Monthly Archives: December 2017

Two Days in Belgrade. Belgrad. Beograd…

Belgrade is worth a stop for a few days. As the former capital of Yugoslavia and now Serbia’s capital, it shows its multilayered past with Turkish, Imperial and Communist influences. The old city overlooks the intersection between the Danube and Sava rivers, showing it’s original role as a fortress dominating the river, and leads down into the more classic 19th/20th century capital.


Kalemagdan Fort from the Sava River

A good walking itinerary is to start at the Kalemagdan Fort at the northwest tip of the city and work southeast into the old city, which runs down to Skadarska Street in the Skadarlija neighborhood. Skadarlija is a bit touristy although the old town in between is worth a walk round.

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Source: Google Maps.

Further south, Belgrade has plenty of grand boulevards and buildings evocative of its past as the capital of Serbia from 1882 and then an independent Yugoslavia from 1918, until it’s breakup in the early 1990s. Much of the signage is in Cyrillic text, although a lot of the official signs show Roman text as well.

The palaces of the Serbian aristocracy dot the downtown.

There are also plenty of concrete leftovers from the communist era.


Serbia follows the orthodox faith and St Mark’s Church is worth a stop.


St Mark’s Church

History buffs should make their way by bus or taxi out to the Museum of Yugoslavia (, almost 4km south of Republic Square, where there is a lot of memorabilia from the Marshal Tito pre-breakup era. Also, Marshal Tito, who was interred there. Take in the propaganda movie devoted to Tito, who held things together and ran a more liberal version of a single-party communist dictatorship.

As head of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, Yugoslavia had close relations with much of the developing world, so here is the place to get your history fix with Generals Nasser, Sadat and others.

I’d love to have been in the room for the chats with the Shah of Iran and post-war Marshal Klimenti Voroshilov (looking relieved that Stalin hadn’t had him shot).

Ceremonial political weavings featuring President Nasser of Egypt and a youthful Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic.

Belgrade is a great food town, although it’s helpful if your tastes lean Balkan. The old town, located in and northwest of the Skadarlija area, has a lot of restaurants and nightlife to choose from. Serbia has a growing craft beer culture and good beer pubs include the Miners Pub (Rige od Fere 16), Krafter Beograd (Strahinjića Bana 44) and Same Pivo (Balkanska 13). Serbian wine is also worth a try.


Kebabs, kebabs and more kebabs might still not be enough.

Zavichaj, on Gavrila Principa 77, is a good spot for Serbian specialties.



Gradska,  located northeast of the old town on Visokog Stevana 43, is another good traditional place.


Belgrade is centrally located on an itinerary between Central Europe and the Mediterranean. I got there with a 4 1/2-hour minivan drive from Budapest and then flew on to Thessaloniki. There are also intercity train and bus, sometimes with a change at Novi Sad on the Hungarian border.

I stayed at the Beograd Inn (Francuska 11), a modern place located at the southeast edge of the old town.

Plovdiv: You Know You Want It

Plovdiv is the type of very cool city that arises from having a lot of people on horseback building stuff there because they – like you – realized that its a nice place to spend time in. A trip to Bulgaria usually directs you to Sofia, the southern Mountains or the Black Sea Coast. As ever, do what the Macedonians and Romans did and head for Plovdiv, a university town located around 7 very defendable hilltops on the horse and tank-crossable plains about 120 kilometers south east of Sofia.


Bulgaria made the switch from Turkish occupation to an independent state in the late-19th Century, so unlike much of Eastern Europe, it didn’t have it’s time under the Austro-Hungarian empire.


Dzhumaya Mosque

The Romans left a very nice theater from the time of the Emperor Hadrian in which, that week, famed 1980’s-era Scottish band Marillion were due to perform. I didn’t stick around, although I wanted to.

The Ottomans, the last to vacate, provided the still active Dzhumaya mosque from the 13th-15th centuries with a nice coffee shop out front.

Plovdiv old town is still pretty much set in the 19th Century with Ottoman-style houses and is very wander-able.


People often take a break from their wandering for a street side coffee in the Kapana, a mostly 19th-century neighborhood. If you’re looking for a place to hang out and get a coffee or beer, this part of town – north of the mosque and between the north-south streets of Yoakim Gruev and Tsar Boris III, is a good place to go.

Kapana area

In the evenings, the 2nd Century AD Roman amphitheater is used for concerts and other events.

Street art #Plovdiv The Mongols got pretty close.


Plovdiv street art – Mongol invaders.

For aviation geek-out time heading out to the nearby Aviation Museum at Krumovo Airport – about a 15 euro cab ride – make sure that you are not taken to the passenger airport but to the Aviatsiya Muzhehe ( on the opposite side of the airport. There is a sign specific for that off the main highway. Here you can see a variety of mainly Soviet-era aircraft, as well as some remnants from other invaders.

Obligatory MiG-21 Nosecone shot

If you have to geek out, go large. Who’d have thought that an intact Soyuz capsule would be found in Plovdiv, Bulgaria? This is what returned of Soyuz-33, in 1979, a bit charred from re-entry, with a Bulgarian Cosmonaut having been onboard, natch. Note the advanced glass-screen technology.

Capsule interior


German Arado floatplane repurposed by the Bulgarian Airforce

Helicopter gunship

Civilian light cargo helicopter

Radar truck


I used the train from Sofia to get here and returned on the bus. Both are fine with the bus slightly faster, but note that the rail station, located on Bul. Hristo Botev is a 15-minute walk south of the center. Beware that there are two bus stations, one co-located with the rail station – however Sofia intercity buses use the separate South Bus Station located about 300 meters east at Bul. Hristo Botev 47.

I stayed at the Noviz Hotel at bul. Ruski 55, which was decent and a pleasant 10-minute walk east into the center.

A good place for the evening is Plovdiv’s only craft beer bar, the Cat and Mouse (Котка и Мишка), located at ul. Hristo Dyukmedzhiev 14, in the Kapana area.