When I told my friends I was going to be living in Serbia for the month of June, their reactions were either:
“Isn’t it dangerous there?” (nope, that’s Syria)
“Isn’t it really, really cold there?” (nope, that’s Siberia)
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the country either. My brother dated a Serbian girl in high school, so I had a vague idea of where to find it on a map (in Eastern Europe, between Bosnia and Romania), but that was about it. After four months in Asia, I was pumped to be moving to Europe, but my expectations for Belgrade (the capital of Serbia, FYI) were…. low. I pictured grey buildings, gruff people, and nothing to eat but fried meat and potatoes. Leaving Bangkok, I repeatedly told myself “a month isn’t that long!” and “hating the city means I’ll be more productive, work-wise!” trying to convince myself that even if the city was as bad as I expected it to be, I would get through it.
The minute I landed, I felt like I owed Belgrade an apology.
The city was nothing like what I imagined it to be (and, truthfully, I’m ashamed at my own ignorance). In fact, living there was like stepping into a fairytale. The city was the perfect combination of Eastern European grittiness mixed with old-world charm. The narrow, cobblestone streets were dotted with centuries-old facades, most of which were covered in protest graffiti. The people were all gorgeous — the men and women alike could best be described as “tall, dark and handsome” — and just genuinely kind.
It took me three days (and six visits to the farmer’s market) to decide I was completely in love. Here are all of the reasons why I was obsessed with living in Belgrade, its hot inhabitants notwithstanding.
It’s Crazy Affordable
A bottle of wine in Belgrade is $3. A gourmet dinner is $15. A quart of raspberries is 80 cents. I was able to do everything I wanted without having to worry about budgeting, which was a pretty amazing feeling.
You Can Do All Of Your Shopping At A Farmer’s Market
Of every place I’ve seen in my travels thus far, the Belgrade farmer’s market might be my favorite. I still think about it often, and have had more than one dream about the cherries (99 cents for TWO POUNDS, FYI). There was a daily farmer’s market across the street from my office, and I would go multiple times a day to pick up fruit or nuts to snack on (I once ate two pounds of cherries in one sitting and don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed). There was something so special and authentic-feeling about buying an eggplant for dinner from an old Serbian woman who grew them in her garden and didn’t speak any English. On Sundays, I treated myself to fresh flowers ($2 for a full bouquet), which was the highlight of my week. Honestly, I still dream about this place. And the cherries.
The Night Life Is Insane
In Belgrade, the best parties go down at floating clubs called “Splavs.” My favorites were Hot Mess, for their daytime pool parties, and Shake and Shake, which is chill during the day and turns into a very fancy club party at midnight. And FYI? Night life in Belgrade isn’t just limited to the night time. It lasts well into the morning. I used to take tennis lessons at 8am, and people would still be going hard at the Splavs across from the court. It made me tired just looking at them.
Staying Fit Is Really Easy
People in Belgrade are seemingly obsessed with working out. The guys are all enormous, and the women could cut glass with their abs. The gym culture in Belgrade is intense, but for me it was really easy to want to workout because there were so many different ways to do it outside. There’s a gorgeous running path along the river, and all kinds of outdoor workout machines (ellipticals, jungle gyms, double bars) throughout the city. You can also book a tennis court at the Novak Djokovich school, or head over to Ada lake for water skiing, rock climbing and swimming.
The Fortress Is Awesome
For some reason, literally every activity is better when it takes place in a thousand-year-old fortress. Some things I did at the fortress: Attended a rave, went to a carnival, ate the best chicken sandwich of my life, watched the sunset, drank an entire bottle of wine, did a Kayla Itsines workout. It’s open 24 hours and there are constantly events (usually related to live music), plus it’s the best place in the city to split a $3 bottle of vino and watch the sun go down.
The Food Is So, SO Much Better Than You’d Expect
SO, I was right in my assumption that meat and potatoes were the only things I was going to eat for the month of June, but it actually turned out to be amazing. Serbian chefs can work miracles with a piece of meat and a grill, and I ended up eating grilled chicken and vegetables for almost every meal. And honestly? It was the best chicken and vegetables I’ve ever had. Some of my favorite restaurants were Manfaktura, Ambar and ŠEŠIR MOJ Skadarlija.
The Waterfront Is Even Better Than The Westside Highway
I’m happiest when I’m doing things by the water — writing, running, eating — and the new Belgrade waterfront project makes it possible to do all of that. The area is under development, but currently has a gorgeous running path and a cluster of amazing restaurants and bars. My favorite day in the city was when I rented a bike and rode the entire path, from start to finish, stopping along the way for treats.
The Iced Coffee Has Ice Cream In It