Embrace The Night

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.

Some cities shudder with a threat of foreboding in the shadows or are weighed down by the stench of the day gone by. They carry the tang of unease on the night air, signalling the unsafe nature of venturing out unaccompanied. But in others, rather than feeling alone or anxious of what might be lurking in the darkness, the pre-dawn hours can provide a fresh perspective, with the city’s naked calm accessing base emotions.

From experience, Belgrade is a 24-hour city that invites you to share its confidences, explore its underbelly and walk its streets in peace. Rather than danger or solitude, freedom and ease are more familiar feelings I experience when walking the night streets of Belgrade, strolling pavements only dimly lit by street lights and the glow of storefronts.

For me, one of the joys of Belgrade is being able to walk the streets late a night, without fear or hindrance. In the heat of the summer, the spacious parks are filled with young couples escaping the oppressive heat to enjoy a long goodbye in Kalemegdan, or enjoying an impromptu beer picnic beneath some trees. Go closer to the riverside and it’s a different story again. Music echoes from splavs moored to the banks, while the on-board revellers are silhouetted against the inky black river.

But as dawn promises to break, the streets are almost deserted in the half-light, apart from the occasional night stroller or someone heading home after a night on the tiles. This is when I like to walk the city alone.

Of course, like any big city, it is advisable to keep your wits about you and avoid unlit streets. That should go without saying. But in Belgrade I have not felt any more concerned by danger than when walking the familiar streets of London, New York, Beijing or Berlin. If you treat it with respect, Belgrade is a safe city.

After dark Belgrade’s civic buildings take on a new life, illuminated to highlight their grand architecture, often with the ubiquitous red, white and blue flags spot-lit against the night sky. Criss-crossing town, the main arteries are lined by imposing government buildings and office blocks with windows reflecting the tree-lined roadsides, while side streets and cobbled alleys promise late-night bakeries, cafes and pizza joints.

One noteworthy experience was when I pulled an all-nighter with a friend. After partying, we sat by the river, watching the face of the city washed clean by the soft rays of the early morning sun. The only other life was a convoy of ducks drifting on the river. As day broke, we moved to a park for an impromptu breakfast. Simple pleasures.

Next time you’re on the streets in the wee small hours, take a moment to enjoy your city. You might be surprised by what you see.

Marcus Agar has been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of reports. Click for Serbian of for an interview with me in English or Serbian.

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