Eastern Europe Trip – Day 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today was my first day in Belgrade, Serbia. Before I dive into this exploring Belgrade let’s talk about Serbia’s history.

Serbia’s History

In the 7th Century Slavs, ancestors of modern Serbs arrived in Serbia. Upon initial settlement they were divided into clans, but in the 8th century the first Serbian state, called Rašica, was formed. The Serbians became Christian in the 9th century. Over the next few centuries Serbia expanded its territories and had a growing population.

Everything was going well until the 14th century when the Turks invaded Serbia in a battle at the Marica River in 1371, and another battle in Kosovo in 1389. The Turks continued their invasion of the country over the next few hundred years. In 1459 the Turks captured the city of Smederevo, which ended up in the demise of Serbian independence. The Turks were relentless and didn’t stop there; in 1521 they captured the city of Belgrade.

In 1594 the Serbians rebelled against the Turks in the Uprising in Banat, but lost. The Serbians rebelled again between 1683-1690 during a war between Austria, Poland, Venice and Turkey, but the Austrian’s withdrew, which caused the rebellion to collapse. Many Serbians went back with the retreating Austrian army.

The fighting was far from over; in 1804 the First National Uprising, led by Dorde Petrovic, had begun. With some help from Russia the rebellion was successful at first, but in 1812 the Russian’s made peace with the Turks, and as a result the Serbian rebellion collapsed. In 1815 the Second National Uprising began, but this time the Turks allowed Serbia some autonomy. In 1878 Serbia finally became independent, and in 1882 Serbia became a Kingdom.

After World War 1 Serbia became part of a large Slav nation, and in 1929 King Aleksander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

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. Finally, in 1991-1992 Yugoslavia started to break up. Serbia became independent in 2006, Montenegro became independent in 2006, and Kosovo became independent in 2008.

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

I started the day off by talking to the receptionist at the hotel for about an hour. She was quite excited that I was a photographer, so she gave me a lot of great ideas to explore while I’m in Belgrade, as well as some places close by worth exploring.

After chatting with the receptionist and gathering all the great info, it was time to start my adventures. I started off by having a goat cheese and prosciutto omelette and coffee for breakfast at a delightful little place called Red Bread. It cost me about $8 CDN for my meal, which I thought was a great price.

First stop was Republic Square, which sits in front of the National Museum. Republic Square is considered Belgrade’s most important central square. Surrounding republic square is the National Theatre, National Museum, the Army House, and the monument of Prince Knez Mihailo. There are four fountains location on the square as well. In historic times this place was home to the Stambol Gate, which was Belgrade’s’ further outer gate of the 19th century. The Turks used the gate to execute convicts by hanging them. Once the Turks left the city, Prince Mihailo ordered the demolition of the gate. The first building to be built in its place was the National Theatre, built in 1869. 19 Years later the Prince Mihailo statue was built. Over the years the square became the modern hub of Belgrade. It was suggested to rename the square to Freedom Square after some pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred at the square to oust Slobodan Milosević on 9 March 1991, during the 1991 protests in Belgrade. The National Museum of Belgrade is the largest and oldest museum in Belgrade. It is located next to Republic Square. The museum was established in May 1944 and moved into the current building (formerly a Stock Exchange) in 1950. The museum has a collection of over 400000 objects. I also passed by later on in the evening on my way back to the hotel, so I snapped a night time shot.

Next up, also close by is the National Theatre building, across the road. The National Theatre of Belgrade is located in Republic Square. The Renaissance style building, designed by architect Aleksander Bugarski, was opened in 1869. Prince Michael was impressed by theatre so he ordered that the National Theatre of Belgrade be built. Sadly, the prince didn’t get to live to see any performances in the theatre because he was assassinated. He was assassinated in Košutnjak on 10 June 1868 and the foundation stone was laid by his successor, prince Milan, on 31 August 1868. In 1911 a decision to do a reconstruction of the building was ordered because of some issues with the stage and utilities rooms. The reconstruction took a long time due to World War I and wasn’t finished until 1922. The auditorium was enlarged to be able to seat 944 people, and the stage was also enlarged. After the reconstruction the building lost its outer beauty from the original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends. The theatre was damage during the German bombings in World War 2 and was again rebuilt, and enlarged once more. Two more reconstructions and expansions followed in 1965 and 1989, and the theatre was once again returned to its original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends.

A short walk away and I arrived at Kombank Dvorana Movie Theatre. Kombank Dvorana (Dom Sindikata) Movie Theatre is a vision of Branko Petričić, and was constructed between 1947 and 1957. It is one of Belgrade’s most popular entertainment venues. It was built during the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, hence why it took an entire decade to build. The Great Hall has 1600 seats and has hosted a number of very famous guests such as B.B. King, Robert de Niro, Elizabeth Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. A large pipe organ was installed in 1957 and was operational until 1998. The building underwent some renovations and was reopened in April 2018, with a building name change to Kombank Dvorana.

Down the street you can see the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia building is a Neo-Baroque style building that was designed by Jovan Ilkić in 1901. Construction started in 1907, but was placed on pause numerous times before its completion in 1936. The interior of the building was designed by architect Nikolai Krasnov in academic traditional style. A fun fact about this building is that 91 pieces of art were stolen during the October 5th 2000 riots, with only 35 being found and the rest remaining missing.

On the way to walking to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia I spotted The Old Palace off to my left. The Old Palace was the royal residence of the Obrenović dynasty. Today it houses the City Assembly of Belgrade. The square building was built between 1882 and 1884 in an Academism style by architects Aleksander Bugarski and Jovan Ilkić.

