Thursday, May 19, 2011

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone

The city is charming, especially when the sun comes out, which gives you a chance to really appreciate the sidewalk cafe culture. It feels much more European than I expected for a place that has historically been at the cross-roads of two continents. The buildings (at least in façade) are mostly old-school European, but visibly decaying, interspersed with some very utilitarian box-buildings. Cafes are very popular and places are open late. There is a huge shopping culture and presence of a wide range of shops from spacious high end shops (Burberry is next to Armani) to what you’d see in mid-town Manhattan (tiny shops, squeezed full to the brim with cheap stuff – soccer jerseys, shoes, you name it). Interestingly, these things are not in different neighborhoods but all in the same area. Most people dress pretty nicely (in a modern European style) and seem to stroll around and window shop quite a bit. Having done a bit of that myself, I’m seriously feeling inspired to do some actual shopping because there are all sorts of little boutiques with cute skirts and such.

Today’s primary event was visiting Kalemegdan fortress and park, which are at the heart of the old city of Belgrade. This large park is quiet, green, with rambling walks up the plateau, around and within the walls of fortress. It was first build as the site of an ancient fortress a few centuries BCE, and was subsequently rebuilt at least once by the Byzantines (500s), with upkeep and modernization in the interim, and once again mostly rebuilt by the Austrians (1700s). Pieces of the prior iterations remain visible. Anyhow, in addition to being an interesting historical cite, and housing the Military Museum at its highest point, it is also a functioning municipal park with tennis and soccer courts inset between fortress walls. This is a remarkable use of space. The Military Museum was interesting, though it would have been more so if more of it were translated (there are small captions for each display, in contrast to large paragraphs of Serbian text). They do really show a progression of the weapons and armor used in the area from ancient and medieval times through the modern day, including more biodegradable materials (uniforms, flags, etc) when reaching the more modern eras. Only after wandering the fortress for a couple hours did I happen upon the place where you can pick up audio guides in multiple languages. It wouldn’t have helped the museum, but would have explained more of the fortifications, but it was still quite interesting. If I have extra time at the end of this visit perhaps I’ll go back for the audio guide version.

Have I mentioned that I love the sunshine?!

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