In the almost nine years that my husband and I have been together, we have visited Belgrade together many times. But visiting Belgrade with kids is always a different experience, and one that keeps changing as our children grow.
We arrived to Belgrade on the 30th of April, from Athens, Greece, in a small Fokker plane from Olympus Airlines. Ahead of us was one week of extended holiday because, due to the proximity between the 1st of May and 2013′s Orthodox Easter, most shops and Government agencies were going to remain closed or with limited working hours on the days in between the two holidays. As a consequence, the city (which is normally bustling with excitement and noise) was quite quiet and leisure-like, like a holiday spot
I have mentioned before that, when we travel to Belgrade, we live like locals do, go to the places where locals go and pretty much avoid touristic spots. In this trip, this meant spending the 1st of May having lunch in one of the traditional restaurants that are located in the hills that surround the city.
Going to the hills on Labor Day is an old tradition that marks the beginning of the lovely Spring weather. The tradition, in fairness, is to go for a picnic, and people start arriving and setting up their picnic and camping spots as soon as they wake up, very early in the morning. Soon, the whole place is covered and there are families, and groups of friends chatting, drinking, eating and relaxing, children playing and runing all over, musicians, and even salesmen walking around selling ice cream, drinks, and children toys and balloons.
Instead of a picnic, though, this time we opted for a restaurant in the middle of the woods, that had a lovely playground for the children and a piece of land where Luka and Zoe blew dandelions in search of fairies.
When we had finished lunch and were waiting for dessert, something funny happened. A band that was at the restaurant, serenading customers with traditional Serbian music, approached our table and, realizing that I was not speaking Serbian, asked me where I was from. When I mentioned that I was from Argentina, one of them started speaking Spanish to me and they promptly starting playing La muerte del Angel, a tango by Astor Piazzola!
The leisurely feeling of the city influenced the rest of our days in it, as well. We strolled around the streets of downtown, especially the always beautiful Knez Mihajlova, where Luka and Zoe ran, ate ice cream and marveled at the water fountains; and where we could visit the tourist office shop to buy presents to bring back home as well as visit the wonderful math fair that was taking place all month of May.
The maths fair, which was full of young volunteers willing to help, was ideal to get children excited about science. There was a bicycle with squared wheels, a floor mat for people to find their way out turning only left (we all tried it and it was hard!), several math games, pendulums, dice experiments, a 3D printer and a fantastic table with thousands of straws that children could put together to create objects, thus bringing awareness to shapes and dimensions.
The squared wheel bicycle, as you can imagine, was a real hit with Luka and Zoe
We also spent lots of time with family, which is something that, being expats, we don’t get to do often enough.
We took Luka and Zoe to amusement parks, the zoo, and open air playgrounds.
We had cake at my brother in law’s traditional sweet shop, which dates from 1936.
We strolled in the esplanade along the Savva River.
We enjoyed the slow days and the quiet nights.
Then, 10 days after we arrived, it was time to say goodbye. We took a plane back to Athens, then a plane back to Cyprus and here we are now. At home.
And now, in case you are planning to visit Belgrade with kids (or with adults) I have put together a mini guide of things worth doing, worth seeing and worth eating!
Here it goes:
What to do in Belgrade with Kids
1) Visit Kalemegdan. The old city fortress is a real beauty, not only in itself but also because of the surrounding parks and the view of the Savva and Danube rivers. Lots of space for kids to run, and get excited about history. The fortress also hosts an army museum which kids love.
2) Go to the Zoo: It’s next to Kalemegdan and it’s very well kept. There are elephants, tigers, lions, penguins, seals, hippopotamus, giraffes, zebras, goats, tons of birds and much more.
3) Go to an amusement park: Also, in Kalemegdan. It’s not very big but it’s a nice stop before or after the zoo.
4) Walk around Knez Mihajlova. The most famous street in Belgrade, with its French inspired buildings, is a real beauty.
5) Have lemonade (or Boza) and cake at a traditional Poslaticarnica (or sweet shop). In Belgrade, sweet shops are where traditional cakes and pastries are sold. They are normally rather small and offer a mixture of Northern European cakes (due to the Austro-Hungarian influence) and Oriental delights, such as baklava (due to the times under Ottoman rule). Speaking about Baklava, you will find 3 different types: Greek, Turkish and Serbian (made with nuts mixed with Plazma cookies powder)
6) Try different types of bread at a Pekara (bakery). Cakes and sweets are sold in Poslasticarnicas, and Pekaras are were you can find exclusively bread. Delicious bread!
7) Rent bikes to ride around the Savva river
8) Take a boat ride on the Danube.
9) Have lunch on a “Float” (restaurants on the Savva and Danube)
10) Take a tram ride
11) Buy Plazma cookies at the supermarket. Seriously, you cannot leave without tasting the iconic Serbian cookie with the famous tagline “A house is not a home without Plazma”. And since you are at the supermarket, you may also try Domacica cookies, bananica and cedevita juice. You will look like a local
12) Visit the beautiful Orthodox churches and marvel at their works of art.
13) Buy burek or cevapcice at a local fast food shop and have an improvised picnic in one of the many Belgrade parks.
14) If your kids are bigger than mine, you can go take a look at the buildings bombed by NATO during the war in Kosovo. They were not remodeled nor were they repaired, and it may be a good opportunity to discuss war and recent European history. As a former peacekeeper, I find it important to discuss war and its consequences in times of peace.
What to eat in a Belgrade Kafana
1) Proja, corn bread (most of the times, it contains a cheese similar to feta inside)
2) Burek: A puff pastry pie, filled with cheese (burek sa sirom) or with meat (burek sa meson). It is possible to find some varieties with Spinach and cheese as well.
3) Corba and other traditional soups. Strictly speaking, corba is soup that contains fish or beef and that is thickened with flour.
4) Sarma: Beef and rice wrapped in vine leaves and cooked for a very long time!
5) Punjene paprike: Red peppers stuffed with rice and beef.
6) Pasulji: Bean stew.
7) Cevapcice: long meat balls made with lamb, pig and beef meat.
8) Tarator: Salad very similar to Tzaziki, made with yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and parsley. Ideal for Summer and for using as a sauce over bread.
9) Ajvar: Red pepper puree.
What to eat in a Poslasticarnica
1) Northern European cakes, such as black forest, or struddel.
2) Triglav: a chocolate buttercream cone, covered in chocolate.
4) Krempita: A bomb. A very thick layer of pastry cream between two slices of puff pastry. Here is a recipe, if you want to try it at home.5) Baklava: A classic with its own Serbian version,made with plazma cookies and nuts.6) Kuglof: A wonderful tea cake made with dried fruits.7) Ratluk: fruit candies,covered in sugar.8) Tulumbe: Similar to churros. This recipe sounds good.9) Vasa’s Torte: A cake made with nuts, chocolate and lots and lots of cream. Nigella’s community has a recipe available online