I am probably not telling you anything that you do not already know: Traffic in Belgrade is a nightmare. Anyone who has driven in the Serbian capital is likely to be nodding in agreement with my statement. What is more difficult for me to appreciate is why the traffic is quite so bad, why Belgrade is notorious for gridlock in the city and congestion on its bridges.
Even with the extravagant new bridges across the Sava, traffic snarl-ups are still commonplace at extended peak times. Heavy traffic has become such a norm that drivers seem to have accepted it as a part of daily life.
Finally, I am back in Belgrade. It has not been three months since my last visit but it is great to be back for two weeks of meetings, media, visits to a film set and, of course, to catch up with friends. This weekend’s BlogOpen conference in Novi Sad should allow me to meet up with the creators of the blogs I follow regularly and to share some thoughts and experiences.
My visit started as I mean it to go on – if I can keep up with the pace, that is. Within hours of arriving, my friend Ivan Agbaba was whisking me around Belgrade bars, before we headed out of town to Pink International’s film studios for a massive party with the musically diverse combination of Željko Joksimović and DJ Bob Sinclar performing. Outside of the region, Željko is best known for presenting Eurovision, although here he is obviously well established as a singer and all-round celebrity.
Experiencing a city at night can reveal a side to its character that is masked by the hustle of the day. Belgrade is a case in point. While the city is rightly recognised for the vibrant café culture, riverside bars and vibrant buzz of an international capital, Belgrade after-dark sees it take on a unique character as party central. However, it has another side, with an appeal that is less well known, when Belgrade is at rest in the new born hours of a day.
There is something inherently special about walking the streets alone at night, something I have often done in Belgrade. The city is exposed, allowing a glimpse of its deepest secrets. You see beneath the fancy veneer of the day to experience the essence of what makes the city great, a kind of unadulterated purity hidden during the business of the day.
Prior to my first visit to the Balkans, I was warned that I might find it difficult to spend any length of time there. Thankfully, I ignored their words – as I have a habit of doing – and jumped on a plane. That was five years ago and I have returned nearly twenty times.
Their words of caution were not related to the usual issues. They were because I do not eat meat. They believed that the Serbs’ meat-rich fare would leave me on a diet of cucumber and tomato (which wouldn’t be so bad, as Serbia has some of the best produce I have ever tasted).