This particular story has been inspired by one of the most important neighborhoods in the city of Belgrade. A story where history, song, smile of a local woman and experience that everyone need in their lives permeates and make life worth living…
The plane finally landed at the “Nikola Tesla” airport. I am eagerly waiting to get trough passport control and to breathe the air that I heard so much about in all those years. Stories about the best clubbing spots and nightlife in the Balkans. Stories of a top party destination. Stories about beautiful women with mixed Slovenian and Turkish blood.
As soon as I left the building, the airport taxi driver pulled my bags and luggage out of my hands and opened the door of his vehicle. He was very cordial, and perhaps too talkative. In broken English he tried to tell me the history of Belgrade, and he gave me useful tips about where to go and what to see when you are staying in Serbia’s capital.
His monotonous voice tone melted with a melody on the radio. Serbian folk music – a mixture of Turkish and Bulgarian rhythms and pop, with fragments of psychedelia and ambient. Electro and ethno music in one.
Through the window, watching the landscape, fields and meadows around the airport were soon replaced by blocks of urban buildings, modern architecture and newer constructions. All I was seeing were large parts of concrete buildings and busy business people, young yuppies who, like ants, were walking through a modern, industrial part of Belgrade, Novi Beograd.
Just when I thought the architecture of Belgrade fails to meet the expectations that I have created judging by the stories of my friends who enthusiastically talked about the old cobblestones, narrow streets, Serbian “coffee shops”, Knez Mihailova and Serbia, in general, as a country with a deep history and a very rooted tradition. We arrived at the destination. Apartments New center wake up, in Lomina street. In no time the taxi driver pulled out my bags, and I found myself at the door of the apartment, which be my home while I’m in Serbia.
SERBIAN WELCOME TRADITION
I rang the massive door, and one big, bearded man opened them. Immediately he hugged me and kissed three times on the cheek. He explained to me that the custom of Serbs is to kiss three times. Behind the door I was greeted by his wife, with bread and salt. Which was an expression of their welcome and hospitality. Rumbling voice offered me a brandy that “I could not refuse.” He explained that the Serbian national brandy called “rakija” is a very strong drink, and that every traditional Serbian host must make this homemade brandy. He explained to me that there are many different flavors and strength – apple, raspberry, plum, pear, melon, walnut, apricot … So I just tried the local “brandy” without added sugar, and made from 70-year-old plum that grows in the host’s garden.
After a few cups of this, how would they say, “healthy” beverages made my mind very dizzy while my host was explaining to me how to get to the busiest streets in Belgrade; a bohemian street with the richest history, Skadarlija.
In addition to the gastronomic, cultural and artistic offer, Skadarlija street about 500 meters long, there is also a dressed up drummer who announces events and tell stories about the history of Skadarlija.
I decided that I’ll walk slowly to Skadarlija and get a little more familiar with the city. Although it was the first time in Serbia, I felt self-conscious and courageous of brandy. The streets are steep and narrow. I felt the heat of the asphalt in the city, the scents of lilac and numerous green parks which are located in the center of the city like an oasis.
On my way to Skadarlija I asked some youngsters who were passing by me for further guidance. Some guys were making their way through the center with a bottle of beer in their hands singing a song unknown to me. Their great hospitality surprised me. They showed me the way to Skadarlija, and tried, along the way to teach me some Serbian words and phrases:
Hello – DOBAR DAN,
I’m sorry –IZVINITE,
You are very beautiful – MNOGO SI LEPA
They were very interested in it where I’m from and how I heard about their wonderful city. Everything is so close to the center of Belgrade.
No more than 15 minutes have passed and I’ve already found myself in front of the big fountain in Skadarlija. A wide road made of cobblestones, layed ahead of me. It looked like it was there through lots of centuries passed. An avenue of lime trees and oak by the road and old buildings strung like a string of pearls that adorns this bohemian street.
