I'm about to tell you a Serbian national secret.
(That's what we've been told at least, after revealing our favorite Belgrade restaurant to drivers and waiters all across the Balkans. "You managed to find our national treasure? Wow, good for you!" They'd nod approvingly, eyebrows shooting up in surprise.)
It was all thanks to a twelve-year-old. Upon telling our Croatia seminar professors that we'd booked flights back to the Balkans, we were bombarded by recommendations. Our professor's daughter insisted that we try a very specific off-menu dish at her favorite restaurant. Twist my arm, Mia!
So, after facing a storm head-on in the name of ice cream, we dried off, dolled up, raided each other's suitcases, and left our place at the very last minute. Thankfully managing to hail down a cab in the nick of time, and arriving at Restoran Durmitor with minutes to spare till our reservation.
A labyrinth of dining rooms, each one a full house of chatty patrons. Low lighting, wooden beams, walls decorated like those at your grandmother's house, gruff waiters who don't speak a word of English. Menus not only in complete Serbian, but written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Using a combination of Cassandra's Cyrillic practice, our very limited Serbian vocabulary, and the help of a waiter from another dining room, we were able to order the necessities.
A liter of house red wine. A bread basket bursting with airy, chewy pockets of carby goodness that we slathered generously with butter. Salads remarkable in their simplicity–the freshest cucumbers and tomatoes (seriously, the tomatoes here were some of the best I've had–so juicy and sweet), covered by heaping layers of kajmak cheese, which Hanna lovingly described as a more dignified Pirate's Booty.
Beef in olive oil–our dear friend Mia's favorite. Again, couldn't be simpler. Thin cuts of tender steak soaked in a most aromatic olive oil and a sweetly tart balsamic vinegar. Every bite, a perfect balance of flavors. I'm drooling just thinking about it!
Next up–Durmitor's famous roasted veal. Teletina ispod saca. Perfectly seasoned meat falling off the bone. Simultaneously crisp and tender at once. And! The potatoes that it comes with! So unctuous that it melts in your mouth. So, so, so, so sooooooooo unbelievably good.
For flair, we topped off with a tiramisu and a chocolate torte to share, as well as cappuccinos for all.
Wanna know how much all of this cost?
A little over ten bucks each.
Gosh, cheers to Belgrade!
We left dinner at about 11PM, but our nightclub reservations were for midnight. Considering that the club wasn't far and that we were practically bursting at the seams, we decided to walk.
But a few minutes after we left, a stray dog started following us. For the next half hour, she bypassed any and all other persons (even those with food!), determinedly following only us as we strolled past sights like the Palace of Serbia above. When we crossed the street to throw her off, she darted across oncoming traffic to catch up. At first, it was funny. Then, she got comfortable and would run right up to our heels. At this point, we were feeling a bit uneasy (me, moreso than the others... Hanna very kindly offered to be the first line of defense, bless her SOUL)... but also a little amused at the dog's antics.
It was dark and there weren't a lot of people around, and we soon realized that the dog was acting as a guardian of sorts. She growled menacingly at other dogs barking in the distance and snarled at any unsavory characters (there weren't many). But just as we entered a dodgier part of town to take a shortcut, she opted to follow another group down a different path. For that next stretch, shadowy as it was, we actually wished our bodyguard would return!
And wouldn't you know it, right as we reached the nightclubs–she came bounding out of a patch of trees, greeting us with her tongue out and tail wagging. Truly, it was the strangest thing.
In Belgrade, especially during summers, the nightlife is centered around splavs, which are essentially houseboat nightclubs. They range in vibes and crowds (anything from classy sunset cocktails to all-out, Vegas-esque docks with their own pools), but on a rainy Monday night, we went to one of the only open ones: Splav 94.
They checked our names off the list and allowed us to enter... but shoo'ed our newfound dog away after she tried to make a break for the entrance. Hey, what do you mean we couldn't party with our doggyguard?
We considered nightclubbing in Belgrade to be a cultural field trip, and were so intrigued by the experience. The Serbian pop music (that we recorded and Shazamed the next day because we loved it all), the go go dancers, dancing around tables. Exhilaratingly novel, it was a treat of a night!
We'd heard that Serbians can party until the sun climbs back into the sky, but the thought of that had us admitting defeat. At around 2 or 3am, we left the pumpin' boat and relished in the fresh air.
Not particularly wanting to rush home via a cab ride (not that we saw any cabs around), we opted to walk alongside the Sava River and then cross Branko's Bridge to get back to our apartment over in Old Belgrade.
...with views like that, I think we made the right choice!
Can you even??
Once we were back in Old Belgrade, we took a shortcut that Dejan had pointed out to us and wandered through residential neighborhoods that were dead quiet in the night.
It was intoxicating to have Belgrade all to ourselves that night–the lively, energetic city that we'd grown to love, that's always so... in movement. But in those early, early hours, it was completely still and silent, not another soul on the streets. We danced in the streets, guffawing and skipping and racing and twirling, so carefree.
A priceless memory.
(That lit-up building behind Cassandra is Princess Ljubica's Residence, one of the more well-known landmarks in town.)
It was jarring to see all the places we frequented during the day in such a different light, literally.
... we fell into bed only to be rudely awakened by our alarms a couple of hours later to pack and clean and bid dovidjenja to Belgrade.
And of course, to enjoy Moritz Eis one last time.
Dejan picked us and our pile of stuff up at noon, drove us around the Zemun neighborhood across the river that bore Austro-Hungarian influences, commented on the rundown of our experiences (he hated the contemporary Serbian pop that we loved, but loved that we went to Durmitor), and then waved goodbye to us at the airport.