Being woken at 4am by a police officer is not a good start to the day, but it is expected when you are taking a sleeper train. After a second wake-up call from the Serbian as well as the Croatian police we arrived in Belgrade at 6.10am. If I’m honest the view from Belgrade station was nowhere near as nice as Zagreb – a block of buildings covered in adverts with a busy road separating us from them. However, when we turned around to look at the station, it was actually a really beautiful building.
We didn’t know what to do in Belgrade so we tried to find the tourist information. It was closed, but would be opening soon so we grabbed a cheap pastry from the bakery and ate it whilst watching the pigeons. We went back as it was supposed to be open, but it wasn’t so we waited some more. Typical Serbians (apparently). When it had opened we received a map with a suggested walking route. We dropped off our bags for the cost of €2 and headed in the designated direction.
It was quiet in the city as it was early in the morning and the shops hadn’t even opened yet. This wasn’t doing much for my opinion of the city as it just appeared grey and lifeless (this changed later in the day when more people and atmosphere arrived). We walked past a clock counting down to the Olympics and a poster that intrigued us as it was of a politician but he was anti-EU. Klementina had said how all the Balkan countries were trying to get into the EU which made me think that the UK, with UKIP, was the only country with real anti-EU sentiments. Klementina just explained it was for an opposing party and we moved on.
Our route was taking us towards Belgrade Fortress and as it came into view it was really charming. The stall holders that lined the path were just setting up and we had a look at one lady’s who had a lot of postcards. All of her merchandise was old such as postcards of Yugoslavia. Some even had messages on where someone had posted it before. She also had a lot of old bank notes from the former Bank of Yugoslavia and told us how they had the record for the largest printed bank-note at 500,000,000,000 dinar. Klementina bought one of these and I bought a collection of notes with Nikola Tesla on the back. Klementina explained how there is a lot of dispute amongst the Balkans about which country he belongs too. He is a big name in science in this area and this was reinforced recently when I had asked for the name of a famous scientist. Klementina immediately said Tesla where as to my mind Einstein and Newton are at the forefront. Tesla to me is just someone who has something to do with magnets, as a Tesla is the unit for measuring magnetic flux density. Otherwise I don’t really know what he did. Naive? Probably.
We reached the fortress and walked to the edge where we occupied a bench for a long time. In front of us was where the Danube and the Sava met and here we considered it to be the right time and place to eat the rest of our Speculoous spread (it wouldn’t be allowed on the plane later anyway). We enjoyed the sun and moved on a little to sit on a wall, where Klementina had a little kip. I was enjoying the scenery and after a little persuasion Klementina joined me to see what the rest of the city had to offer.
In our ramblings we ended up at The Residence of Princess Ljubica which is a museum that is furnished how it was when the Princess lived there. It was a nice house and it was good to do something cultural. However other things were more pressing at the time – we needed a haircut. Serbia was the cheapest country we were visiting on our travels and as we weren’t prepared to pay the expensive prices of Dutch hairdressers we thought we should get it done here. After a semi-wild goose chase trying to find a hairdressers we eventually found two. They were much more expensive than Klementina was expecting, but it was still cheaper than in the Netherlands, so we went for it.
Klementina went first and looked as if she was enjoying her head message whilst she was being shampooed. I, on the other hand, had a very different experience from the man doing my hair. He was very forceful and I was quite glad when he was done. Klementina later said that he was pleading to the other hairdressers to let him wash my hair and they in the end reluctantly gave in. Now was the tricky part, trying to explain how you want your haircut when you know they might not fully understand what you are saying, as English is not their first language. This problem was strengthened by the shop giving me the hairdresser who knew the least English and had to be translated what I wanted. In the end it went quite well, but not perfectly as they didn’t quite understand what I wanted when I said I wanted a side fringe and tried to give me a full fringe instead. Luckily I stopped her before it went too far and now I will just have to wait for this little short piece of fringe on my left to grow out..
