24 Hours in Belgrade

BELGRADE, Serbia — 2:30pm: Outside Nikola Tesla Airport, cab drivers approach us in quick succession after I arrive with my

BELGRADE, Serbia —

2:30pm: Outside Nikola Tesla Airport, cab drivers approach us in quick succession after I arrive with my boyfriend and his sister for a three-day trip to visit his friend from college. We've been warned to be wary of unmetered 'gypsy' cabs run by drivers eager to overcharge clueless tourists. My boyfriend tries to reason with one, insisting that his friend, a Belgrade native, assured us that a cab would cost no more than 1,500 dinars— nothing close to the 2,500 the cabbie has quoted. The driver retorts, "Well, why doesn't your friend pick you up then?"

2:45pm: We make our way upstairs to Arrivals and catch a metered cab that has just dropped off a passenger. After letting us out at our hotel, the driver advises, "Be careful with taxis" and hands us the business card of the company he is affiliated with.

3:32pm: We get dropped off in city center, where outdoor cafes crowd lengthy stretches of pedestrian streets. Our monstrously-sized hotel room exemplifies communist chic. If I could describe it in one word, that word would be "brown."

4:10pm: Late lunch in a cafe high above the ruins of the city fortress. The long-anticipated meal followed a substantial walk through the park that now occupies the formerly bustling community within the fortress. We stay for nearly three hours, snacking on the tastiest salads I've ever eaten. Serbian cuisine, which is all locally grown, is definitely the best part of the trip. I'll never be able to return to my genetically modified diet.

8:20pm: We meet friends of our host at a second cafe and discuss options for the evening. We're told that cafe and nightlife culture are defining characteristics of the city. Another characteristic I've noted? Extremely stylish restrooms.

10:35pm: Quick stop at a fast food joint that serves sandwiches, pizza, and baked goods. Definitely better than 7-Eleven.

11:41pm: We walk to the waterfront, where the Danube and Sava rivers converge, to meet friends at Cantina de Frida, the former home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, located on a long strip of trendy lounges.

12:00am: The first drink of the evening. Vodka all around. While everyone else mixes their own cocktails, I chug a shot in two gulps. Much better to just get it over with.

1:14am: Tipsy for the first time in months, I decide that a cigarette is in order. Thus begins the chain smoking.

2:10am: Cantina de Frida now closed, we make our way across the river to a bar on a raft. Both sides of the waterfront are lined with floating clubs open until dawn.

2:38am: It appears that the cigarettes have run out. I'm slightly distraught until someone offers me a long, thin one. I tell her that an English nickname for these is "hooker sticks."

3:40am: The guys are uncertain about my ability to ingest yet another drink, but I assure them that my liver can handle a final shot. They order rakia, a mildly sweet regional liquor that tastes to me like fruit-flavored rubbing alcohol. We say cheers, turn up our wrists, and down the concoction, but I only make it halfway through before determining that my liver has, in fact, had enough for tonight.

3:53am: Now well-lubricated and still chain smoking, I engage in a conversation with the only two patrons on the raft who are not members of our group. The man claims to be a magician, the woman a novelist, and they have been lifelong friends. They'd like to invite all of us over to their place, just to hang out.

3:57am: Someone informs them in Serbian that we are absolutely not going with them. My boyfriend's sister and I determine through drunken logic that they must be either cult members or swingers.

5:04am: More than ready for the furry comforter awaiting us at the hotel, I find myself instead dozing off on a sidewalk curb. One of our friends has just gotten a flat tire and a drunken five-man team is attempting to fix it. Even the pack of cigarettes I ingested over the past few hours isn't enough to keep me awake through this comedy.

5:47am: A cab ride later, we're finally back in the room. My boyfriend tosses me three bottles of water from the minibar and insists that I drink at least one lest I wake up with a hangover. I'm already happily horizontal on the questionable-looking bed, when he joins me and pulls my hips against his. It's already light out, but why not?

Lena Chen ’10, a Crimson magazine writer, is a sociology concentrator in Currier House.