Just behind the fountain I saw the cafe, my friends who have visited a music festival EXIT last year, were telling me about – GREAT SKADARLIJA. The sounds coming from inside were parts of the Serbian turbo-folk music, a bunch of young people, all dressed up, rejoiced in the garden. On the other side I saw two beautiful restaurants, “cafes”, covered in ivy and flowers. In the garden of a restaurant a traditional Serbian wedding was in it’s full heat, around the table stood gypsies with trumpets, violins, accordions, and a young gypsy girl was dancing around the table. She had the most amazing voice – like a nightingale, and her body movements were like she was made from pure flames. In her hands she held an instrument for which they later explained to be called “tambourine”, and that is quite common in the Serbian cafes and mirth.
Ono for what I thought was exaggerated in stories for years is the beauty of Serbian women. As I climbed the Skadar street, every woman who was walking through it was graceful and and beautiful, as a professional model. This mix of Slovenian and Turkish blood, the pride in their eyes, their height, long legs, long hairs, large, natural bosom and swaying hips… I did not resist to the most beautiful passer by, and I had to show her a small sign of my appreciation and worship by giving her a rose. The girl thanked me with a timid smile and a seductive look, and those two things were quite sufficient to fill my whole night with sense of joy and excitement.
I do not know if I felt drunk because of the stunning beauty of that girl, or Serbian rakija, only I felt the need to sit down and rest my shaken feet in one of the beautiful bar gardens of Skadarlija. Just next to the house Djura Jaksic, famous Serbian painter, poet, playwright, teacher and above all – bohemian, who lived in the mid 19th century. I heard that he usually came to the inn “Golden Kettle”, which exists in the same place since the beginning of the 19th century, and in whose garden I just sat down.
Musicians called – tamburashi – played a few songs, and I, although I did not understand what they were singing about, enjoyed the lively melody that seemed it could touch each string in the human heart and make you laugh, make you feel endless joy, but also tears, excitement, courage, sadness, melancholy.
SERBIAN PEOPLE ARE FRIENDLY
All people here are very friendly. At the next table some young hip local people were sitting. One of them was happily singing and pushing money into accordion of one of the musicians gathered around their table. My new Serbian friends later explained to me that it is called “sevdah” – that feeling of happiness, joy, melancholy and expressed emotions that a person feels in the song. They told me also that these musicians play very old songs and some of them are three or four centuries old. They explained to me that they love to come to the gardens of Skadarlija to “warm-up” before the real fun starts.They told me that many celebrities, among them writers Djura Jaksic, Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, Antun Gustav Matos, Bora Stanković , Branislav Nusic, Dragomir Brzak, Vojislav brothers and Zarko Ilic, Milorad Gavrilovic actors, Dobrica Milutinović, Zanka Stokic etc. have lived here.
TRADITIONAL SERBIAN CUISINE
With a little help of my friends from Belgrade, and on their recommendation, I ordered a few dishes which are characteristic for Serbia., local serbian specialties like “proja” “äjvar””prebranac” ”sarma”…
Prices are more than affordable for the quality they offer, I payed around 8 euros for my meal. Also if someone wants to leave tip it can be 10 percent of a bill.
A PLACE FOR WORLD VIP
They also told me that during the seventies Skadarlija was “twinned” with a bohemian Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre, and that in the charms of Skadarlija enjoyed Queen Elizabeth, Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, George HW Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Willy Brandt, Alberto Moravia, Sandro Pertini, Gina Lollobrigida, Burt Lancaster, and many others.
OPEN CINEMA – FREE ENTRANCE
The warm atmosphere and rich history of Belgrade was evoked with actors, strolling down the street dressed in costumes from the 19th and the early 20th century. Various programs complement the tavern atmosphere, and the administration of the city in the last few years set at twenty-painted stalls where you can buy souvenirs during the whole year.
How my new Serbian friends have told me while we were enjoying a good wine, the city authorities have in recent years sought to actualize the House of Djura Jaksic, and hosted many significant programs (exhibitions, concerts, workshops, panel discussions, literary meetings …) in it throughout the year.
I saw a group of people gathered across from the gardens where we were sitting, so my friends explained me the reason. Every Saturday in July and August 2016, in front of the elementary school “Skadarlija”, there will be an open air cinema, with free entrance, and running greatest creations of Serbian cinema, Serbian and Yugoslav films that marked the different epochs and generations in Belgrade.
The night was no longer so young, a homemade red wine heated the blood in my veins, so I set out to further adventure; the newly opened party district in Cetinjska street, near by Skadarlija..
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