Rachel made it easy for us right from the start, making an introductory comment: "I didn’t know anything about Belgrade or Serbia at all before I came and that is why I was curious to come. It was my first trip to Europe on my own and I think Serbia was the fourth country that I came to. It was curiosity at first because I didn’t know anyone who had been here and Australian people travel a lot so that was a bit unusual." After that, the conversation flowed naturally. We asked her some of our classical questions, but we also spiced it up a bit.
They (Aussies) travel a lot?
"Yes. They travel a lot. My friends travel a lot but no one has been here. It made me more curious so that’s initially why I came."
What did you expect to find here?
"I really had no idea. I came in a bit ignorant, I knew nothing. But then after I came I read a lot of history and had lots of conversation about Serbian culture and I find it really interesting and I like it here a lot."
What was the first thing you noticed in Belgrade?
"Probably that there was a lot of concrete. And it was winter when I came the first time and it was not so busy. It was a lot bigger than I expected and there seem to be people always on the street at all times of the day and night which I liked a lot. That was my first impression."
"This is difficult for Belgrade because I feel it changes a lot. In one day you can be in one area and everything is calm, looks happy and then you can just move two streets and there’s a totally different feeling. From morning to night it feels different. I guess in one word Belgrade has a lot of energy. I feel like it’s changing all the time and that’s why it’s like never boring. I like it a lot."
What do you dislike about Belgrade?
"I think when I first came I felt people look always very serious when they pass me. It’s not unusual in Australia when you walk passed someone and you smile at them like that is a normal thing to do. In Belgrade if you sometimes do this people look at you like what is wrong. That initially made me feel really strange but when you actually meet people someone will ask you something and my Serbian isn’t that good I would tell them I don’t understand, sorry and everyone is warm and lovely but initially it didn’t feel like that. That made me a bit nervous."
Compare Belgrade to your native city. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
"I was living in Melbourne before I came here. Melbourne is a pretty beautiful city. It’s very big and there are lots of open spaces, similar to Belgrade. But I think that I like it here more. In Australia there are a lot of rules about everything and there are meant to keep you safe but I’m not actually sure that they work to do that and sometimes it feels a bit too controlling like there are a lot of things you can’t do because there are all these things you need to take care of before you can do anything. It’s a bit more open in Belgrade and there’s more opportunity to try different things without having to invest so much paper and money and time. There’s some sort of freedom in Belgrade that there isn’t in Melbourne."
Actually, very similar observation made Katia from Russia, who has been living in Belgrade for 15 years now. She said: "One of the things I love the most in Serbia, and Belgrade, is the fact that there are no strict rules hardly for anything. Somebody would call that chaotic, or even that the system is broken, but for me that is a kind of flexibility and a sense of freedom that I appreciate so very much. Right word to describe Belgrade would be "opušteno" (eng. "relaxed"), and you will hear it all over the place."
"Really? That's interesting", we commented on Rachel's thoughts. And what do you think about people in Belgrade?
"Generally lovely. In the markets and things when I try to use my Serbian which isn’t right everyone is very patient and encouraging and that’s really nice."
Can you tell us something in Serbian?
"I can’t say very much, maybe like: 'Ja hoću pola kilograma malina…' (eng "I want half a kilo of raspberries"), it’s not so good. I’m having lessons with Marko twice a week and he’s helping me a lot."
Can you understand us sometimes?
"Yes. Sometimes I would just get like three words or something and I can try and fill what is happening. It’s getting better."
You probably know the essential words. Like: "Hvala", which is "Good morning"?
"Yes. Dobar dan… (eng. 'Good day')"
Could you live here?
"I would like to try. I am staying for three months this time. I didn’t stay in a hostel this time, I just have an apartment. I’m living like the way I would live at home. It was a trial and I think I would like to live here one day. I just need to work out the job and stuff."
"I think there is something in the way this city is laid out that it reminds me of areas of Berlin. But I think Belgrade is pretty unique. It’s changing a bit but I haven’t been anywhere else that is like Belgrade. I think there is a lot more creative stuff. On the surface, there are some similarities with Berlin but the culture is a lot different."
