A Travellerspoint blog

Belgrade by foot!

large_aa1e5960-eb1f-11e9-85ee-af5d09d7e91f.jpgRepublic Square, with the statue of the Prince riding a horse (hence, the local slang name for this square "to the horse")I slept at 2am the previous night! Or should I say, early this morning. That said, I did do a bit of homework and if there's one thing I learnt from the books - Belgrade [Belgrade-travel-guide-1204132], at least the old town isn't too big and can be covered in a day. So I decided to take it easy, woke up close to 9a and headed for the buffet breakfast.

It's nowhere as good as the ones I'm used to having in the Ritz, and very low on local vegetarian variety but overall, was good and the service was prompt and friendly. I then returned to my room, cleaned up a bit (before the cleaning team arrived) and headed out. It was close to noon when I left the hotel. Front desk called me a taxi. I was told that when in Belgrade, only use Pink Taxi or Naxis (with the green sign).large_aa1be860-eb1f-11e9-b101-676df481803a.jpgRepublic Square, with the statue of the Prince riding a horse (hence, the local slang name for this square "to the horse")Front desk also gave me a map of the town along with some recommendations.

Anyway, got a fairly friendly driver who drove me to the heart of the Old Town aka Stari Gard - Republic Square. This stands in a place that has seen non-Muslim executions by the Turks, followed by a gate during the Austrian rule. Today, all that has gone, and is a more cultural bohemian melange, with the National Museum, National Theatre and the city's busiest pedestrian only shopping street all in stone's throw. The square commemorated the (then) Prince in an equastrian pose and all, but today the role of the Prince, and the statue doesn't mean much. To a point that the locals refer to the statue and Republic Sq as "to the horse" (so, a phrase "let's meet by the horse" means "let's meet at Republic Sq"!).

I had a wander around the shopping street before heading to the first of several attractions of the day - Kalemegdan Fortress.large_aa1f6ad0-eb1f-11e9-bf44-bb9586fdce2c.jpgRandom shot, reminded me of the ruin bars in BudapestThis fortress proudly dominates the city's skyline, and overlooks the area of confluences of the 2 powerful rivers of the region - Sava and Danube. Read review for more details and photos.

From here, I headed back to the main shopping area and headed into a fancy mall for lunch. It was at a popular Serbian chain, Vapiano (as in, "go slow" in Italian). It's a pretty cool concept: they give you a credit card like thing at the entrance. You go from counter to counter ordering what you want (like in a food court), your "card" gets charged. And you pay when you leave. I ordered a pizza, a rice dessert and a latte. All faultless with generous servings and spotless service. The weather was amazing so the terrace portion of the restaurant was full, so I had to make do with a bar stool.large_aa4ae7a0-eb1f-11e9-9afd-312a75cc5c41.jpgKalemegdan Fortress (see review for more photos)

Refuelled, I continued on to exploring other parts of Stari Gard. This included the very posh and leafy neighbourhood close to the river. Literally every building here had its own style including the famous French Embassy and the 2 popular attractions - Cathedral Church of St. Michael and Palace of Princess Ljubica.

The town had definitely grown on me. It did have a lot of similarities to some of the other former Yugoslavia and Russian countries I've been to, but this one was a cleaner, quieter and felt better organised. Serbians seem very quiet, very well behaved and polite. I already started to feel safe wandering around with my DSLR hanging off my shoulder!

A vast majority of this country is Orthodox Christian, aka their churches are amazingly ornate, and Serbian Orthodox Churches have their own uniqueness: several illuminated manuscripts, iconostatis (rich iron covered screens which separate the apse from the naos), altar covered in brocaded cloth usually with a relic placed above them, and the Holy Relics themselves.large_aa4baaf0-eb1f-11e9-b147-b9a07607955e.jpgThe very unimpressive Palace of Princess Ljubica with the minaret style chimneys (see review for more) Cathedral Church of St. Michael kickstarted my journey into appreciating several more along the way.Read review for more details and photos.

I then peeped into the Palace of the Princess. To be honest, this was one of the more different "Palaces" I've been to. It's easy to miss. It really is a whitewashed house with ornate windows. You pay a very small fee and are ushered inside. I won't say it was breathtaking, but after understanding the history, I didn't feel as underwhelmed as I did upon arrival.Read review for more details and photos.

