Our CS host in Pancevo is also called Branko, but this one couldn’t be more different. Sam found him while searching for punks. Branko makes us fake coffee and we swap travel stories and compare notes on our home countries. He can’t believe we like his country so much. His experiences are very different to ours. He has been beaten up and thrown out of places many times and labelled a drug addict and a disgrace to his country because he used to have a Mohawk. Perhaps because of this, Branko yearns for the West and has based his entire career plan around leaving the country. He’s studying business as he thinks it’s the easiest way to get a visa. He wants to go to London and live in a squat and quizzes us about our knowledge of the city, it’s squats and the prices of things.
Pancevo is far away from everything. After a couple of days we decide to find a new host in Belgrade, despite Branko’s generous offer that we can stay as long as we like. He has shown us around Pancevo and it’s nice enough, but now we want to see Belgrade.
We decide we want to stay with a girl this time. Ana is just the right one. She’s friendly and welcoming, with a confident warmth that makes you feel right at home with her. She only has one room in her flat, but all of the furniture in it converts into beds. Sam and I share the sofa bed and Ana sleeps on a chair bed.
Belgrade is not a friendly city for cyclists. There are no cycle lanes, most of the city is up a big hill and the traffic drives like it’s in competition. Traffic lights seem to go red in all directions and then suddenly turn green for everyone at once. Quick! Go! On top of all this, it’s also tricky to navigate, especially if you don’t know both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The tourist map is in Latin, but the road names are in Cyrillic. To add to your difficulty, it would appear none of the locals have ever seen a map of where they live before. On presenting one to them and asking for help they can only stare at it wide-eyed, unfold it to it’s biggest dimensions, point to it in various places with a puzzled expression and look around them and back at the map again several times until you cotton on that they haven’t a clue and try to gently prize it back from between their fingers. Serbians are so helpful you see. They can’t just say “sorry, I don’t know”.
My phone was lost in Pancevo. I spend a lot of time going around Belgrade looking for a replacement. The cheapest I can find is €40 for a basic battered looking second-hand one, although the shop-keeper does offer to lend me a spare phone free of charge as long as I can post it back to him! I decide I don’t want the responsibility, although am very grateful.
On my way back to Ana’s after seeing Sam off on the train. She’s off to Montenegro to spend time with some friends on their boat and hopefully get some sailing experience. It’s a plan she has been trying to achieve for the past three years. Almost there now! After a treacherous twelve hour train journey she will be in Bar – if of course the train doesn’t tumble down the canyon. I’m not quite sure how I feel about Sam leaving. It’s nice to be alone again and I’m looking forward to a bit of space and the freedom to make my own decisions, but I will also miss having a friend to share the adventures and worries, her home cooking, our conversations and having that link to home.
Sam and I have both had the same recurring dream since leaving home. We wake up somewhere back in the U.K. and have to try to find a way back to the place we left off at. Last night I had a different dream where I was where I am, but decided with a lot of conviction that I should go back for a while – I think for a few weeks. I also had a lucid dream in the same night, which has lent both dreams an unusual vividness and left me wondering what it could mean.
—Museum of Yugoslav History—
I am thoroughly fascinated by the history of the former Yugoslavia and am delighted to hear of a museum called the Museum of Yugoslav History. What a disappointment. I want to see maps and changing borders, read about Tito and what people thought of him, learn about how the country came together and broke apart. But what do I get? The exhibition is in three parts:
- Part 1: “Lennon, Ono, Tito” – in which The Beatles Give Peace a Chance plays through speakers. Most pictures are of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in bed together, with a couple of Tito planting the oak tree they sent him, like all other world leaders at the time, as a symbol of peace, or world unity, or something.
- Part 2: “House of Flowers” – mostly Tito’s grave in the centre of a house, although there is also an adjacent room with a large collection of youth relay batons.
- Part 3: “The Old Museum” – ah, now this must be it. No, it’s a collection of gifts presented to Tito on his travels throughout the country and abroad on his birthdays. Some interesting pieces, but still I have learned nothing of Yugoslavia. I will have to get a book. The gift shop sells Tito mugs, key-rings, coasters, etc. and some communist propaganda. I consider buying Tito’s cookbook, but think better of it.
I spend one more night with Ana and then look for another new host for my last couple of nights. Jelena comes to my rescue at short notice and I spend a quiet couple of nights in Zemun, a district of Belgrade that used to be a separate town and is some way out of the centre, back in the direction we came down the Danube. It will be a good head-start for my new plan: cycle back up the Danube on the other side, through Croatia this time and meet Pete and the van somewhere along the way.
I didn’t manage to make contact with any scene in Belgrade, other than an email to the infamous Queer Belgrade group, who wanted to meet up but not until the day after I left. If I come back I look forward to meeting them. It’s hard to be gay in Serbia. The only attempt at a Gay Pride ended in lots of violence and I have heard the Queer Belgrade group are constantly having to fight off fascists. Videos –>here<–