We are showed to our cabin (we ride first class because we are rappers in the former Yugoslavia) by a stern and disciplined Serb who had no English but good German, a language I speak famously well. Our cabin is great. Made better only after I pimp it out with a Budapest acquisition: a small iPod dock with speakers.
We have a bottle of Hungarian wine (pretty damn okay!) and jars of beautiful Hungarian preserved peaches. We listen to This American Life. We watch Hungary fly by. We are rappers. The NYT travel writers are fools. We sleep soundly.
We get to the Serbian border and police trained in a dictatorship pound at the door and turn the handle to find it locked. It's 3 AM! I contemplate putting pants on, more pounding and jostling the doorknob. Fuck. I open the door. Serbian police want my papers. Everything goes fine except that I have been in Serbia for 20 minutes and I already dislike the police.
5:30 AM and we are in Belgrade. Belgrade does not have a beautiful train station except maybe from this angle:
We seek out a hotel, picking a big, ugly, communist affair. Decidedly, it fits the city which could have been built by Stalin himself.
The view was very... Belgrade.
We can't check in yet, so we walk to the acropolis, a fort built most recently by the Austro-Hungarians and before them the Ottomans. It offers a view of the confluence of the Danube and Selva, rivers that have long sustained Belgrade's large population and ensured its status as a trade center. Situated atop the only hill in a town on the edges of the Pannonian plain and Balkan peninsula, the hill is the key to ruling a very large area. The forts atop this hill have been destroyed at least 42 times in recorded history.
Now the fort is used as a park, Zoo, and military museum.
I climb on a soviet tank. A little boy arguing with his parents about why he was not allowed to climb on tanks cited my example. His parents explain to him that I an an American on a Russian tank, and that this is understandable.
These kids using the howitzer are at least old enough to drink. This scene would disturb me more after seeing what remains of Sarejevo, where most of these weapons on display were used by Serbs to starve and murder Sarejevans for 4 years.
On display inside the museum are the remains of a shot-down American Stealth Fighter.
I speculate that this is one act of vandalism, not two.
This is awkwardly right next to government buildings and the Russian embassy in downtown Belgrade (also close to the US Embassy, which makes a very small footprint and flies no flags). NATO planes did this. Note the trees growing in the rubble.
But they buy American. These are G-Plates.
A particularly polemical bookstore.