Back to the main strip I went. It was full on socialising mode now. And was very interesting seeing the mix of people.large_aa3bcc70-eb1f-11e9-b9ea-9fe21ae0f734.jpgSelfie by St. Sava's Temple (see review for more)I find this town very much like Indian towns. It's not just couples and families like I see in the US, but several old men all out for a drink without the wives, school kids larking around, was very varied and fun. The sunset was crisp, slightly on the chilly side but very pleasant. And from here, began my long long walk on Prince Milos street all to the very end of the Stari Gard to visit the holiest of them all - the Temple of St. Sava. St Sava is the founder of the Serbian Orthodox, and this is one of the largest and tallest Orthodox churches in the world. There's a church next door that was built 3 centuries later.Read review for more details and photos. I really did enjoy it very much. The small church was delightful: I was completely awestruck by the music playing inside.large_aa5dac50-eb1f-11e9-a074-9bfe173ff679.jpgSt. Sava's Temple (see review for more)I asked the lady outside at the counter who didn't understand English. Thank God for Google Translate, she told me the CD was for purchase which I bought.

And no, the day wasn't done yet. The final stop was about 10 mins walk from the Temple, and is the most visited Serbian attraction. yes, the man himself - the Nikola Tesla Museum. For the uninitiated, he's the man who invented AC, his pioneering work on X-rays, and a whole bunch of things. You also see him on the country's 100 dinar note. And yes, the airport after him. Nikola was predominantly based in the US and died there, but requested that his ashes be brought back and properly cremated in his home country. This was an incredible experience, probably the best and made my trip worth it.Read review for more details and photos.large_aa74ddd0-eb1f-11e9-a9a2-11fab4d03c4e.jpgNikola Tesla museum (see review for more)

I had the museum folks call me a taxi, and was back in the hotel shortly after 6pm. Boy, I was knackered to the bone! I visited the restaurant in the hotel itself. I've fallen in love with their phyllo doughs (made of cabbage and cheese) drenched in cold buttermilk. The best appetiser hands down. They should just add 2 and make it a main course! I ordered some tofu course that was best forgotten but filling. And finally, dessert, something called "hot and cold creme brulee" was rubbish, had nothing to do with the name. It felt like fruit salad covered in whipping cream. FAIL.

Anyway headed back to the room, bloody tired and just waiting to hit the sack.

All in all, a very nice day! I have to say, it's a very chilled town, very well planned. It didn't feel as claustrophobic as the Old Town part of Prague. At the same time, it had that small town feel unlike Budapest that was bigger. I'm glad I got to visit Belgrade!


Posted by vikramonthemove 17:00 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

I'm here, Serbia!

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large_aa5ce900-eb1f-11e9-b750-393b6e3dab65.jpgWow, it was nearly midnight when we landed. But as I've seen with most airports in E EU and Asia, it was still buzzing with activity. There were about 3-4 flights that had landed with ours, and 2-3 more expected in the next hour.

I found the baggage reclaim really cool - the belts come in and out of car bonnets (trunks). Pretty cool and great way to market that FIAT is built here.

I finished immigration, for some reason the Customs person asked me to put my luggage through the scanner. Weird, considering he was letting everyone go. And then, I turned around and saw that he had started asking others sa well to pass through the scanner.

The Crowne Plaza taxi was waiting for me, fairly nice bloke who was quite chatty. I was too tired to observe anything, although the city did look quite clean and organised. Checkin was done in minutes and off I went to bed (well, after a shower).


Posted by vikramonthemove 17:00 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Travbuddy meet up with the gorgeous Kei, and I finally meet

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large_aa7e53b0-eb1f-11e9-afef-731d2d0915cc.jpgKei, Paul and I at a coffee shop (a real cafe, not a "coffee shop", LOL)Why can't I sleep on planes?! After a grand total of about 3 hours' sleep, I woke up and killed time watching "3 Billboards" which was fairly good. The last time I landed in AMS was over a decade ago, Feb 2004 to be precise, and I remember the never ending taxi ride from the runway to the gate. So even more gutted when they announced that we'd be parking at a remote gate!

Park at a remote gate we did, surrounded by a plethora of Jet Airways which felt nice. And off we unboarded, and headed to the proper terminal. I'd met a Sikh inflight (he was asking for the waffles!) and we got to chatting later on the bus. Turns out he's a musician and he flew Biz class just to attend SXSW. Not only that, but he's been attending SXSW for the last 3-4 consecutive years!

Anyway, Schipol! Wow, feels like ages! Cleared immigration in minutes, picked my luggage and after talking to a bunch of clueless agents in trying to locate Air Serbia's desk, I headed to the luggage storage, dropped my suitcase and caught a train to the city centre.large_aa42aa40-eb1f-11e9-af1c-49d591d73ed3.jpgWell, you know you're in Amsterdam when....!Peeped into the G Star Raw for a bit before that.

