On To Belgrade


Part 2 of a 3 Part Travelog by Jesse Mathison

Of course, if you don’t prepare you sometimes end up walking through Belgrade at four in the morning, trying to find the hostel you didn’t bother to book anyway. This is, of course, after your eight hour ride turns into a fifteen hour journey because of the snow and you are stuck in a train without electricity (read: heat), food, beer, anyone who speaks English or any idea where you are or how long you will be there. It is dire, but not serious — more a confluence of inanity made bearable by deprecatory humor.

Needless to say, this is not an ideal introduction to Serbia. After we arrive and have a chance to sleep off our frustration we spend the next few days in luxurious fashion: we begin our mornings with a free and ample breakfast, complete with homemade Turkish coffee and the Australian Open on television, then we walk through the city and try to get a sense of the culture and the people.


Photos by Jesse Mathison

On our first day we found a restaurant where a four-course meal costs only five dollars, so we come back every day and every day we leave feeling bloated and slightly porcine. My time here is certainly pleasant, and most of the people I meet are warm and personable. Usually by the time that feeling of comfort sets in, though, it’s time to leave, and of course my exit from Belgrade is no more graceful than my entrance.

I wake up thirty minutes before my train, dehydrated, fully dressed, bag unpacked, and spots of blood all over my jeans. Mischa already left and we had made only vague, hopeful plans the night before. So I cram everything into my bag, down a cup of coffee and a few biscuits and quite casually stroll over to the station; it’s too early to run and I’ve too much class, besides. Luckily I find a cheap ticket and am aboard the train a full five seconds before the door closes and locks.

The train from Serbia is exactly what I need at this point. After the first stop most of the passengers have disembarked and for the next five hours I’ve a cabin to myself. The sky is clear and pale, and a golden sunlight filters in through the window. I unpack , pull out my last clean shirt and do a bit of inventory: a bag full of books (Camus, Hesse, a history of Japan), dirty clothes, brie, my notebook and pens, a few cookies and a bottle of wine. I am a man of the world, to be sure.

I always like to sit facing the back of trains, to watch the countryside roll away and glimpse so many places I’ll never really know. We spend too much time looking ahead, as it is. So I spent my time looking back and looking sideways as well. Writing, staring out of the window, feeling removed from time and routine and circumstance.

I find Mischa in Budapest, which is a very pretty and also a very cold city, and after a few days we head to Bratislava, where it is even colder and I learn to make dumplings. It is becoming progressively colder with each new city, so we make the completely valid and logical decision to travel to Krakow, which is actually the coldest place in Europe. Negative 5 degrees cold. And while it may not actually be the coldest place in Europe, it feels like the coldest place in Europe, which is what I really meant in the first place. Even the locals are griping about the cold. Then I realize that I left my gloves in Budapest, but it’s going to be warmer eventually so there is no need to buy a new pair, and I am now traveling around Poland in the coldest part of the winter without gloves. The pierogi is excellent, though.

Part 1: A Trip to Istanbul

Part 3: Berlin and Paris


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