Across the street from The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia is the Central Post Office of Serbia, which was constructed between 1935 and 1938. The building was constructed because there was a need to house the Post Office and Post Office Savings Bank under one roof, since the original buildings of both institutions were considered too small. There was some considerable controversy with the selection of the architect for the design of the building. Originally, first prize was awarded to the joint project of Zagreb architects Јosip Pičman and Аndrija Baranji, while the second prize was awarded Slovenian architect Аco Lovrenčić, both with modern architecture designs. The competition finished in the 1930’s, during an economic recession, which meant that the designs were a bit too elaborate. Immediately after the competition, at the end of 1930, it was decided that the Ministry of Construction amend the winning project. The amendment was completed by architect Dimitrije Leko, and within the ministry, a narrower internal competition was organized to create new plans for the façades of the building, where the project of the architect Vasilije Androsov was evaluated as being the best option.

Again, right next door, is the Church of Saint Mark is a Serbian Orthodox church that was built in 1940 in the Serbo-Byzantine style and designed by the Krstić brothers. It was built on the site of an old wooden church that dated back to 1835 that was destroyed during World War 1, and again in World War 2. The church is one of the largest churches in Serbia and can accommodate 150 musicians, and 2000 people in one sitting. The church is 62 metres (203 feet) long, 45 metres (148 feet) wide, and 60 metres (200 feet) high, excluding the cross. I wasn’t happy with the photo that I took, so I’ll revisit this another day.

Next up was the beautiful streets of Knez Mihaila, which were about a 20 minute walk away. Knez Mihailova Street is the main pedestrian and shopping zone in Belgrade. It features a number of buildings and mansions built during the late 1870’s. The street was included on the list of Spatial Cultural-Historical Units of Great Importance in 1979, and is now protected by the Republic of Serbia.

Further down Knez Mihaila you can start to see Belgrade Fortress, but before going there I took a detour to checkout the Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church, and the Serbian Orthodox Church Museum, which was adjacent next door.

The history of Belgrade Fortress dates back to 279 BC when the Celtic tribe of Scordisci ruled the region. It is the oldest section in the urban area of Belgrade, and for numerous years the city was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress. The fortress was destroyed numerous times over the years, and the current iteration of the fortress was built in the mid-18th century. Numerous wars occurred in 1440, 1456, 1521, 1688, 1690, 1717, 1739, 1789 and 1806.

A ten minute walk away is an extremely weird looking building that is home to the Sports and Recreational Center, also known as Milan Gale Muškatirović. The facility was built in 1973 to fulfill the needs of the first World Championship. In 2011 a rehabilitation project was started.

It was approaching noon and was time to head to the The Aeronautical Museum, about an hours bus ride away. The bus ride costs about $1.85 CDN. The Aeronautical Museum, formerly known as the Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum was founded in 1957, adjacent to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. The current building, opened on May 21 1989, was designed by architect Ivan Štraus. The museum contains over 200 aircraft, 130 engines, radars, rockets, 20000 books, and more than 200000 photographs. Sadly this building has fallen into complete disrepair, and I wonder how much longer it’ll stay standing. It was a rainy day today, and despite being indoors it didn’t block the rain much. There’s so many leaks in the structure, and I’m wondering if structural fatigue will eventually lead to the demise of this beautiful and unique place. I was starting to get hungry so I walked across the street into the Belgrade Airport terminal to grab a prosciutto sandwich from one of the stores.

Next up was an area called Block 61. I took a 30 minute bus ride to there, however got off early and walked because traffic was backed up due to a car accident. Block 61 is one of many soviet style blocks that were constructed when the construction of “New Belgrade” began in 1948. Blokovi (The Blocks) was designed as a group of urban neighborhoods that were divided into 72 blocks, including several sub-blocks (i.e. 7a, 7b, 7c, etc.). The blocks in “New Belgrade” are based on the detailed urban plan from 1965 made by Josip Svoboda (Bureau for Urban Planning in Belgrade). The green areas and traffic infrastructure were designed by Milan Miodragović, and housing was designed by architects Darko Marušić and Milenija Marušić. All constructive elements used for the complex were prefabricated in standard dimensions. I honestly had a hard time with this one, as I found it so drab and depressing. This was a “utopian” idea of how developers thought people would like to live, because everything is so close that you don’t need to drive, but in reality it is a horrible way for people to live. The buildings quickly fell into disarray, and in general its just not a nice way to live being so crowded.

The final stop for the day before having dinner was Airport City Belgrade (Stari Hanger), which was another 10 minute bus ride away. I couldn’t find much information on this building unfortunately.

For dinner I decided to go to a restaurant called Manufaktura Restaurant. It was about a 20 minute bus ride away, and was right in the middle of the city. I chose to have a local beer and beef goulash, which was absolutely incredible! I highly recommend this place. One thing to keep in mind is that Serbia still allows smoking indoors, so that may make some people uncomfortable. I chose to sit in the back as far away from people as possible, and it didn’t bother me that much.

It was about 530pm at this point in time, and I had already completed 18 kilometers of walking, which was causing my feet to hurt, so I headed back to the hotel. I did a few hours of work, had a nap, wrote more of my blog, and booked a car for tomorrow to explore Serbia’s countryside. I’m a day behind on my blog already, however I feel I’m just going to keep getting further behind.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 1 – Travel Day & Zagreb, Croatia

Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.

My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.

Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.

After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.

Croatia’s History

Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.

In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.

In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.

In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.

In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.

In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

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 May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.

Exploring Zagreb

Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.

As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.

Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.

Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.

St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.

The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.

During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.

For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!

I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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