Reached Amsterdam [Amsterdam-travel-guide-1125002] Centraal shortly after noon and did a wander about. I'd honestly forgotten about this town, and with zero research, I was starting afresh. I walked down the main strip. I wanted to visit that Sex Museum but Paul told me it was quite overrated, so gave it a miss. I wandered into various stores, G Star being one of them. As soon as the owner saw me wearing a G Star jacket, he was happy, called me a "well dressed man" and served me a glass of champagne. LOL! He was quite chatty.

One nice thing about this town, people are ridiculously friendly! Paul, Kei and I kept texting one another on where to meet up. Kei announced she was going to be late so Paul and I decided to meet by Madame Tussauds by 2pm.large_acca8da0-eb1f-11e9-a36e-c5c1e26ccb43.jpgGates all full, so we had to park at a remote stand. good in a way, got a good shot of our DreamlinerI continued a wander around, saw all those brownie and Cannabis chocolate shops and headed to meet Paul at 2pm. Looks I got there early... stood around the city centre watching people blow air bubbles into the sky. It was definitely a very relaxing moment no doubt.

I honestly don't recall a lot of what I saw in the Netherlands 3 decades ago. For the most part, a lot of it was still the same.

And then, the man arrived! Paul [Paulovic]and I have been friends for well over a decade now. We met through Travbuddy. The nicest thing about Travbuddy is that you meet various like minded people from around the world, some come and go...but something about our friendship that stuck. We instantly connected and have stayed dear friends to this date.large_accc8970-eb1f-11e9-902c-553e8c6a9ee1.jpgIndia's Jet Airways made AMS its base in 2016. There are 4 dailies flying out of SchipolIt's just that our schedules never worked and we could never meet. So poor Paul, despite living an hour away in Utrecht [Utrecht-travel-guide-1130169] and doing a night shift, he still plodded through 3 hours of sleep and took a train to Amsterdam just to see me. Give that man a Nobel prize! Seeing as we've known each other for so long, we didn't have any awkward pauses or a "where do we start" thing, but picked up pretty much from where we left off through our messages. We walked through a rather cold Amsterdam to a waffle shop - we talked about work, travel, pretty much everything. After a nice crepe, we headed for a walk around the Red Light district.

It had been so long since I visited Amsterdam I was expecting more and broader canals, but it was really quite narrow and all, in these parts.large_accb29e0-eb1f-11e9-8ea5-d17b0e9d1e73.jpgPaul and Waffles!

We wanted to continue walking but it really was getting cold, so we just picked a coffee shop at the end of the Red Light area, and we texted Kei to meet us there. She eventually got there. Again, another Travbuddy I virtually met only recently, but she's amazing fun. Very open minded, very social and eager to ask questions, learn and grow. I always like chatting with such types. Kei and Paul hadn't met, so this was their first time.

We had a jolly ol' chat for nearly 2 hours. it helped that it was freezing cold outside so we didn't feel like venturing out. About 5pm, I said I wanted to head back so I can be in Schipol by 6pm. We started our walk, passed through the flower market (which was closing) and then to the main road that leads to the station. We said our goodbyes (although hopefully Kei and I would meet the following Saturday), and I caught the train back to Schipol.large_accb7800-eb1f-11e9-9631-fd16912aa295.jpg I love how well networked Europe is!

On arrival into the airport, I headed to collect my luggage, walked through the shops (found one that sells model planes, wow!) and then proceeded to the Air Serbia for checkin. Proceeded through to Security Check which was actually really easy, and then into the terminals. I did some window shopping, and finally settled in for some Thai dinner. It was super yum (so yum, and I was so hungry I forgot to take photos!).

I headed to the departure gate at 830p as instructed. But the flight kept getting postponed and eventually left after 10pm. The flight was fairly full, and there was some kind of argument going on as well with a lady, seated at the back displeased about something.

I slept. All I know is that they handed out packaged sandwiches and bottled water, and I returned my sandwich as it was meat.large_acd0a820-eb1f-11e9-9d92-cb06b4479b56.jpg And .... I .... slept! The next thing I know, the PA landing announcement came on. Surprisingly, it was "only" 1145p, so looks like the pilot did make up lost time in air. So, I landed in Serbia for the first time. Thanks to Paul for pointing it out - this is now my 42nd country!


