Road trip: Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia

Road Trip Croatia to Serbia to Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro

Road Trip Overview - Leg 1: Zagreb, Croatia (upper left) across to Belgrade, Serbia

Today would be leg 1 of our road trip.  We will be driving from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia. Dave and I got up early to get the car at the Sheraton in downtown Zagreb.  We walked there from Fulir Hostel and it only took about 20 minutes.  After the requisite checks and signatures, we were in possession of an Opal Astra (manual).  It did cost us a bit extra to get insurance in Serbia, but at $70 total per person (five of us), the car rental isn’t so pricey.  Because I was more experienced with the manual, it was my job to navigate back to the square.  The problem was that the square, Trg Bana Jelačić, was surrounded by a maze of one way roads and it wasn’t entirely clear if we could drive through the square, as all of the signs were in Croatian.  So Dave was navigating and we kept ending up in the wrong spot.  Finally we came upon this pedestrian area that, if we crossed it, would bring us to the square.  There were trucks in there…but they were delivery trucks.  I started to drive.  About 10m in, it was clear that this was not something that we should be doing and I was kinda freaked out – there was a cafe table on my right, like an outdoor restaurant, and I was driving right through a maze of people.  It was really really bad!  Finally we made it to the square and it was again made clear that we should NOT be there.  We had to cross tram tracks which involved going over a curb and then dodging 2 trams and all the people waiting for them.  We then had to get to the street that our hostel was on, which involved going over another curb.  Really, this was just ridiculous.  We finally pulled into the hostel, and the owner guy is just standing on the balcony yelling that we were fucking nuts.

Trg Bana Jelacica Square Zagreb, Croatia

I drove right through this square.

So after that, we decided to get some directions!  The manager of the Fulir Hostel mapped it out and we thought we were ready to go.  Things did not go smoothly though because the street names didn’t match the names on the map.  We managed to find our way and in about 20 minutes we were heading towards Serbia.  Juuuust before the toll, we got flagged down by the police.  Almost made it.  They checked my license, the paperwork for the car, and then they just let us go.  Very strange but all good.  We took a ticket and continued on the highway (A1), which was pretty nice.  It was supposed to take 4-5 hours.  Below find the Google map for better directions:

Google map directions of Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia

Dave drove after a bit, taking us over the Serbian boarder, and then we stopped at a rest stop and Mike started driving.  The rest stop was pretty funny though, because no one really spoke English and we didn’t know what their money was called (Serbian dinar).  As we got closer to Belgrade, it was my turn to drive because I was better with the manual in a city.

Building on highway A1 Belgrade, Serbia

Coming into Belgrade, Serbia

Our directions were not clear and we weren’t certain where to go really – add to that the fact that they use the cyrillic alphabet, so words would begin with the number 3 or something messed up like that.  We stopped at a gas station and were told how to get to the city center.  I got off the highway and began driving towards the center.  Wow, Belgrade is kinda shitty.  Bombed out buildings, everything is falling apart, and the whole place smells like its burning.

Bombed Out Building in Belgrade, Serbia

This traffic circle that I crossed was the most extreme thing since watching people driving in southeast asia.  There were cars coming from everywhere, trams, buses, and pedestrians and no real rhyme or reason to anything.  I didn’t know where to go at all and Dave didn’t know where we were on the map so I pulled over and Matt and Dave tried to ask for directions.  Of course this involved turning around, which was a pain because of all the 1 way streets, the trams, and the general congestion.  Back across the traffic circle and then we got lost again.  The bottom line of this is that it took 2 hours of driving around Belgrade for us to find the hostel.  We also couldn’t find a place for the car so we left it in a garage.  It was just the most miserable experience basically ever.  Cars beeped at me for 2 hours as I drove aimlessly around the narrow streets of the city.  Really, just terrible.

The hostel was decent, pretty comfy by not modern by any means.  I showered as quickly as I could, dressed, and we headed out to find some dinner at a place recommended by the hostel.  It was only a block away and they had traditional Serbian food, whatever that was.  Everyone stared at us as we walked in because we clearly didn’t belong.  The place was packed with very Serbian looking people smoking and drinking and having a good time.  We were given the English speaking waiter but of course the menu was still in Serbian.  Instead, we just told the waiter (who looked like Robert Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond) to bring us enough food and beer for 5 people.  This seemed to work out very well and we had salad along with loads of meat, a chicken dish and potatoes.  The meal was wonderfully cheap and delicious.

Belgrade (Beograde), Serbia dinner of meat and potatos

Dinner at "4ybYPA"

We headed to the cab stand that was at the end of the block to catch a ride to Trg Republike (Republic Square or Трг Републике in Serbian Cyrillic) and this pedestrian only promenade downtown called Knez Mihailova.  Dave, Matt and I rode together and Mike and Nicole were behind us.  We made it to the square quickly and stood around looking at the old buildings for a bit and this statue of Prince Michael that was in the center of the square.  We then walked down this area where all of the nice shops seemed to be located, heading towards this fortress after getting directions from Serbian teenagers.  We made it to the fortress, Kalemegdan Citadel, and had a generally good and funny time taking pictures in tunnels, on top of cannons, and things like this.  We also had a great view of the city.  There were also tanks there, although they were behind a fence so we couldnt take any pictures with them.  It’s so crazy that they were probably used about 10 years ago in the war.

Kalemegdan Citadel Cannon in Belgrade (Beograd) Serbia

Riding a Cannon in Kalemegdan Citadel

After walking and exploring for a long time, we decided to head back because we had an early day the next day and it was also very, very cold.  We stopped on the way though to hopefully get a drink or something dessert-like.  Back on the promenade we found a chocolate restaurant with comfortable chairs and both drinks and desserts.  Again, our waiter seemed to look like Robert Barone only with less English speaking ability.  We got some drinks – Nicole and I got a hot chocolate with bacardi mixed in which was very, very good.  We sat and talked for a little bit but soon Mike wasn’t feeling well so we decided to leave.  Back in the square we jumped in 2 separate cabs again, only these cabs seemed much nicer than the first.  As we were to find out, these were private cabs and the meters were literally FLYING.  It still wasn’t very expensive, although it probably was for Serbian standards.  Note:  Don’t take the private, Audi taxis.  Loooooong day tomorrow driving through four countries – good night!

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