The sun was shining and the weather in Belgrade was humid and sultry – I was surprised by the heat, but in summer it can reach 40°C and the humidity is stifling. I headed down to the Sava riverfront in the hope that there might be a breeze. There wasn’t much but, as I walked to where the Sava and the Danube rivers meet, there was wind enough to power some sailing boats.
The old wharf area along this stretch of the Sava sits under the immense bulk of the Kalemegdan Fortress, it’s a commanding presence. Until a few years ago this was a rundown industrial area with a row of warehouses looking for a new purpose in life. Today, they’ve been transformed into a number of restaurants serving delicious food that comes with river views.
In a city as hilly as Belgrade the riverfront is pleasantly flat. No surprise then that this is one of the more popular cycle routes in the city. It makes for easy walking as well, so I continued on my way past where the Sava and Danube meet along the banks of one of the world’s great rivers.
The Danube is redolent of history. The river has been the central character in the social, political, economic and cultural evolution of this entire region. It is a mystical, magical river which begins life as little more than a trickle in the Black Forest of Germany. By the time it reaches Belgrade it is a majestic sight. It’s no surprise that it has been immortalised in music and literature over the centuries.
Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz might be the most famous example of the influence the Danube has had on art, but it is just one example. As well as featuring prominently in the Bulgarian national anthemn and in a Jules Verne novel, the Danube can boast its own ‘school’ of painting. Not many rivers can make that claim.
I had a wonderful walk along the river, lots of people were out enjoying the weather and there was a holiday feeling in the air. I’d only seen the Danube once before, that was years ago in Bratislava when it was still part of Czechoslovakia rather than modern day Slovakia. I remember the thrill of seeing the river, seeing it again was like visiting an old friend.
I reached Marina Dorcol na Dunavu, a small port for leisure craft, beyond which it was difficult to go further. The area suddenly became run down, industrial and a bit unpleasant, so steering inland I made my way back into Belgrade. Just beyond the marina is the port of Belgrade where hundreds of cargo ships dock each year, coming either from the Black Sea or from the river to the north.
It doesn’t take long to reach the centre of Belgrade, and I spent the rest of the day wandering its atmospheric streets, which literally teem with life. I made a a stop or two at a couple of the city’s many ice cream parlours. I visited churches with beautifully ornate interiors (no photos allowed), one even had a wedding going on, no one seemed to mind another onlooker. I found myself in the shopping district and walking past the parliament until the heat got the better of me.
I made one last sweep through the lovely old Skadarlija area, had lunch at a pavement cafe, washed down with a local microbrew, and then it was back to the hotel and a taxi to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport. My time in Belgrade was all too short, but I’m glad I had time to explore the city. It’s made me want to go back.