ONE
Serbia
is beautiful, with a continental climate that means warm sunny summers and lots
of sun in the winter. So much sun that there are places like these in the pictures below – right in the middle
of Belgrade, Serbia’s largest city.

And ski resorts like Kopaonik in Southwest Serbia, the country’s winter playground, are only a five or six hour drive from Belgrade.
 TWO
It’s
very European-feeling. If you are comfortable walking the streets of any major
city in Europe, you will be fine strolling in Serbia’s largest city center in
Belgrade. Another bonus? Many people speak English. Well… not fluently. And not
everyone speaks up quickly. But you will be surprised at how many can help you
find your way in the busy area of shops and restaurants. You’ll hear music you
can sing along to – American pop songs – in all the “trendier” places in town.
If
you want a coffee or a glass of wine, you can pause at any number of cute cafes
or bistros, with a décor that feels international, hip and clean. Don’t be
surprised to see celebrities enjoying their drink, too. Belgrade is a popular
spot to shoot films and TV shows.
I WAS the only person taking pictures of my plate before diving in. Do make sure
that you ask before taking pictures. With Serbia’s past still looming
large in many people’s minds, they often don’t want their pictures taken. But to my delight – I found they love the pictures of their culinary efforts.
THREE
The
traditional food is irresistible. Yes, it’s a little heavy on the meat-centric
side. But if you are a fan of Mediterranean cooking, you’re going to find a lot
of delicious med-style dishes full of peppers, onions and garlic.

And
OH! The cheese!
I
could find my way right around the grocery store, its similar to our familiar
layout. Just like my local Kroger, the good stuff was pretty much on the
perimeter of the store. The produce section was large, and the meat section
big, too. And the dairy section was huge, with lots of different cheeses and
yogurts. I wanted to try them all.
Of
course, one of my first stops upon arrival was a large green market in Belgrade. Local
farmers sell their wares every day, with especially large participation on the
weekends. Their food was gorgeous and displayed beautifully.

FOUR
The
wine has been getting lots of international attention. Serbia has more than a
few indigenous varieties of both red and white, but many international
varieties are grown. Wines are made from grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon
Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s a short and good intro to Serbian wines
Wine
and spirits are sold everywhere! And there are big wine departments in the
grocery stores. Great sections of Serbian wine, of course, but the rest of
Europe was well represented, too. Wines from the “good old USA”? Not so much. I
did find Woodbridge Zinfandel and Chardonnay in a couple of stores.
And
speaking of spirits, the national drink of Serbia is rakia (ROCK-e-ah). (I am
convinced that is the Serbian word for jet fuel!) Although it’s a popular
alcoholic drink in the Balkans, Serbia is the
world’s largest rakia producer and drinks more rakia per capita than any other
country. If you’ve ever tasted a French eau-de-vie or a Grappa from
Italy, you have an idea of the flavor of rakia.
The
40% alcohol drink is made from the whole fruit, the flesh and seeds, instead of
just pits and pomace like grappa. This means it has more fruit flavor. I
enjoyed apricot, quince, plum, wild pear, and grape rakia. At a very upscale restaurant,
I was even served a chamomile tea Rakia – made with grapes and tea!
Rakia
is served as an aperitif, throughout the meal and as a “digestif”. I loved the
different presentations of the drink, from the traditional small bottle in a
glass of ice to a shot glass, or even in a pretty little after dinner drink
glass.
Hey,
I bet you didn’t know that there’s even a Serbian Wine Route!
FIVE
There’s
lots of fun activities and sports in Serbia. Biking is BIG! The Danube Bike Trail (DBT) passes through
Serbia and bears the designation EuroVelo-Route
6 which means that it lies on the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF)
Atlantic – Black Sea route.
For
exploring, Serbia has five national parks that are members of European EUROPARC national parks federation.  Serbia also has a great tradition of spas and
wellness, with a large number of health resorts located near cold and warm
mineral springs. I experienced a relaxing facial, mask and mani-pedi. AHHHH…
There
are lots to see and do. The people of Serbia are SO proud of their country.
They are happy to see tourists and anxious to guide you to their favorite
spots.

Beautiful
old buildings surround you in Belgrade, along with poignant reminders of the turmoil
Belgraders have experienced in the past 100 years. For site seeing – there are
UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit like the Studenica monastery, Stari
Ras and Sopoćani, and the Mediaeval
Monuments in Kosovo and Gamzigrad
– Romuliana.
SIX
You’ll find everything familiar in hotels and
houses. The kitchens are equipped much like ours in the USA. I found the
refrigerators to be almost full size, although not everyone has a dishwasher. Coffee
makers, (Nespresso machines most often), toasters, waffle makers and microwaves
are all used. You will often find a washer and/or dryer or combo in the kitchen
or bathroom – they don’t usually have separate laundry rooms. Many people even
in the swankiest neighborhoods still hang their clothes and linens to dry. I’d
forgotten how divine it feels to fall into a bed with air-dried sheets. Wow…I
am all for a comeback of that tradition! Bathrooms are big and spacious with
showers and very euro-centric showerheads and nozzles.
SEVEN
It’s
inexpensive! I was wowed by the quality of food and service for the cost. You
can count on prices for most tourist activities to be a third to a half of the
cost of other European countries or the US. The currency is the Dinar, and
Euros or Dollars are easy to exchange in the major cities. I used my Visa card,
(with a chip), almost everywhere in Belgrade.
And did I mention, I did a little dental work while
I was there? Oh yes. I even got my American dentist on board before I went. She
was encouraging – and sent my xrays to me – I took them with me and was
extremely pleased with the results! When I arrived in Serbia on a Saturday, I
had my first appointment with the dentist. He even called in the technician
that made my three new porcelain crowns. ON Saturday! I left the following
Saturday with three beautiful new teeth and two new fillings. All that dental
work for less that the cost of a single crown in the USA. Needless to say, I’m
now a fan of “Dental Tourism”!
And the bonus is…
Serbia
is easy to fly to from the United States. I took Lufthansa to Frankfurt
Germany, and then on to Belgrade. The Belgrade airport was easy to maneuver and
easy to find my friend, Biljana, who was there to greet me when I arrived.
I
was so lucky to have a fabulous hostess for my first visit to Serbia. (If you
read this Biljana – I can’t wait to host you in the states.) But, I’m ready
right now for a return trip to explore more of your fascinating country, its
culinary and wine traditions and lovely and warm people.

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