If you ever need to make an erroneous 20 hour stopover somewhere, make it Belgrade.
En route to Kiev, I misunderstood an online ticket system, a mistake which afforded me 20 hours to kill in the Serbian capital.
Arriving at 6am, I checked my bags into a locker at the central bus station and set about exploring. Initial impressions were not encouraging. Blocks of bleak, grey Yugoslav buildings gave the city a depressing mood, and I was starving. I guiltily gave into temptation and bought a Serbian muffin/coffee equivalent from McDonalds. Culture!
With a belly full of food however, things picked up. I found the Kalemagedon, a crumbling 2000 year old fortress which is not difficult to find at all given it’s hulking presence towers over the city like Goliath over David. I regretted joining a city walking tour halfway through, given tour leader Budimir was as engrossing as any I have come across and made me disappointed I did not discover the tour earlier.
As we wound through wildly contrasting streets, where decrepit buildings sit next to markets and art galleries based in old factories, Budimir told us remarkable stories about the 1990s hyper-inflation and war that almost destroyed his childhood.
I joined forces with a Melbourne girl and two Germans in their late 20s. We purchased cheap books at a cool bookstore, and devoured Pljeskavica (a spicy combination of meats served with relish) at a trendy café.
The Germans and I headed to the Rajko Mitić Stadium, where 1992 European Champions Red Star Belgrade happened to be playing. Although we were ripped off in the taxi on the way, we were identified as foreigners by some locals who inexplicably decided to sneak us into the stadium, free of charge. It all evens out, I suppose.
After the match (2-1 to Red Star) we headed back to the Kalemagedon, where our Melbourne friend had alerted us to the fact that the American indie-rock giants Interpol were playing a gig. There are few places in the world where you can watch a quality international act play at a 2000 year old fortress.
With time winding down until my 2am bus, (some serious thought put to forgetting about it altogether) we sampled some bass at several extremely lively DJ bars located on the river front.
A frantic and slightly tipsy dash to the bus station, one typical of international travel, and this exhausted but elated boy was on his way once again.