Greetings from Belgrade, Serbia!
I’m currently writing this blogpost quickly on my phone while waiting for my brunch at this restaurant just outside our apartment rental in a pretty hip street just outside of the Old Town.
I’m traveling around for the next 4 weeks to Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Israel (just me) with my 2 best friends from high school, Zan and MM. We all love to travel and try to meet once a year somewhere abroad.
Our last trip together was in Borneo for two weeks visiting Brunei and Kota Kinabalu mostly.
This would be our longest trip together yet! It’s always great to travel with your friends who know you really well. I mean it could turn out to be a disaster to travel with friends as well but I’ve travelled with Zan and MM for a decade now so we pretty much know we click as a team!
In the last few years we’ve had many misadventures together in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo and just recently in Switzerland with MM who is studying her Masters in Geneva.
It’s also Zan’s first time in Europe and we are so excited to show her around our favorite continent. She planned everything last minute actually. She collected all her documents, hotel reservation, flight reservation for visa application and applied for a Schengen visa a month before our trip. So very last minute. Typical of Zan!
Since we’re going to the Balkans we call our trip #BaklaanSaBalkans.
We arrived in Belgrade yesterday and we sort of already love the city. Okay maybe not the city itself because it’s pretty ghetto and not your usual pretty European city. It’s kind of gray. The kind of gray that looks like the buildings have a layer of smoke on top of the old paint.
We love the city because of the people.
They are so nice and friendly here. This is so surprising for me because I expected them to be rude and unfriendly like people in Poland or other Eastern European countries.
Time and time again I am reminded to leave my damn expectations at the door.
Here are 3 instances that made me love the Serbians so far:
At the bank
We went to the bank so we could exchange some of our euros to Serbian dinar. I was looking at the exchange rate board when one of the staff talked to me and told me “Come here you can also see the exchange rate here,” she said, pointing at a piece of paper.
We all came closer and looked. So 1 euro is around 114 dinars.
She then came closer and whispered “Go through the passage on the left. The exchange rate is better there.”
We were a bit shocked to hear this from someone who works at the bank. Doesn’t she want the bank which pays her salary to make more money?
We walked out and looked for the exchange rate company at the passage and found it.
The exchange rate was 1 euros to 120 Serbian dinar. Winning.
At the bookstore
Last night we were walking through the Old Town for the first time and saw more than half a dozen bookstores within half a kilometer. And you know I love my bookstores and buying books abroad. We went to a few of them and checked their selections.
At one of the bookstores, one of the staff started talking to us while we were hovering over the English fiction section. I was telling Marian to get a copy of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared.
“That’s a really good book,” he said. “Really funny.”
I agreed. But they only have the other book in stock, The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden.
“That’s also really nice,” he said. “But I heard it’s not as good as the first one and the style is pretty much the same. Like watching Hangover and then Hangover 2,” I said.
“No it’s also good. It’s the same style of course,” he said.
Later on I approached him to ask for a Serbian author recommendation. He lead me in front of the store and showed me booked by Ivo Andrić.
“He is one of our best authors. He is a Nobel Prize winner,” he said with a smile.
He just wasn’t interacting with us because it’s his job and he wants us to buy books. He was genuinely interested in talking to us.
At the Gyros take-away
We were so hungry by 9PM that we decided to grab some gyros at the Old Town. It was so cheap. It was around 2 euros.
There were 3 guys in the store. While we ordered one of the guys asked me where I’m from.
“I’m from the Philippines.”
“Ah. From Manila?” he asked.
“Yep. How do you know all these things? Have you visited the Philippines?” I asked.
“No. I just know,” he said smiling.
I went to our table outside with my gyros and told Zan and MM what just happened.
I was thirsty so I decided to buy a bottle of coke. I went back to the counter to order one.
“One coke, please,” I said.
“Bakla? (Gay?)” he asked. He was smiling and pointing at his co-worker while taking my cash.
I didn’t know how to react. Why does this guy know Filipino words?He repeated the questionagain.
“Bakla?” It wasn’t a threatening, homophobic slur. It felt more like “hey you’re one of us”.
I looked at his co-worker and he nodded and smiled as if to say “Yes I’m bakla too.”
I smiled back and nodded and took my change.
I went back to our table and told the girls “OMG they just asked me if I’m bakla. How did they know those words? Do you think they have a Filipino boyfriend?”
This truly is a #BaklaanSaBalkans trip. I just had to share these stories because it makes me happy.
Anyway my food is here. I’m gonna eat it while waiting for the 2 girls to finish their walking tour. I was asleep til noon. Shhhhh.