We notice that lot of people compare Belgrade and Berlin. That's kind of interesting. Also, many of our friends from abroad say that Belgrade is pretty unique, and that they would have hard time comparing it to some other place, anywhere in the World. For example, that's what Cem from Istanbul told us.
What was your most memorable moment in Belgrade?
"The first time I came here, I was staying in a hostel in Dorćol. Some of the people who work there now are my friends and I talk to them all the time and they are great. Just that they were so open and kind of looking after you which was a very comfortable thing when you are so far from home. I met someone there. We just went to have some lunch and he has friends in the city and we went to their apartment. We were just supposed to go for a coffee but then it turned into this long, long night with rakia and all this food. They were playing music and we were showing each other photographs from different places. It was very beautiful night and we had fun."
You mentioned food. What do you think about Serbian food?
"I think it is really tasty but it is really rich food and everyone eats a lot at once. Sometimes if I would go and eat with someone I have to take a break afterwards. It’s really tasty and I like that you can pick up food anywhere that you go and it is quite cheap. I like that there is a lot of food, you can just grab it and take it somewhere and go and sit down and eat it. Eating outdoors is great and that is very common here which is cool."
Would you return to Belgrade?
"Yes. I keep coming back so yes definitely I will."
How sure are you on a scale from 1 to 10?
How do you meet people here in Belgrade? You’re on couchsurfing?
"Yeah. I met a couple of people from that site. Sometimes it is nice. I have some experience with a local guy that was not so good. But that’s not just Belgrade, that’s everywhere. My friends that I made the first time I came in a hostel I still see them. I’ve met some of their friends. You kind of meet other travelers. There is a group called girlgoneinternational that some local girls run.
"Yes. I met Aleksandra."
"I know that group. They didn’t allow me to join because I’m not a foreigner", EoB's Jelena commented.
"Ah. Ok. Well, I met some girls through that group. Also, I think there are a lot of these groups on Facebook for visitors in Belgrade and people can reach out to each other through that. I would just meet people how ever I can because it’s not so easy to approach strangers especially when you don’t have the language skills."
Ok. Now, imagine you are in Australia and some of your friends tell you that tomorrow they will go to Belgrade. What would you recommend them? 5 things to see.
"I would tell them to spend some time in Kalemegdan, not just to walk through and leave, but to sit and watch because there’s always lots of people there, it’s an interesting place to see. Tourists coming through, but also people bring in their children there, people bring in their dogs. People come in to play in the fountains or play chess with their friends. It’s just a very active place. I think it’s really cool to just sit and watch people there. I would tell them to walk around as much of the city as they can because everything is changing and the best way to see that is to just move with the people through the town. Maybe, if they are interested in architecture I would tell them to walk from this side of Belgrade (Old Town) over to New Belgrade and see the difference because it is quite different and we don’t have buildings like that in Australia. I would tell them to walk around the river, both rivers, not to stick around the center all the time, to move out a little bit. And to go to Tašmajdan because it’s beautiful and I love it.
You mentioned architecture and buildings. Do you like buildings here? What do you think about our architecture?
"I think it’s pretty cool and there’s a lot of faces on the sides of the buildings which is kind of creepy to me but it’s interesting. That’s kind of strange to me but I like it. I think there’s a lot more color in Belgrade than people expect and you can see this in the buildings. Some of them are painted in interested ways or the concrete is different colors. There’s a lot to see but you need to spend some time because it’s not always obvious. Just keep looking and you’ll discover lots of stuff. "
Here we direct you to read our article about Belgrade's facades - "Raise your head when you walk", and you'll get the idea of what Rachel was talking about.
When someone mentions Belgrade, what first comes to your mind?
"Probably the buildings."
Some specific building or all of them?
"Big streets connecting this city and that the buildings are all very tall. There are people always moving through trying to stay on the shady bit. That’s my main, very big memory. I guess it’s white streets with very tall buildings."
Just one more question. What do you think about traffic in Belgrade? We don’t have metro.
"It’s pretty crazy. I don’t think I would ever, ever drive here. It looks really scary to me and I’ve only seen one accident and that surprises me."
We thanked our lovely interviewee for her generous comments. Really nice observations we got from this conversation.
Hope you'll enjoy it, too!