When I heard that WordCamp EU was going to be in Belgrade for 2018, I wasn’t especially thrilled. I didn’t know a whole lot about the country, but the first thing that sprung to mind was the Yugoslavian war, and the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Whilst neighbouring Croatia is now a popular tourist destination, this perception of Serbia lingers on.
The city itself is ‘divided’ by the river into ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Belgrade, with the latter a more dense residential community organised into numbered blocks. This was apparently an area specifically brought into being by Yugoslavian leader Tito, who wanted Belgrade to become a major European powerhouse. The difference between the two parts can’t be understated; they were like two completely different cities. Since we were staying in a hotel in a more of a business district for the conference, a few of us arrived a day or so early to explore Old Belgrade before work began.
What I discovered was a vibrant, interesting place with plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars, with a whole lot of life and a good energy. It felt a lot like Athens in many ways (which shouldn’t be a surprise given its proximity to Greece), and seemed far less similar to other Soviet-esque places such as Kiev than I had expected. The people were friendly, and in general I was way more comfortable there than I had anticipated. The one downer was that on our last night I had a bit of a scary situation with a ‘taxi’ driver that tried to charge an exorbitant amount of money for a relatively short trip (which I did not have), and could have ended a lot worse than it did. I’m pretty street smart, but still got caught out, so this brought things pretty sharply back into focus, and was a reminder that no matter how experienced a traveller you may be, you still need to keep your wits about you.
Despite this, Belgrade was a cool city to explore. The food was good; the people were friendly; the ‘cocktail’ gardens were nice; and the view from the ‘fortress’ was pretty awesome. I’d encourage folks to check it out. Just keep an eye on your bags when walking about, and make sure to pre-book a taxi if you have to take one!