of the ride, he decided to spend five days discovering everything my city has to offer.
He believed at first that Belgrade was a concrete jungle, but that would mean the city has no life inside it - merely routine, smoke and tired eyes. His eyes, however, went wide and hungry as I kept on changing his image of it.
Belgrade is a place where life itself is born. As soon as you step outside of the train, everything is buzzing with laughter that covers you like the soft blanket of stars you can see from inside its parks. You'll probably walk up the road that leads you to Knez Mihailova street, and there you'll see dozens of street artists - everything from musicians and painters to acrobats. You'll probably take a detour to the very famous statue we Serbs call "The horse" - though there's a man on top of it, too, but whenever we're about to meet, it's always "Next to The Horse". Once you get there, you'll be hit by a wave of all kinds of people - young, old, domestic, foreigners, all surrounded by exquisite coffee shops and small restaurants.
Then, at the very end of the street, like the light outside a very attractive tunnel, there stands Kalemegdan, towering over our city like a protective mother. It's a park, a tower, and a beautiful view of two rivers' confluence all at once. Beneath it, Danube and Sava come together just as Belgrade's nature and city life do. You'll find yourself sitting on top of the big stones surrounding you, admiring that view. And once you're ready for the change of the scenery, you'll look up and see hundreds of stars, or maybe you'll start looking at the stars here, on our streets - bridges lighting up, coffee shops shining like lanterns; you can even (without the loss of decency) look at the statue of The Victor which is facing towards Avala (and you'll get there, too) - but by dooing just that, and being naked simultaneously, The Victor is truly a sight to see; you'll have to be looking at his back-end. It's a fun little adventure and we always silently giggle about it, even if we've seen it thousands of times already.
Afterwards, you'll probably be up for some fun, and I can guarantee you, as soon as you stop anyone on the street and ask them where you can find some good time, they'll not only direct you to it, but invite you to come with them so they can lead you through all our beauties. I've had friends spend numerous nights showing Swedes, Germans, Greeks and many others around, even though they all met by chance a couple of minutes before that! Whoever you are, you'll feel so welcome you'll turn your pre-planned tour into a much longer one - and no one will be able to blame you for it.
While you're out, enjoying our never-tiring, never-ending nightlife, you will probably get the chance to try rakija (remember that name now - you may not be able to remember it after drinking it) - our very personal, very strong drink that will probably lead you to speaking Serbian (even if you've never heard it before), but it will most definitely lead you to singing and dancing. And if you are a fan of good food, whether it be meaty or vegetarian, you can find plenty of it anywhere you look.
And as you get up after a night of fun, you'll see the city already awake at seven o'clock - because we are the city that never sleeps. I recommend you get a cup of our strong black coffee - you are sure to remain awake for the rest of the day, not even blinking. You may want to visit some of our historical sights then (Kalemegdan is one of them, so you've already started!) or the Museum of Yugoslavian History, where some of my friends will be able to tell you everything you would like to know. They say that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - and similarly, Avala mountain is in the eye of The Victor. It's located on the outskirts of the town, but it's quiet worth it. As you are walking a steep forest towards your goal (or taking a bus up there - it's an option, too), you'll meet many others doing just that, most of them just for fun, even though they've been at the top hundreds of times before. As the last of the trees make way for you, the beauty will struck you as if you were in a movie - the Avala tower and Monument to the unknown hero.
The Avala tower rose back with its 204.5 meters, after being torn down during the '99 bombing. But not only did it rise back, it rose higher and more beautiful, and serves as a lighthouse for when you're not really sure where you should be going; or simply as a reminder of past perils, which you can always combat by becoming better and stronger. And behind it is a beautiful Monument people usually climb and sit on as they watch the sunset. If you take the main road down, you'll witness one of the most beautiful sunsets you can see; you'll see the city sitting beautifully as a pearl-necklace on someone's slow-breathing chest. The view from the main road is something you will never forget.
And just like my Dutch friend, you'll have a hard time leaving.
Photography by: Iva Jovanović