Sunday, September 14, 2014

17 hrs in Belgrade, Serbia and the story behind 'They say I've got Mangas'

There we were, finally at the airport. Curiously the night before I had no idea what airline I was flying because it didn't say anywhere on my confirmation email. This was the only flight I had gotten directly with Skyscanner. It was a flight to London with a 17 hour stopover in Belgrade. You might wonder why I would choose a flight with such a long stop. Well truth be told, two factors helped me make the decision. First, because it left at a more decent time than one directly to London, and second,  the airport in Belgrade was named after Nikola Tesla, so I took it as a sign. Thank goodness I had the app Tripit that contained all the info of my flight and the airline! So I went up to the desk of Air Serbia, showed my passport and got two tickets for my flights. Both were business class! The woman asked me if I wanted to check my bag so I went for it. Only after I watched it roll away did I ask 'Do I get that in Belgrade or in London?', she answered 'In London'. So partly, I was screwed. I only had my jacket and my wallet in my carry on. I would have to endure.
So right before boarding, I bought myself a box of Turkish Delight and hopped into my business class seat. As soon as I sat down they offered me a glass of orange juice and a cool towel to freshen up. We were only 3 people in that class, and once we were up in the air I was the only one that ate. Lots of salmon!!! And Serbian white wine, and coffee. Since I was the only one drinking, each time I looked out the window they would serve me more! If I'm not mistaken, I think I ended up drinking the whole bottle, resulting in me arriving a bit tipsy to Serbia, to say the least.
 So there I was, with just a little backpack, wondering how I was going to survive 17 hours in Belgrade if I couldn't even walk in a straight line! I had arranged to stay with a Couchsurfer host named Denis, we had been talking for weeks and he had given me instruction on how to get to his place.  I changed some money, got on a bus and headed to downtown Belgrade to take another bus in the terminal where this first bus would leave me. The only problem was that it did not leave me at a terminal. It left me at a roundabout in the middle of the city and I had no idea where to go. Having no internet or way to communicate with Denis, I decided to look for a hostel, connect and explain and apologize to him. So I started to walk in no particular direction on a street going slightly uphill. I reached a park with a massive church and  I decided to make a pause and take a picture. Later I would discover that this was the Church of Saint Sava, the largest Orthodox Church in the world and one of the most emblematic buildings in Belgrade.

Just as I had finished taking the picture, a girl about my age and another young fellow were walking in my direction so I asked them if they knew of any hostels in the area. The girl was a local and the guy was French, and he was couchsurfing with her. She very kindly took the time to look on her cellphone for some hostels near by.
We started chatting  while she searched and up came yet another pair of fellows from Greece. They were looking for a cafe and were asking for directions. We all ended up chatting there for like 45 minutes and after the girl gave me some addresses I ended up going with these two Greek guys to meet up with a local girl who was going to tour them around during their stay. So sweet, they promised that we would all look for a place for me to stay afterwards and that the local girl might even know some places. So we took a bus, walked along semi-deserted streets and arrived at the cafe. After a few minutes we met her and sat down at a table for some tea. We got around to introducing ourselves. Her name was Andjela and the boys were Alex and John. Andjela was happy I spoke Spanish since she was learning it herself. We all got  talking and having a good time. John and I got into a philosophical conversation and also talked a bit about traveling. I told him about the places I had visited so far, that I only had a few hours left in Belgrade and I had no idea what to do with myself. To that he said 'Well, as we say in Greece, you've got Mangas'. After looking at my very perplexed face he explained that  "Mangas", is like saying, you've got guts. I really laughed at that and turned around and told Alex my new Greek word by throwing my fist in the air and saying 'I've got MANGAS!'.

He had a laugh at that and asked me to sign a Serbian flag he had bought and that he wanted all the people he met on the trip to sign. Great idea! I'll have to remember to do that in the future too. Around 11 pm I asked Andjela if she knew of any hostels nearby with easy access to take the bus back to the airport. To which she answered. 'I live 20 minutes away from the airport. You're staying at my place' disbelieving my luck, as much as the boys disbelieved my good luck, we said our goodbyes, which were very difficult even if we had just know each other a few hours. Later on I realized that, very stupidly, I never took a picture of us all so I have no pictures of the boys but they were kind enough to send me one to put in this post.So we were off to Andjela's place.
She lived on the last floor of a residential building offering a fantastic view of the city. I learned that her dad had a dance group that traveled all over the world and she even had a framed newspaper clipping cut from a Mexican newspaper with a picture of him dancing when he had gone to perform in Mexico City  many years back. Such a cool coincidence! She offered me some food her grandma had made which was some awesome typical Serbian bread style dish. Also, she gave me some cookies from the area called Plazma.

They are fantastic! I wish I could get them here!!!  I took a shower and we got to bed. It wasn't until this point that I finally got connected and could tell Denis what had happened. Denis, if you're reading this I am terribly sorry! I was drunk and lost and had no internet. I know it's a terrible excuse but it's all I have! Please come to Mexico so I can make up for it.
The next morning we set out to have breakfast and for me to catch my bus. Andjela insisted that I had to try a typical pastry and I was glad she did. We picked up this bread at a bakery with some yogurts and I am telling you, It is really good! While waiting for the bus, she decided she would take me to the airport which I was really thankful for because I think I wouldn't have made it any other way having to take 3 different buses. Although the total time of travel was only like 20 minutes. At the airport I went to the souvenir shop and since Andjela had a Mexico key chain, I thought it was only fair I had one from Serbia.

This is how my 17 hours in Belgrade, Serbia ended. I met wonderful people with warm hearts that made my stay so great that I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Thank you so much Alex and John for your instant friendship, and you Andjela for your hospitality, your trust and your bright and cheerful personality!  You are wonderful people of this world and I can't wait to see you again. Come visit me in Mexico!

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