Posted by vikramonthemove 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

The KLM Dreamliner sure puts the dream in flying...shame the

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large_a7419f40-eb1f-11e9-929e-fff60a5eeaa0.jpgTalk about a LONG uncertain day! The alarm rang at 430a. I got ready on time but needed to light the "deepa" before leaving the house (yes, I never leave the house without lighting a candle in my prayer room) but the match stick just wouldn't light! The poor Uber driver was left waiting for a bit. I had to profusely apologise but he was cool about it. This was his first ride of the day. We reached the airport shortly after 6am, record arrival with literally no traffic. I checked into the Delta flight, although the checkin desk couldn't check me in for the AMS-BEG leg. I had kind of expected it, so wasn't too surprised.

Caught the train to the S terminal - went to a rather empty lounge and saw that there were some fairly good and healthy breakfast options.large_a749b590-eb1f-11e9-b4d3-bd391f89a370.jpgEnjoying some wine and cheese from the lounge. Even though the lounge was awful (see review), you can always count on the French to provi de the best cheese and wine!I have to say, Delta operates one of the better American carrier lounges in the US. So, I had a rather healthy breakie (for my standards - 1 whole wheat toast and a boiled egg) and washed it down with some coffee. And was all set to hear the boarding call at 730a for my 815a flight except....except...it didn't come. I asked at the front desk, and they said the flight had been postponed by 30 minutes. Jolly good I thought...continued to work and wait for the call except, well, didn't come again. Turns out, it had been postponed by another 30 minutes. And another. And finally the flight left at 930a. It had to do with early morning fog making visiblity a challenge, so the ATC at Seattle received a request to postpone all departing flights to SFO. Good thing to know, I'll be sure never to book a connecting flight within 3 hours of scheduled arrival at SFO going forward.large_a7306130-eb1f-11e9-b64a-b13c40ea9f25.jpgMy seat (right side window, 4K)

Anyway, on to happy things - the flight to SF was smooth. We were served breakfast and a very enthusiastic FA who'd keep refilling our coffee and tea mugs. The flight arrived fairly early to a surprisingly drizzly SF. I had all these plans of taking the BART to SF Downtown but given the shortened transit time, I decided to just stick to the airport itself. I made my way from Delta's Terminal 1 arrival to the international A gates and passed through Security check. The international terminal, as always, was buzzing with activity.

I have to say, most of the western world has woken to the retail powers of our Asian friends, and I noticed in SF, everything in duty free is sub-titled in Chinese languages, and most of the shopkeepers speak Chinese as well.large_a72564b0-eb1f-11e9-8c92-ad76a9ae9aa6.jpgyes, it works!There were several in the Coach store as well.

I headed to the Skyteam lounge shortly before noon. I have to say, it was one of the most frustrating experiences I've had. I'll never understand why these airlines, BA or AF-KLM can't walk upstairs and see how well Cathay Pacific does it. So, first off, she was probably a newbie or something, but she had to verify my information including checking that my through baggage made it from SEA to SF. It took a good 10 minutes in here just to wave me into the lounge. No, I'm not kidding.

The lounge was terrible - see detailed review below.

So, the boarding was to commence at 230p so I left the lounge shortly after that. But turns out that it kept getting delayed.large_a6dbd890-eb1f-11e9-9d92-cb06b4479b56.jpgFamous Dutch designer did the new cutlery for KLM. It shows in their classy glasses and nuts bowlOur boarding gate was in the lower hall (aka, a lot more crowded). Boarding was finally called at 250p at which piont the whole area was a mess. Plus, it doesn't help that passengers crowd around the individual queuing area for each zone, so you don't know if you're back of the existing queue or they're just randomly standing.

Anyway, boarded the flight. I'd read up rave reviews of KLM's new product on their new Dreamliner, and safe to say, they weren't lying. Everything seemed perfect. Despite the late start, we apparently finished boarding 12 mins prior, and so we pushed back early as well. But, as expected, we were held back due to other departing planes.

Our takeoff was fairly smooth and we were airborne shortly after 4pm. As per, drinks and nuts were served followed by the main course. Overall, I thought they did a great job, special marks to the wonderfully prepared wine menu. The new cutlery designed by Dutch legend Marcel Wanders was also brilliant. That said, the service was a bit slow. It took us nearly 2-3 hours to get the whole thing wrapped up after which I got some shut eye. Edith, the FA was in charge of our section and she took very good care of us. From here on out, it was time to relax till the rest of the flight.


Posted by vikramonthemove 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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