After our Italian dating adventure, me and my mate were Serbia-bound. It’s not possible to get to Serbia directly from Italy, so we spent a night in Ljubljana, followed by Zagreb.
Ljubljana is a great city. It’s got good food, brilliant art museums and I even caught a couple of Poliwags in the Ljubljanica river. At night, there’s a squatted abandoned barracks called Metelkova that gets pretty live. The place is also surrounded by lush green rolling mountains and I’ll definitely be returning to Slovenia.
Zagreb, on the other hand, was not so amazing. We found it difficult to get a grasp of what was really going down in the city. Aside from some nice street art, it was a pretty boring place. And, unfortunately, lots of the Croatian locals seemed incredibly grumpy. You know, like we’d shat in their tea or something. That said, the girls who ran the hostel were very friendly and we managed to track down a tasty vegan restaurant.
Novi Sad and Belgrade, Serbia (25th to 3oth July)
For me, Serbia was the highlight of the trip. A beautiful country, with the most hospitable people and such a chilled energy. Novi Sad and Belgrade are two quite different cities, both in their history and contemporary feel. I’m a big fan of Belgrade. Dorćol is a district full of coffee, art galleries and big communist apartment blocks – a great place to wander. The Belgrade nightlife is also brilliantly unpretentious. Even though the mixing wasn’t always entirely smooth and tune selection was occasionally inexplicable, everyone just enjoyed themselves regardless.
But Novi Sad is also great! It’s a Wednesday evening and me and my travelling friend have just been up on Petrovaradin fortress trying to figure out how we ever could have been there 6 years back at Exit music festival. After meeting one of my man’s Serbian boys, we hit up a microbrewery in Novi Sad called Beeraj. Delicious pale ale (to be precise: Salto Pivo) and the guy running the place is really nice. We’re kind of tired, but on a whim decide to grab some beer and head to the main square.
We get to Liberty Square, which is pretty buzzing for 9 at night. We’re sat there sipping on beer when an accomplice of our Serbian pal bumps into us. She introduces us to this Serbian brandy called vinjak and, although everyone tells us that it’s awful, we’re sold. So, with the help of our lovely new friend, we grab a few bottles of vinjak and walk to the Danube river.
Before we get there, we stop off at a kiosk to buy some more beer. As I’m standing there sipping on vinjak, I joke to my mate that the locals in the queue are probably laughing at our choice of beverage. Almost instantly, a London-inflected accent tells us “that stuff tastes like shit, mate”. After speaking to yet another friendly Serbian dude, I discover that he used to live in Lewisham and is 100% familiar with my ends. We say goodbye and head to the river.
On the Danube
We get to the Danube, where we drink, smoke and hang out. I’m struck by the number of other people who are also chilling along the river. Of course, you could argue that there’s a bit too much drinking. There’s nothing aggy going on though and for me there’s a nice sense of community among the young people of Novi Sad. I sort of put my foot in it by asking what happened to a bridge that it immediately transpires was bombed by NATO, but the guys we’re with are so relaxed about it. Later on, a drummer acquaintance with the biggest smile stumbles across us, so we stay a while longer.
Our final stop of the night is Republic Square. We grab some more beers from a Black Sabbath blasting kiosk. While we’re standing outside the kiosk, we bump into the South London Serbian again. Him and his mate join us on the square and – I can’t emphasise this enough – the vibes are so damn friendly! It’s the early hours of the morning and the square is packed out with people drinking, playing music, loving. This is where we stay for the remainder of our night.
I finish my night sipping vinjak with the wonderful woman who introduced me to it. If the taste of vinjak leaves something to be desired, the place and people of Serbia certainly don’t.