Food, Friends and Running: A Belgrade Adventure

Between jet-lag and a late night, most of my fellow Monsooners decided to sleep in this morning. I woke up at 9:00, which for me is still sleeping in, and decided to go for a run through the city. Running is one of my favourite ways to get to know a new city: the adrenaline rush and sense of adventure it gives me is indescriable. I haven't gone for a run in a while so anticipated a short one or two mile run. But once I got started, it just felt right so the next thing I knew I was doing a four mile run with some sprint intervals and hills training. Part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much was because I got to see the city in a new way. It was completely dead that early on a dreary, Sunday morning with the exception of a few dog walkers, church-goers, and what appeared to be "walks of shame." In addition to getting to explore new parts of the city I had not yet seen, the peacefulness was pure bliss and help ground me. Transitioning from solo to group travel has been good, but I would be lying if I said it wasn't a bit rocky. With solo travel, you get to move at your own pace and make all your own decisions, but with group travel you have to constantly coordinate with others (but the benefit is having friends, and getting a bit of a break from non-stop planning). Having that time to myself to clear my head and focus on nothing but myself was as close to perfect as I can imagine in that moment.

After the run, I picked up my laundry from the hostel and took a shower. The past week has been immensely hot so all my clothes were sweaty and gross, and I don't think I've ever been so excited about clean clothes. By now others had woken up and we were off to breakfast for börek, filo dough pastries filled with meat, cheese, cabbage, or sweets. The six of us downed an absurd amount of these amazing pastries - and I definitely had more than my fair share because running makes me a hunger beast. 

We kept walking and made our way to the Tesla Museum. Nikola Tesla, was an Serbian-American inventor who contributed significantly to the field which I abandoned: electrical engineering. We found out that there were reservations for the tours required, but thanks to Calvin's persistence we were able to get in without a tour to just wander around the museum. The staff said we wouldn't see much since the machines are only turned on during the tours, however we managed to weasel our way into the tail end of a tour and see the Tesla coil at work. It gave me some serious nostalgia because my uncle is a physicist and used to take me to science museums and once helped me make a motor for a science project that involved electromagnetic coils (I was a geeky kid). 

The museum is small so we didn't spend more than 30 minutes there before heading back to the hostel to meet up with the rest of the group and head to House of Flowers, the mausoleum Marshal Josip Broz Tito - the first president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The mausoleum also has The Museum of Yugoslav History on the grounds which delves into the history of the Non-Aligned Movement and other aspects of Yugoslavia's history.

During high school and college I learned next to nothing about eastern Europe and the conflicts which have occurred here, so it's really just been during my master's and own research that I've begun to learn about this history. One thing that has become increasingly obvious since arriving here is that there are countless perspectives, understandings, and "truths" about what happened (as is the case with many parts of global history). The museum provided one side of that, and I've been processing how to navigate the balance between being critical and validating all sides because I don't know enough to take a stance, so to speak. But I think the most important thing I can do right now is listen.

After the mausoleum, we made our way to a monastery - Манастир Ваведење Пресвете Богородице - on the outskirts of the city (I couldn't find an English translation). We couldn't go inside because a baptism was happening, but we managed to sneak a few pictures from the outside thanks to the open door.

Next we made a quick stop at Zeleni venac - a well-known farmers market, which was mostly empty that late in the day, before heading back to the hostel to relax. Before long we met up with Vladana, my friend Mihaela's cousin. Mihaela also went on the Trans-Siberian and Scotland trips, plus she was an amazing host when I visited New York back in May. So I'm excited to see her when she joins us on the trip later on.

The food was amazing, lots of meat and potatoes, and was accompanied by singing and dancing by a local band. 

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Afterwards we all went out drinking and spent the night getting to know each other. I love the moments that transform a group of strangers into a group of friends, and I definitely think that was one of those moments for us as a group, and I'm looking forward to the next two weeks with everyone.