As we walked back to the station we were to caught up in chat and had walked to far. However here Klementina had seen signs for the Temple of Saint Sava (Serbia’s largest Orthodox temple). Before when we were going to the Fortress it was too far away, but as we had now walked in the opposite direction and past the train station, it no longer seemed that far on the map. It turned out to be much further and I was getting annoyed as my idealised time schedule for catching the flight to Stockholm was starting to not be adhered to. This was made worse, as once we had got there we did not know the direction to get back to the station as what we were seeing, the map and what people were telling us wasn’t matching up. In the end we power walked back to the station to collect our luggage and catch the bus to the airport.
After some confusion on which station exit to use and which bus to take we were on the more expensive but faster mini-bus to the airport. This didn’t matter though as we were going to catch the plane. Klemetina and I had a dispute, that we still don’t know the real answer to today. I said we didn’t have to go to the desk as we were hand-luggage only, but Klementina insisted she had to, perhaps because she is not an EU member – we are not sure. Whilst I held our place in the queue she went to the front and asked if this was the case. She then came back for the passports and returned saying I needed to go show mine. However when I went to the desks I was not sure who she had talked to and so stood awkwardly next to the queue. A lady then asked me what I was doing to which I replied my friend said I needed to show my passport as I was hand luggage. The lady then confirmed that I didn’t need to and could go straight through to security, in the process she did not enquire about my nationality. Who knows?
Belgrade became one of our favourite airports as we moved through security and passport control easily, the waiting room was comfy and the plane left on time with no hassle. It was amazing.
Late in the evening we arrived at Stockholm Skavsta and surprisingly we didn’t have to go through passport control. This didn’t make sense as we had just come from Serbia which was a non-Schengen country so they should have been checking. I asked Klemetina if we should go back as she would need an in stamp in her passport, otherwise we might have trouble when we tried to leave on Sunday. In the end we decided not too and instead decided to have problems with the ATM in the airport deciding to not work. This meant we had to pay for the bus to Stockholm with the more expensive option of Euros and not Krona.
The bus to Stockholm was a ridiculous two hours and on here we learnt what had happened with passport control. Apparently someone had forgotten to close a door which meant we were able to walk straight out. Others who were waiting for their luggage had been called back, but as we only had hand luggage we were long gone by the time they noticed. I thought this was quite amusing as this story would definitely have been in the newspapers if this had happened in the UK. On the bus we killed time by discussing our mid-university crisis and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.
Arriving in the city we had a problem as we hadn’t decided which of our two hosts to go to as we hadn’t received information on how to get to either of their homes. I wanted to stay at Tobias’ the first night as we would be going boating on the archipelago with him the next day and then Jonas on the second night. However Jonas came through with how to get there first so we decided to go with him. We navigated the Stockholm T-bahn and met Jonas by the flower shop at Telefonplan station near where he lives. Jonas was full of information and told us how the area was called Telefoneplan because it was where the Ericson headquarters was and also there was a tall building there which the company used to stretch wires. His house was also an old workers house.
At his house he gave us the very important Swedish house tour which every Swede apparently will give you when you visit. This is because Swedes are very house proud – especially because there is a cultural difference that Swedes tend to socialize more in each other homes than in bars. Some other facts we learned that night include; Sweden and Finland used to be the same country and hence they share a similar taste for food, but oddly a completely separate language – not even with the same root. There are more Swedes in the USA than Sweden as lots of people moved there to make more money during a depression and these people have obviously had a lot of children since then. Anyone in Sweden can afford a house with a basic salary, such as a bus driver. The degree that you get will be related to the job you get afterwards, where as in England it is much more flexible and you can get most postgraduate jobs with any degree. Of course we also learned that Scandinavia is not a term that encompass Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland but actually the correct term for this is Nordic countries.
Whilst we were learning all this we were enjoying a true Scandinavian meal. It was pasta with some butter melted over it. “So what do you two think of your first Swedish meal?”. It obviously wasn’t that Swedish.
When a natural pause came in conversation we realised it was really late and we had to get up early to make it to the boating tomorrow. With Jonas’ help we set up an air mattress on the floor and did a final check of all the information for the trip. We were very excited for the next day, especially as in Croatia we had seen that the Stockholm archipelago was one of the top 500 things to see in the world.