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Feature 01 May 13

Belgrade Gets Into the Holiday Spirit

From barbecues to bike rides, riverboat voyages to underground hikes, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the May holidays around the city.

Jorgen Samso

May 1 will kick off a long holiday for Serbians this year, marking the beginning of six days away from work because of the Orthodox Easter celebrations that follow. So if you’re not at the office but staying in the city, here’s a selection of things to do and places to relax that are not closed for the holidays.

Celebrate ‘Uranak’:

The Serbian festive tradition known as ‘Uranak’ kicks off the holiday period, a phenomenon that involves getting an early start for the May 1 celebrations. From the morning onwards, crowds will fill parks, forests and mountain areas in and around the capital.

So if you plan to celebrate the day Serbian-style, head early to nearby Ada Ciganlija for example, a river island artificially turned into a peninsula and adjoining the artificial Savsko Jezero (Sava Lake) with its beach.

People will gather here and do what Uranak is almost synonymous with: barbecuing. Look out for the smoke from the sausages and meat on the grills or follow your nose to Kostunjak Park to taste a full-size pig on a spit that has been sizzling and turning over hot coals for hours.

Visit the ‘Ada hippie restaurant’:

Once you’ve made your way to Ada Ciganlija, make sure you visit the Gavez Klub, a hippie-run restaurant in a cottage on the peninsula. Seat yourself in the shade in the big garden and order cheap and tasty domestic food. The May 1st menu promises veggie beans with black mushrooms and pljeskavica (a Serbian burger) with so much filling that you can “put it in a biography”, according to the restaurant’s page on Facebook.

On ‘Ada’ - as the locals call it - you can also have your own picnic or barbecue in the grass.

Get your skates on:

It might be a bit too early in spring, but the island also offers a chance to cool down with a swim. If you’re in a sporting mood over the holidays, trying to work off the BBQ-fat from May 1st, then Ada is a great place to roller-skate, play tennis, volleyball, football or basketball – or even go water skiing. But most people do what holidays are meant for: relaxing in one of the cafés or restaurants along the beach and waiting for the sunset.

Brave the flooded rivers:

Many Belgraders will leave the city by car, so now is your chance to rent a bike and ride it ‘normally’ in the streets. You will definitely feel safer, since there will be less traffic and once you’ve wheeled around the city, point your sightseeing compass towards the rivers.

Unfortunately, these days the river Sava and Danube are at their highest, so the bike paths are flooded in many places, thus making it difficult – but not impossible – to bike for example from the Dorćol area to Ada Ciganlija. Head across Brankov Bridge instead and towards the Zemun municipality. The cycle paths right next to the rivers there are still flooded, but there’s room for riding further up from the river banks.

Make a stop on the way to Zemun at one of the many boat restaurants and snack on a Serbian speciality, girice, deep-fried salty little sardine-like fish (whitebait) and wash them down with plenty of cold beer to rehydrate.

Open up the city by bus:

If you’re not a cyclist or are already worn out from the day before sightseeing, bus company Lasta is your saviour on wheels and will launch bus tours around the city on May 1st.

Sit back, relax and take in the city and the scenery while letting the facts about the capital of Serbia sink in with the company’s 90-minute audio guide, available in English, Spanish, French, German and other languages (lasta.rs).

If you want to escape from the city, Lasta also offers open-air rides to nearby Mount Avala, 16 kilometres south-east of Belgrade. Once at the top, 511 metres above sea level, you can enjoy panoramic views over Belgrade, Vojvodina and the Šumadija region. Not afraid of heights? Then take the lift to the top of the spaceship-like TV tower, a landmark that was destroyed during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia and later rebuilt. The mountain area is also a picnic resort for Belgraders, so pack a bag of food and drinks and roll out your blanket.

See Belgrade from the river :

Since you’re practically surrounded by water in Belgrade, a boat tour is an obvious choice for a new perspective on the Serbian capital. You’ll sail under the city’s bridges and have drinks and food while enjoying views of islands and the sprawling life on the Danube and the Sava.

Before you jump on a boat, on your way out of the city centre grab a coffee at one of the trendy cafés on the Sava quay in the old harbour barracks below Kalemegdan Fortress.

There are several boat tour operators, but only Jahting Klub Kej sails on May 1st and during Easter. A two-hour tour of the rivers costs 350 dinars and departs from the Danube quay across Brankov Bridge in New Belgrade (klubkej.com).            

Go underground:

The weather forecast predicts hot, sunny weather in the city during the Easter holidays, so an underground tour of the city will cool you off and get you out of the sun. The Belgrade Underground Tour lasts two and a half hours and takes you through paths and caves deep beneath the city (belgradeundergroundtour.com). The tunnels, wells and caves have been carved out over the years by Romans, Turks, Austrians, Serbs and Germans.

There’s also a wine-tasting session included in the underground excursion, so you can raise your glass for an Easter ‘živeli’ before you head back up onto the streets.

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