Wednesday, 20 September 2017

In Belgrade

On the way from the airport to town, the hotel-driver grabs his mobile phone in order to show me pictures of Skiathos (where his family is from) and of his Nigerian girlfriend. In addition, he invariably points to casting pits and says: Nato bombs.

The pictures of the hotel on the internet and the hotel reality differ considerably yet the staff is friendly and helpful. In the cafés nearby smoking is the rule (and I feel transported back to Switzerland in the 1970s), many sidewalks are used as parking lots.
Since this is my first visit to Belgrade and I know nothing about the place (I had booked a hotel and inquired about the weather – that was my preparation for this five-day trip), I ask locals what they think worthwhile to go and see. Of the places suggested Sava's Temple and the Danube water front in New Belgrade impressed me most.

In order to get to New Belgrade I had to change buses at Zemun station. The fare was 150 Dinar. The bus driver didn't have change for my 200-note and said: 'You go free'. Upon attempting to enter the bus on my way back, the driver beckoned me over to the driver's door. He refused my 150 Dinar, he wanted to talk. Since he only spoke Serbian and I didn't our conversation was limited to exchanging the names of football clubs ('Young Boys', he said. 'Bern', I said. 'Good', he said) and tennis players ('Federer', he smiled, 'Very good'. 'Djokovic good', I smiled. 'Okay', he said). Shortly before the final stop he said 'Drink coffee'. I offered him 150 Dinar. He said 'No', took the 100-note and said 'Okay'.
I go for various unplanned walks, from between five to seven hours a day, stop at many cafés for cappuccino, check out Serbian food (huge portions, excellent meat) and discover, in the neighbourhood of my hotel, many tree-covered narrow streets and alleyways and lots of small businesses – I feel enchanted.

One of the things that baffle me most is the fact that I'm rarely fully present. By this I mean that most of the time I'm only physically where I am and that my mind is somewhere else. This is especially true when I'm caught up in the routines of my daily life. Since going places also means escaping the daily routines, I'm asking myself whether being in a foreign city makes me feel more in the present. A little bit, only a little bit. Time passes more slowly and the days seem clearly longer yet it still requires considerable efforts to focus on the here and now – yet the few successful moments feel definitely great.

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