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Serbia – Belgrade & Subotica 

My family had planned a trip to Hungary in the summer, so I thought that if I left Canada a bit earlier I would be able to see some friends first. I spent a weekend in London spending time with my friend Dalip, and even unexpectedly ran into my friend Janan whom I had met last year in Thessaloniki. After a nice easy weekend of seeing friends, I flew from London to Belgrade to visit my friend Luka.

I arrived around midnight at Nikola Tesla Airport and went through the fastest passport control I’ve ever experienced. I hadn’t checked any bags, so I was able to go straight out to try to find the official taxi stand. As soon as I was out of the baggage claim area I was approached by multiple people claiming to be the official taxi guy and trying to lead me away to their taxis, so I just pretended I had something else to do first and eventually found the little desk with the official taxis. 20 minutes later and I’ve arrived at the same hostel I stayed in when I visited Belgrade last year, (they have free coffee).

Unfortunately, despite saying they had 24 hour reception on their site, me emailing them to confirm that they had 24 hour reception, and Luka calling ahead for me to check that they had 24 hour reception, I found myself locked out of my hostel at 1AM wondering where exactly I went wrong. I rang the bell enough times that I think I annoyed one of the guests enough to come down and let me in. I sat in the common room and used their WiFi to email the hostel and ask what exactly I was supposed to do. I was luckily emailed back and told to just choose a bed in one of the rooms, and I really should have let them know ahead of time that I was coming. I guess I’m just irresponsible like that.

Anyways, I was now well situated and ready to enjoy Belgrade again. My last time here was marked by how many cool people I met, so I was eager to repeat the experience. I quickly became friends with the fellow traveller in my room, Cüneyd, and learned a lot from him about Turkey and where to visit there.

I revisited some of my favourite places with Luka, like the Church of Saint Mark and the Kalemegdan Fortress overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

Since I had visited before, I didn’t feel as pressured to see everything there is and went at a more leisurely pace. I absolutely loved the prices there, paying about $2CAD for a salmon sandwich on homemade baguette, or less than a dollar for burek (a local pastry with meat or cheese). I particularly spent a lot of time hanging out in cafes enjoying some downtime.

This is actually giant and super filling.

The National Parliament

One thing that I made sure to do this time was visit the National Museum, which had been under renovations for many years and reopened after my initial visit.

The photo doesn’t do this one justice, I loved the firelight in this painting.
Jesus giving this guy a good poke.

The museum went through a lot of Serbia’s history, starting with the prehistoric Vinča culture. Serbia, and Belgrade itself, have long histories. Belgrade has been a major crossroads throughout history and has gone through 115 wars and been razed 44 times. I was curious if that was some sort of record, but I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer. I think that Damascus might be comparable but I’m not sure.

As for coffee, there are many good quality places to be found in Belgrade. If you want a bit of an experience as well though, Kafeterija Magazin is definitely worth a visit. I think it’s expensive by Serbian standards, but it’s a cool place to hang out, with multiple floors specializing in different types of coffee.

The best part of the visit was easily catching up with Luka again and aimlessly exploring the city. It is, after all, the friends who make travelling worthwhile.

Now, my eventual destination was Hungary, but I wanted to make the most of being in Serbia by seeing somewhere new. I was debating between Novi Sad and Subotica, but decided on Subotica because it seemed like a cool little place slightly off the beaten path.

Subotica is located in Serbia’s autonomous province of Vojvodina, which is located in the great Pannonian Plain (or Carpathian Basin). As the name suggests, it’s very flat. It was an easy bus ride from Belgrade to Subotica, though the landscape didn’t change a whole lot on the way.

The town itself is pretty small, it’s easy to get everywhere just by walking, but there’s a lot to see! Since it was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that architectural style was fairly common in the city. Like many other European cities, there’s a nice central pedestrian street with restaurants and patios.

Subotica is not just another city however, it sets itself apart in a colourful way. At the end of the pedestrian street is the red City Hall and the Blue Fountain. It’s a beautiful little area where people can wander around or sit in the shade of the trees.

Just pretend the McDonald’s sign isn’t there.

At this point, I’m already quite impressed and happy with my decision to check out Subotica. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find such a colourful place, but I was fully in awe when I came to my last stop. The Subotica Synagogue barely looks real, but weirdly fits right in with the rest of the city.

Yep, Subotica was definitely worth the visit.

Subotica is right at the top of Serbia, just across the border from the Hungarian city I needed to get to: Szeged. I had been trying to find a way from Subotica to Szeged for a few weeks, but couldn’t find anything official looking online, so when I got to my hostel in Subotica I asked the owner if she knew how to get to Szeged. “Check internet” was the answer. Ok, no problem, I guess I could always walk to the bus station and see what they have right?

I arrived at the bus station and asked: “Is there a bus or train to Szeged?”

“No.”

Uh oh, I’m starting to think about the best way to get to the border and how long of a walk it is from the border to Szeged, (it’s about 3 and a half hours). It seemed strange to me, though, that these two cities so close together would have no connection between them, so I asked “is there ever a bus to Szeged?”

“Yes.”

My relief greatly overshadowed my frustration. “When is it?”

“Tomorrow 6:30.”

And so, with sadness that I had to get up before 6, I bought a ticket for the (allegedly) only bus to Szeged the next morning.

If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that I’m fairly useless when it comes to predicting what I’ll be doing in the next year or so. I definitely didn’t expect Serbia to be one of the first countries I’d be able to return to, but when the opportunity arose I had to take it. As usual, visiting has grown my list of “things-to-see” rather than shortened it; I’m already thinking about what I’ll have to prioritize the next time I make it there.

Next stop: Hungary.

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