Eastern Europe Trip – Day 6 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today is my third day in Serbia, and my second day exploring Belgrade. For breakfast I went back to Red Bread and had a smoked salmon omelette, and some French press coffee. After breakfast it was time to start my adventures.

First stop was the now abandoned Sava Center. The Sava Center is a multi-use cultural and business center. Designed by Stojan Maksimović, it was built between 1976 and 1979 in a brutalism style architecture. It was recognized globally for the speed that it was built. The style of the building also led to some interesting nicknames such as “spaceship”, “glass garden”, and “concrete ship of peace”. The conference center has a theatre hall with over 4000 seats, 15 conference halls, and an exhibition area. The center has completely fallen into ruin since COVID-19 hit, and many people have stolen things from the interior. Despite all this, the facility is still used today for events. I managed to get inside for a few minutes, but was quickly kicked out by a security guard. To be fair one of the sliding glass doors still worked, and I can’t understand Cyrillic.

Across the street is Blok 21 and Blok 22, some of the longest apartment buildings in the entire world.

Next up was Genex Tower. The Genex Tower, also known as Western City Gate, is a 36 storey skyscraper that spans 154 metres (505 feet) tall. It was designed by architect Mihajlo Mitrović in the brutalist architecture style, which is one of my favourites. It is formed by two towers connected with a two storey bridge, and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It is the second tallest building in Belgrade after Ušće Tower. The building is designed to resemble a high-rise gate greeting people arriving in the city from the West. The tower received its name because one of the initial tenants was the Genex Group, a state-owned company. The office building, the shorter of the two buildings continues to remain unoccupied to this day, but the residential tower is still occupied. The revolving restaurant no longer operates either. Again I tried to get into this building; the revolving door to the office side still worked, but I was quickly escorted out again. The residential side was locked and I didn’t want to sneak in after people. Here’s a link to someone’s blog who showcases what the interior of the building looks like.

A short walk away was SIV 3. The SIV 3 (Belgrade Stock Exchange) building was built in 1975. It was built in a brutalism architecture style and designed by architect Ljupko Ćurčić.

Right next door is Opština Novi Beograd, however I couldn’t find much information on this mid-century modern building. I thought it was neat non the less.

I then caught a 15 minute bus ride to The Air Force Command Building. The Air Force Command Building (Komanda Vazduhoplovstva), designed by architect Dragiša Brašovan, was constructed in 1935, on the site of the former Military Command. The brutalism style building is four stories tall and is overlooked by a seven-storey tower that is centrally located within the building. It was completed in 1935. Sadly, it was bombed in the April 5th 1999 NATO attack, and hasn’t been used since.

It was time to get some lunch so I stopped by at The Old Customs House restaurant, and had some Serbian Salad, and a Serbian hamburger called Gurmanska Pljeskavica.

After lunch it was a steep walk up a cobblestone road to Gardos Tower, also known as the Millennium Tower. It was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian plain. I went to the top of the tower for $2.45 CDN, and was presented with spectacular view of New Belgrade.

I then started the long walk back to my hotel, with a few stops along the way. First stop was the Amusement Park overlooking the Danube river. It was fairly old, but some parts were still operational.

Close by was Hotel Jugoslavija. Hotel Jugoslavija is one of the oldest luxurious Serbian hotels in existence. The brutalism style hotel was opened in 1969 but has been closed to visitors since 2006 when it was purchased by “Danube Riverside” for €31.3 million in hopes of revitalizing the building. The plan was to make the area that the building sits on a mixed use residential and commercial area with new twin towers, dubbed as “Project Riverside” but as of October 2019 nothing has changed. It’s still stuck in the late 1960’s.

Next up was The Palace of Serbia, which was built between 1947 and 1959 in Block 13 of “New Belgrade” as a purpose-built government building. It was designed by Mihailo Janković. The soviet style building resembles an “H” when viewed from above.

While I thought I was done for the day, I decided I had a bit more energy left in my body so I took a 45 minute bus ride to Eastern City Gate. Eastern City Gate is a complex of three large residential buildings that is very prominent along the Belgrade skyline. The complex, which was officially named Rudo, was finished in 1976 was considered one of the symbols of the city, and of Yugoslav Socialism in general. Eastern Gate was constructed from 1973 to 1976. The brutalism style buildings were designed by architect Vera Ćirković and civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević. Each building is 28 stories (85 metres; 279 feet) tall and contains 190 apartments. Sadly, today, the buildings are in very rough shape. In 2013 concrete chunks up to 60 kg (130 pounds) started to fall off the buildings. Engineers estimated that the building needed about €4 million to repair the building. The tenants and city started to collect money for the repairs, but fell extremely short at only €110000. While I was taking photos of the building I met a wonderful lady named Aneta, and her cute dog Peggy. We chatted for a bit about what life was like in Yugoslavia, a bit about the building, and I got to pet her cute puppy.

I took the bus back towards the city center and got off outside of the BIGZ building. The building was built between 1936 and 1941 in Modernish architectural style, although I feel it has some Art-Deco vibes to it. It was designed by Dragiša Brašovan. It was originally used as a printing press, and at its peak employed over 3000 workers. After the social and economic crisis of the early 1990’s, there was a lack of funding and the building became unused and neglected. By 2000 a few small businesses began to occupy the building. In 1992 it was declared a cultural monument, and placed under the state protection in 1992. In 2018 it housed printing offices, warehouses, music and art studios, night clubs, radio-stations, a cultural center, and even a circus. Numerous promises were made to repair the building, and was even involved with some scandals. In February 2021 Marera Properties and Aleksander Gradnja took over the building, started to clean the building and kicked out the existing tenants. It’s estimated the building will be fully restored by the end of 2023, but many have their doubts.

The last and final stop of the day was the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is a history museum dedicated to the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the life of Josip Broz Tito. Josip Tito’s grave is even located in the House of Flowers, one of the three buildings on site. The museum was opened in 1962, and was a present from the City of Belgrade to Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia at the time, for his 70th birthday. When you walk up to the museum complex you see the May 25 Museum, the one built in 1962. It’s a beautiful example of mid-century modern. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum, however I highly recommend going, as there’s a ton of things to learn.

After visiting the museum I took the bus to Angry Monk to have some ramen and a Sapporo beer, before heading back to my hotel for the evening.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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