View from my apartment window of the Sava River, Ada Bridge, and Old Belgrade; Belgrade, Serbia
No summer internship blog is complete without a post about the place you’re living in. And given the fact that most people don’t even know where Serbia is, I’m guessing most people also don’t really know a whole lot about Belgrade.
Belgrade, or Beograd, is the capital city of Serbia and an up-and-coming cultural center in Southeast Europe. The history of the city is too extensive to explain in a blog, but the city has been occupied and invaded by several empires and countries. Around the city and in the architecture, you can see Turkish, Central European, Communist/brutalism, and modernism influences.
Belgrade is particularly known for its clubs, bars, and splavs (floating clubs) and has actually been listed as one of the best cities in Europe for nightlife. For the most part, the nightlife is active Monday through Sunday, with many places staying open until dawn. While a lot of people spend their nights dancing in splavs, many people simply sit in cafes drinking with friends late into the night.
Cafes and coffee shops are everywhere here. Sometimes you can order food in these places, but more often than not, they only serve drinks—coffee and alcohol in all varieties and sometimes mixed together. Bakeries are also prevalent here. Sometimes they just serve sweets, and sometimes, they have sandwiches and pizza as well. All throughout the city are ice cream stands and kiosks. Ice cream is a favorite snack here, whether its hand made or packaged. The kiosks have drinks, chips, magazines, newspapers, bus passes, phone SIM cards, cigarettes, and much more. You can find a kiosk or corner store (which sell the same things) on almost every block.
People like to eat pizza, pastries, and ice cream, as well as basically any type of meat. I had some amazing kobasica at a local Serbia restaurant, which is basically homemade kielbasa-esque sausage. I already mentioned the bakeries that line every street—there, you can get lots of pastries made with flaky dough (think croissant over cupcake). And many of them also have palačinke, which are something like crepes. These and many other desserts are served with Nutella or Eurocream, both of which are delicious and full of sugar. People drink a lot of coffee here—at all times of the day. Sometimes I think that my office would shut down without coffee to keep it going. People especially like espresso and Serbian (or Turkish) coffee. And no one ever believes that an American would want to drink their coffee black.
There are a lot of stereotypes about Eastern Europe and alcohol, and while some people do enjoy a beer with their breakfast, it’s really just a way of life here. No one criticizes you for not drinking, but chances are most people around you will have something alcoholic to drink. Rakia is the specialty drink of this region—it’s a really strong brandy made from fruit, usually plums, which is called šljivovica. People drink a lot of beer and wine mostly, although their cocktail menus are usually extensive. Between coffee, alcohol, and water, I sometimes wonder if people here live off of drinks rather than food.
People dress pretty casually here: lots of jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts. In general I think people pretty much just wear what they want, but there are some definite trends, which you can read about in my personal blog (http://allieinserbia.wordpress.com). The malls and shopping streets have a lot of high-end brands, most of which are from Western Europe. There are also “concept stores” here, which sell everything from clothing to furniture to food.
The people of Belgrade are what really make the city. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful they are. My first week was intimidating; I was in a strange city with no friends and no knowledge of the language. But I’ve learned how helpful and friendly people can be, so now it’s not nearly as intimidating to be lost or not know the language or not know people—and plus, I’ve made some friends since that first week!
Belgrade isn’t really a city that people are taking vacations to or going on historical tours through, but it definitely has a culture of its own and great people that make it a really unique and amazing place to be.