Eastern Europe Trip – Day 7 – Last Day in Belgrade, Serbia

Today was my final day in Belgrade, Serbia. I slept in until 7:30 am, went downstairs, purchased a sandwich from a shop below, and was eating it when I ran into the receptionist arriving for work. We chatted for a bit before I went out on my adventures for the day, and I owed her money for the airport transfer because she forgot to charge me when I checked in.

It was raining cats and dogs today, and my shoes were starting to get some fairly large holes in them. I felt like a wet dog the majority of the day. The first stop was the Old Belgrade Railway Station. The railway station was opened in 1884 and remained open until just a few years ago in 2018. It was designed by architect Dragutin Milutinovic in academism style. Trains were relocated to a new railway station, and the current one was repurposed into a museum.

A very short walk away are two unique buildings; The Railway Museum, and the Ministry of Defence. The Railway Museum was founded in 1950. The first exhibition was held in 1953 and feature the History of Yugoslav Railways. The museum features over 40,000 objects, however, I didn’t go inside as it was closed today.

The Ministry of Defence building was constructed between 1957 and 1965 and was designed by Nikola Dobrović. The building was built in two parts; building A and building B. Each building was on either side of Nemanjina Steet. The building was destroyed fairly extensively during the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia. It was actually bombed twice, nine days apart. The building was not repaired for over a decade, however, since building B was much less damaged parts of it are still used by the Ministry of Defence of Serbia. In 2005 it was added to the list of protected buildings. In 2015 the first phase of reconstruction of Building A was started, for the purpose of structure collapse prevention. In 2017 the government decided to demolish most of building A, with the obligation to rebuild it to its original appearance once the country has funds. The reason for this decision was that the reconstruction costs were about 7.7 million Euros, whereas the demolition cost was only 1.5 million euros. Over the years there were talks about converting building A into a luxury hotel, building a monument, or building a museum.

It was starting to rain even harder, so I took the bus instead of walking to the Temple of Saint Sava. The Temple of Saint Sava, also known as the Church of Sant Sava is a Serbian Orthodox Church that was designed by architects Bogdan Nestorović, Aleksandar Deroko, and Branko Pešić. The building is built in a Serbo-Byzantine and Neo-Byzantine architecture style. The church took an extremely long time to be built due to a variety of factors. Construction started in 1935 and the building is still under construction, with work scheduled for completion sometime this year. When Yugoslavia was under occupation by the Germans in 1941 the church was only 10 metres (33 feet) high. The incomplete building was used as a depot by the German army. After the war, the church was unable to receive permission to complete the building until 1984. The church has a symmetrical layout and a 12,000 square metre (130,000 square foot) gold mosaic that should be complete sometime this year.

After visiting the temple I took a bus to see a quirky building called the Toblerone Building, which gets its name from it resembling that of a bunch of pieces of Toblerone chocolate pieces stacked on one another. The Toblerone Building is a Brutalism style building designed by architect Rista Šekerinski and was completed in 1963.

I took the bus back to my hotel, where I purchased a salad from the shop below. I chatted with the receptionist for a bit, ate my salad, and relaxed, before heading out to see the Nikola Tesla Museum. The Nikola Tesla Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Nikola Tesla. It has over 160,000 documents, 2000 books and journals, 1500 photographs, various objects and instruments, and over 1000 plans and drawings. The Nikola Tesla Archive is a UNESCO Memory of the World Programme register since 2003. The museum is housed in a residential villa that was built in 1927. It was used for various purposes until the museum open on December 5th, 1952.

The final stop for today was an automotive museum that I found close to my hotel. There were a few dozen fairly well-preserved cars in there, which were fun to look at. Sadly, the roof of the building is leaking, and some of the cars are getting water damage.

For dinner, I had a comically large slice of pizza from a pizza place around the corner, and it was only $2.45. It was basically 1/3 of a 14″ pizza!

Tomorrow I fly to Budapest, so be sure to stay tuned for the next part of my series.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.